‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ a visually ugly $250 million mess

Boom, crash:The Avengers are back to wreck everything in ‘The Avengers: Age of Ultron’.

THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON *1/2 (141 minutes) M
If you want a fairly accurate sense of the sensory assault that awaits you in Avengers: Age of Ultron just imagine somebody right in front of you attacking a block of concrete with a jackhammer for two hours.

Add to that the mind-numbing effects of yet another big-screen superhero narrative that adheres strictly to the dictates of 21st century post-content cinema by not containing one fresh idea and making virtually no sense.

In short, Avengers 2 is a $250 million pile of poo. Apart from it being way too long, it’s often quite dull. It does have an important message, though: visual noise does not equal entertainment.

The story, or what passes for a story, involves the umpteenth rehashing of the old technology-out-of-control chestnut we saw in 2001 (1968) and Westworld (1973).

Keen to take artificial intelligence to the next level Tony Stark – aka Iron Man, aka Robert Downey Jr – messes with the mega-brain program the team retrieves in the opening reel of the film.

He gives some smart-mouthed rationale to Bruce Banner – aka the Hulk, aka Mark Ruffalo – about why he doesn’t want to tell the others, and before you can say Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970, and still the best computer-vs-man film of all) it goes rogue.

It’s at about this point the earplugs should go in as the film’s series of prolonged, frenetically edited demolition sequences unspool.

The sheer scale of these scenes seem designed to paper over the film’s blanket lack of imagination. Even props from previous Marvel films are dragged in.

And with great respect to the armies of digital artists who slave away on films such as these, there isn’t a single frame of originality in the film.

Giant robots, twirling cars, collapsing buildings, large energy beams, big ships floating in the sky – we’ve seen it all before, mostly in other superhero films.

On top of that, Avengers 2 is a visually ugly spectacle. The vast bulk of the film’s action is predicated on scenes of massive destruction rather than tension.

Consequently, you spend an inordinate amount of time in Avengers 2 watching rubble fly about as things crumble, crash and explode in a rhapsody of repetition.

Worse still, there is no real tension invested in any of these scenes, no sense of genuine threat. Thousands of people might well be reyling on the Avengers to save them, but director Joss Whedon (Avengers 1, Buffy, etc) never wants you to feel that they’ll ever come to any real harm. Even dogs are safe.

As a point of contrast, check out the footchase in Yann Demange’s thriller ’71; it’s a far superior action scene than anything in this bloated dross because the stakes are so high as a man runs for his life.

It’s an unfortunate predilection among some fanboys to read profundity and deep meaning and all manner of mythological import into superhero films. And while that might hold up with the Dark Knight and Superman films – which hark from Marvel rival DC Comics – any claims of Avengers 2 having any moral depth fall flat in the face of the film’s total lack of coherence.

All the mayhem caused in the film by the renegade A.I. creation is Tony Stark’s fault. Yet the film does absolutely nothing with it. There was surely an opportunity here to take on and explore some of the moral complexity that has made the Dark Knight series so distinctive and intellectually satisfying.

There’s not a decent fight or even an argument over the issue. Hasn’t Stark violated the Avengers code of loyalty and teamwork by doing this?

You’d have thought, at the very least, that the moralistic Thor would have thrown a few barbed accusations, and perhaps even his hammer, Stark’s way. But there’s nothing like that. There’s not even a hint of regret. The film is dramatically dead. (This effectively renders Whedon’s recent Shakespearean jaunt with Much Ado About Nothing as somewhat hollow. For, what was the point?)

But that doesn’t matter. Neither do unfavourable reviews from jaded critics who are several hundred years older than the film’s target teen demo.

As a franchise film, Avengers 2 does its duty by introducing some more superhero characters and having a saturation marketing campaign that ensures enough people are conditioned to see the film on its opening weekend to make it a hit.

The sad irony is that the first films of each branch of the franchise – Thor; Iron Man; Captain America – were fresh, distinctive and alive with ideas and visual originality. They were really cool films.

So it’s not that these Avenger films can’t have character, it’s just that once they get into the sequel cycle they immediately submit to sequel syndrome by blanding out to become forgettable blockbuster blancmanges.

Which is a pity because it clearly doesn’t have to be this way.