The first reviews of “Avengers: Age of Ultron” are in, and while they won’t change anyone’s mind about whether or not to shell out for a ticket — a decision made in many cases within a few seconds after the film was announced — they might help to prepare viewers for a thrilling adventure whose action is packed a little too tight. Writer-director Joss Whedon has said he was determined to pare his initial three-hour cut until it was shorter than the first “Avengers,” and while his dedication to brevity is laudable, many critics feel he went past trimming fat and hit bone. With nearly a dozen mouths to feed, narratively speaking, a teeming host of secondary characters and several Marvel Cinematic Universe properties to tee up — not to mention the official sequels “Avengers: Infinity War” 1 and 2 — Whedon is juggling so many balls he barely has room to breathe, and the movie could have used it. By and large, critics’ love affair with Whedon continues undimmed, but many are left wishing the movie had run a little bit longer — a complaint rare enough to be startling. Judging by the first round of reviews, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” isn’t too much of a good thing, but it’s too much goodness crammed into too little space.
Reviews of “Avengers: Age of Ultron”
Robbie Collin, Telegraph
Everything about “Avengers: Age of Ultron” feels indulgent. Watching the film is like ploughing through a TV box set in a single sitting. That’s meant as a compliment, and if it sounds like a criticism, you’re probably yet to experience the supreme contentedness that comes with bingeing on five “Game of Thrones” episodes back-to-back. Joss Whedon’s film gives you that same pop-culture sugar rush, stacking characters, conflicts, subplots and background treats like tiers of wedding cake – far more than you’d think you could possibly cram into a little under two and a half hours without the whole thing crumbling under the weight of its own calorie count. But the structure holds, and the film flies past at speed. Among its other attributes, it’s the first long blockbuster in years to feel short.
Peter Bradshaw, Guardian
It’s all operatically mad, and the city-destroying final confrontation is becoming a bit familiar, but Whedon carries it off with such joy and even a kind of evangelism. His script is a thing of wonder, jam-packed with great lines: I loved Stark’s wearied remark: “I’ve had a long day … Eugene O’Neill long.” And the unresolved romantic and sexual tension between Black Widow and Hulk creates a weird driving force to the narrative: even the absurdity is somehow recirculated into the film’s internal economy as comedy and irony and the cast-of-thousands effect never seems to split the focus: Andy Serkis plays metal trader Ulysses Klaw and Julie Delpy has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo as Black Widow’s sinister former controller. It’s a superhero cavalcade of energy and fun.
Sophie Monks Kaufman, Little White Lies
There is something to be said for the sight of genuine Hollywood talent at their most athletic and battle-ready delivering character-appropriate witticisms out of the corner of their mouths as they shoot across the screen. So many art-house veterans now plough their niche right to the top of Mount Money. Most of the highest-billed stars have done indie work. Joining them are Samuel L Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Paul Bettany, James Spader, Hayley Atwell, Andy Serkis, Julie Delpy, Idris Elba and Stellan Skarsgård for varying lengths of time (Julie Delpy and Elba appear in blink-and-miss-em parts) and the film is richer because no one is suppressing the quirks that make them compelling stars.
Geoffrey Macnab, Independent
The best moments in the film tend to be the more character-driven ones. The cast is tremendous. Whedon deals in a humorous but affecting way with the burgeoning romance between Natasha and Banner. There are very evocative dream sequences as Scarlet Witch’s spells make the Avengers confront demons in their past. Robert Downey Jr. is as sardonic as ever as Iron Man and Jeremy Renner registers strongly as master archer Hawkeye, an all-American family man when he is not on superhero duty. Whedon brings a depth and wit to his storytelling that you will never find in a “Transformers” movie.
Eric Kohn, Indiewire
With comics vet Whedon once again holding the reigns as writer-director, “Age of Ultron” still manages to deliver an impressive scale and the ability to translate its colorful, majestic figures into cinematic form. From Iron Man’s speedy aerodynamics to the Hulk’s path of destruction, the characters move through the murky plot with tremendous versatility. But Whedon comes up short with the challenge of crafting genuine excitement over the latest perils facing the same people we’ve watched save humanity several times before. The previous movie had the rare quality of a mass market spectacle driven by witty banter as much as the stunning effects work. The new one offers a handful of intriguing developments but lacks the same dynamic chemistry that made the initial installment such an anomaly.
