If you see one movie about artificial intelligence this summer, see Ex Machina. But if you see two, you’re probably seeing Avengers: Age of Ultron anyway and yes, it’s good. Is it as good as the first Avengers? In some ways yes, in general I think not. It’s more ambitious and thematically rich, but at 2 and a half hours it’s simultaneously filled with excess and oddly incomplete. Joss Whedon’s director’s cut, due out on DVD and Blu-Ray later this year, promises to be a full hour longer, and I’m curious how it plays in full. Depending on what the missing material is and how it fits into the movie, the director’s cut might possibly be great.
My number one hope for the director’s cut: more Wanda and Pietro. These not-mutant-because-FOX-owns-the-X-Men twins, played by Elizabeth Olsen and a surprisingly not awful Aaron Taylor-Johnson, have the coolest powers (she’s a psychic who can screw with people’s minds, he’s got super-speed), a strong relationship playing off each other, and a major dramatic arc that’s not developed nearly enough. Beyond just being interesting, I’d think it almost a moral imperative to give a deeper look into why characters the actors have described as “gypsies” (in the comics, they’re explicitly half-Roma, half-Jewish, and the children of Holocaust survivors) would willingly be teaming up with HYDRA Nazis at the start of the film.
Beyond that, I hope the director’s cut has more of what Whedon’s really great at: the calmer, funnier character moments. There’s still plenty of that to enjoy in the theatrical cut: Hawkeye actually has a character for the first time in these movies, Hulk and Black Widow (the two best-acted characters) share a romance, and even bit players like Maria Hill and War Machine get time to shine. There’s also some impressive darker asides: though Thor’s part is a bit excessively trailer-y, the “Avengers’ worst nightmares” sequences are mostly stand-outs. The inclusion of more such bits, though, might help the overall pacing surrounding the action scenes. Whereas the first Avengers built up to one amazing action sequence, Age of Ultron has four major action sequences, only the final of which particularly stands out (the Hulkbuster scene contains one great beat but is otherwise a bit drawn out and rather underwhelming), and mid-movie threatens to tire itself out.
As in the first movie, there’s an emphasis on the need for putting aside differences to fight for the common good, but in the growing Tony Stark-Steve Rodgers conflict, it starts to hint that there are points at which philosophical differences between equally well-meaning “heroes” do become irreconcilable (setting up for Captain America: Civil War certainly). There’s also a preoccupation with childbirth: Hawkeye’s anticipating it, Black Widow has regrets surrounding it, Cap rejects it, and Tony is almost destroyed by it. It’s anxious enough I had to Google whether Joss Whedon has kids of his own to contextualize it. Turns out he does, so I guess the anxiety is ultimately subsumed into his absurdist philosophy, articulated directly by a stand-out late-movie addition to the Avengers. Age of Ultron is Whedon’s goodbye to the Marvelverse for now at least, the production apparently taking a lot out of him, but he’s managed to inject enough of himself into the explode-em-up blockbuster formula to create a solid farewell. I only hope the Director’s Cut displays even more of his strengths and eccentricities.
Note: Shockingly, there’s no post-credits scene as has been the custom for Marvel movies. After the mid-credits tease, you can leave.