I’m of the mind that Marvel’s incredibly successful string of comic book movies is both popularly overestimated and critically under-appreciated. On the one hand, though they’re generally entertaining and highly adroit at fan service, they’re not particularly well-made movies. They’re loud and dumb and generally lacking in artistry and any ambition other than making the biggest possible ka-ching sound at the box office.
On the other hand, as I’ve said in the past, super-hero movies are the new Westerns and films noir. That is, they’re populist entertainments that say more about our current condition than their contemporary critics credit them for, and they’re likely to receive much greater appreciation given the passage of time. For example, it may be a decade or two longer before the level of condescension in Anthony Lane’s review of “Avengers: Age of Ultron” can be seen for what it is: lazy criticism. Lane writes in his first paragraph:
Who is Ultron? What is he? I went into ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ not knowing whether the name referred to a man, a concept, or a laundry powder, and I came out none the wiser. All I can tell you is that it speaks in the voice of James Spader, and that it can’t make up its humongous mind whether to save the world or to trash it. (This is a Marvel movie, so the third option—simply leaving the world to get on with its daily business, in its own sweet and shambling way—is not on the table.) To start with, Ultron seems to be a computer program, and at one point it even squares off against another computer program—a ball of sparky golden light versus a ball of sparky blue light, bobbing and spitting at each other, without a human in sight. Maybe one day all movies will look like that.
I have yet to see this movie (it opens in the U.S. later this week), and I’m honestly not incredibly enthusiastic about its prospects. Still, it’s hard to imagine a review for a film of any other genre starting with the critic boasting that he or she knows nothing about the source material. In fact, critics often go to great lengths in their writing to make it clear to readers that they’re deeply familiar with the books from which adaptations are derived, with the authors’ bodies of work, with the historical context for the work, etc. That’s part of the critic’s job—to understand the material, to consider more than what’s on the screen. Lane’s offhanded braggadocio is frankly irresponsible, and I can’t wait for it to be a thing of the past.
Read the full review at newyorker.com.