Tom Huddleston, Time Out
Whedon has revealed that his first cut ran for well over three hours, and it shows: “Ultron” feels excessively nipped and tucked, barreling from one explosive set-piece to the next, leaving ideas half-formed and character motivations murky. While the introduction of new superheroes like Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and the confusingly multi-talented Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) may excite comic fans, it makes for such a crowded field that even star players like Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Captain America (Chris Evans) are shoved to the sidelines. “Age of Ultron” is still a Joss Whedon film, packed with all the pathos, snappy action sequences and pomposity-puncturing one-liners we expect (a running gag about Thor’s hammer is almost worth the ticket price alone). But with Marvel’s eyes on the ultimate prize, their long game increasingly threatens to short change viewers, and constrain fiercely independent filmmakers like Whedon.
Don Kaye, Den of Geek
“Avengers: Age of Ultron” is a larger movie with probably triple the action sequences of “The Avengers,” but it also feels like a shaggier one that doesn’t capture the exhilaration of seeing Earth’s Mightiest Heroes together for the first time. Whedon has been saying in recent interviews how tiring and grueling the process of making the film was, and frankly, it shows. The plot barrels along at breakneck speed, giving the characters and situations less time to breathe, and there are a number of clumsy transitions that make it seem as if the director lost his way a few times and accidentally left something potentially valuable or clarifying on the cutting room floor. Already fairly long at two hours and 15 minutes without credits, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” feels like it might be a better movie with an extra 30 minutes to smooth things out.
Alison Willmore, BuzzFeed
“Avengers: Age of Ultron” is bigger, messier, and more sprawling than “The Avengers,” less satisfying while still being an undeniably good time from the opening raid on a Hydra stronghold to the concussive finish. But this film, more than the first, is also beset by tension between the need for blustery set pieces and the fact that the greatest pleasure of these movies is actually watching its varied and not always simpatico superheroes hang out and interact, especially as written by someone with such a feel for them as distinctive personalities.
Oliver Franklin-Wallis, Wired
Because of all of the high points, it’s easy to forgive the film’s flaws. It’s too busy. The number of characters means that none of them get a real chance to shine, a problem compounded by some rather indulgent cameos (if you haven’t seen all of the Marvel films, expect to get lost a few times). The new additions, including Paul Bettany’s The Vision, aren’t fleshed out enough, to the point of feeling redundant. But the ambition, and the sheer fun of it, means that “Age of Ultron” is that rare thing: a two and a half hour action film that would actually benefit from being 10 or 15 minutes longer.
Matt Patches, Esquire
As he did in “The Avengers'” sublime New York City battle, Whedon blends his heroes’ individual attacks into swooping long-takes that amplify team dynamics. The effect works wonders — “Age of Ultron’s” 30-minute long conclusion atop a city-turned-meteor is gorgeous splash page after splash page — and occasionally topples over itself. The opening rescue mission, chock full of snowy landscapes, bursting tree trunks, laser blasts, and the Avengers’ own bravado, is like watching a fireworks display with a spyglass. They haven’t invented a screen big enough for “Age of Ultron.”
Rich Trenholm, CNet
Director Joss Whedon excels at this kind of human drama anchoring the off-the-chart action and badass moments. Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark faces the hubris of his creation; Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner is haunted by his dual nature as the Hulk; and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow tries to leave behind her roots as a ruthless assassin. Heck, even Hawkeye has stuff to do. But with its vast cast, ever-accelerating action, and cameos from the wider world of Marvel, the film has to keep doubling down in a kind of spectacle inflation as it races towards its epic conclusion. Inevitably, having so many balls in the air and plates spinning means that some balls and plates drop.
Scott Mendelson, Forbes
That Whedon and company couldn’t think of anything to do with Scarlett Johansson other than give her a romantic subplot is frankly indicative of the overall feeling of indifference that pervades the whole picture. “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is not an aggressively bad film by any means, but it also doesn’t go out of its way to be aggressively good. It lacks any impact in the overall arc and isn’t all that entertaining on its own merits. Lacking either a status as a “big and important film in the Marvel mythology”” or a status as a “outside the box stand-alone one-off,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron” feels like a film that was primarily made because “The Avengers” made $1.5 billion worldwide as opposed to because it needed to exist in the narrative. Everyone involved, from the actors to the director, act like this is just a contractual obligation before they get to the meatier stuff (or vacate the premises).
Alonso Duralde, the Wrap
There are moments of respite between the big battles, and that’s when Whedon can give us his trademark badinage. What he does less successfully is fit in quotidian moments with Black Widow, Hulk and Hawkeye, the characters who haven’t had movies named after them over the last three years. Add some crammed-in cameos from the sidekicks from “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Thor: The Lost World” and “Iron Man 3,” and the film starts to resemble a phone booth crammed with frat pledges.
Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter
Ultimately, Whedon’s efforts to invest the heroes with a degree of uncertainty and vulnerability comes off as half-baked, as such an effort can only go so far due to the nature of the material. After all, these are comic book characters defined by their double identities; a third dimension is neither required nor perhaps even desired. If ending on a dramatic cliffhanger note had been desired, the elements were there for the taking; including a semi-tragic component along with mystery about “Ultron’s” ultimate fate would arguably have only further cranked up anticipation for the coming chapters. But, then, what does that matter when the automatic attendance of millions is assured?
Helen O’Hara, Empire
The film’s biggest burden, ultimately, is not its plethora of characters but the tasks laden upon it by the wider Marvel universe. Where Assemble’s world-changing felt largely organic, here specific targets appear to have been set to launch not just “Captain America: Civil War,” but also “Thor: Ragnarok,” “Black Panther” and the two-part “Avengers: Infinity War.” It adds complication to an already complex plot, in a way that can make this a little dense on first chew. What’s more, Marvel still hasn’t quite escaped their airborne-threat-to-a-city final act tendency, despite a valiant attempt to twist the formula here, and the need for a fresh sort of climax is now critical.But Whedon does so much right, and injects such a powerful blend of humor and high-stakes into each scene, that we can’t pick too many holes. When we’d happily watch this cast of characters just cook dinner together, it’s hard to complain because they also save the world instead.
Tim Grierson, Screen Daily
Viewers who don’t care about subtle character shadings will be happy to know that “Ultron” provides ample action from the first frames. However, the preponderance of CGI in the battle scenes can lead to a distancing feeling as we watch weightless avatars flying to and fro, the characters often bantering with hit-or-miss quips that only underline the unreality of the situations. Still, give Whedon credit for manufacturing a finale that, for the umpteenth time in the history of cinema, makes us concerned that the human race could be wiped out at a moment’s notice. Despite how overstuffed “Age of Ultron” can be, he’s a filmmaker with an eye out for the emotional underpinnings that make all the spectacle compelling.
Scott Foundas, Variety
When the movie does return to symphony-of-destruction mode, it stays engaging precisely because Whedon has given us reasons to care — at least a tiny bit — about the all the whirring and smashing and booming and crashing. It helps that the actors by now wear these roles as comfortably as second skins — an enviable model that those forthcoming superhero alliances, “Fantastic Four” and “Justice League,” can only hope to follow. (Even Downey, whose smirking sarcasm had already begun to wear thin by the time of “Iron Man 3,” is kept relatively in check here, despite his top billing.) And while Whedon still lacks the innately gifted image-making of his obvious role model, Steven Spielberg (or of his fanboy contemporary, J.J. Abrams), he keeps the movie’s heavy machinery in constant, fluid motion. If this is what the apotheosis of branded, big-studio entertainment has come to look like in 2015, we could be doing much worse. Unlike its title character, “Age of Ultron” most definitely has soul.
Jordan Hoffman, Popular Mechanics
Ultron’s unexpected goofiness is Whedon playing to his strengths. This movie is wall to wall gags in the spirit of the previous film’s “Galaga” throwaway. “Age of Ultron” exudes the love of comic books. I’m pretty sure this is the first time Iron Man is ever called “Shellhead” in one of the movies. It comes (from Black Widow) during one of the numerous high-energy action scenes that feels, at first, as though it will solve all the film’s problems, but of course just leads to the next adventure. During the onslaught of superhero movies we’ve seen in the past decade, there hasn’t been one that quite nails the feeling of sitting and reading a stack of eight comics in one sitting quite like this one.
Matt Singer, ScreenCrush
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe ideals, not abilities, define heroism. As the Avengers head into final battle with Ultron, Captain America gives his troops one of his classic inspirational Captain America pep talks. “This isn’t just about defeating him,” he says. “This is about whether he’s right,” referring to Ultron’s belief that mankind’s propensity for conflict, disagreement, and war will be its undoing. Even as the Avengers try to defeat Ultron, they go out of their way to protect the innocent lives he’s put in harm’s way. They refuse to rest until everyone is safe. The Avengers don’t just dress like heroes, they act like them too. Call it hokey and old-fashioned if you want. I just call it comic book-y.
Rodrigo Perez, the Playlist
Sure, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” concludes with an all’s well that ends well feeling, but the difference being this time, the heroes are more damaged and scattered, and while this may not have been intentional, the ramifications of “Ultron” should make for some good dramatic fodder down the MCU road. While “Age of Ultron” isn;t perfect and arguably less successful on a whole than “The Avengers,” on a purely enjoyable moviegoing level, it should please fans hardcore and casual alike and that’s maybe that’s all that really matters in the end.