Avengers: Age of Ultron Review
EARTH’S MIGHTIEST HEROES RETURN
In the beginning of summer 2012, Marvel unleashed the unprecedented superhero team up with blockbuster film The Avengers. This collaboration of comic book heroes (Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, The Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye, etc) was a first by movie standers, demonstrating an ambitious and experimental gamble by the studio heads at Marvel. The gamble, however, played off in a monumental way as The Avengers became the highest grossing movie (both domestic and worldwide) of 2012 with a hefty $1.5 billion in revenue. The movie also paved the way for Marvel to continue its MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), expanding the franchise into new avenues with new movies, two TV shows, and whole slew of products and toys. Now, three years later, the summer of 2015 is about to beginning and kicks off triumphantly with the return of Earth’s mightiest heroes in the blockbuster sequel Avengers: Age of Ultron. Can this reassemblage of superheroes relive the glory of its illustrious predecessor or is it a sequel that has too much big budgeted comic book frivolities?
After dealing with Loki and his planned Chitauri invasion, the Avengers are back together again. Team members Tony Stark / Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers / Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Dr. Bruce Banner / Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Clint Barton / Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) are off to stop the last remnants of the Hydra organization and their leader Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann), who’s been experimenting on humans and has found two gifted subjects in Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), and Pietro Maximoff / Quicksilver (Aaron-Taylor Johnson). With the mission accomplished, the Avengers revel in their success, only to find Ultron, (James Spader), a sentient mechanical robot created by Stark’s research into the power of artificial intelligence, to disrupt their moment of triumph. Stark, who was hoping to retire as Iron Man was developing a robotic strike force to protect the world, created Ultron with that purpose. However, Ultron, becoming self-aware, turns on his creator and Avenger companions and, seeing humanity as a flawed species, sets in motion plans for a global extinction of mankind; recruiting Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver into his villainous plan. Now Earth’s mightiest heroes face a worldwide threat, bringing forth personal challenges, tests of loyalty, and the titular dangers from Ultron’s master plan.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
It’s a sure thing that Marvel Studios captured lightning in a bottle back in 2012 with The Avengers. The movie globally skyrocketed to worldly acclaim and generally high praise from viewers, critics, and die hard comic book superhero fans. Personally, I thought it was a great film, matching the uber hype that was placed upon its release and pleasing my inner comic boy fandom. Of course, after initial viewing of The Avengers, I began to wonder how Marvel Studios would topple this superhero team movie with its inevitable sequel. Many others thought of this notion as the long wait for Avengers 2 (as it was originally referred to back before an official title was given) began. This also began the MCU’s Phase II saga, picking up the cinematic pieces from several Avenger team members and even several new ones (Hint: Guardians of the Galaxy) with intent of expanded their tales with new allies, enemies, and plethora of superhero fun. After four feature films, the moment has come for Avengers 2, now called Avengers: Age of Ultron, to be released. The result is a film, while lacking the magic of the first movie and some oddities, is still immensely satisfying as a follow-up sequel.
With the advantage of already establishing its main characters in the first film, Age of Ultron hits the ground running, opening the feature up in mid-battle sequence of the Avengers storming Baron von Strucker’s forfeited stronghold in Sokovia. It’s a thunderous sequence (better than the opening in The Avengers) that swiftly reintroduces its main characters, showcasing their superpowers, and setting the action-packed blockbuster tone for the rest of the film. Return to the director chair is Joss Whedon, who helmed first film and serve as a consultant for other MCU’s Phase II saga movies. Whedon expands upon his first installment with a sequel that has barrage of action, but also great performances in a narrative storytelling of superheroes. Scenes like the battle between Iron Man’s Hulkbuster (codenamed Veronica by Tony Stark) and the enraged Hulk (which completely amazing to see on-screen) mirrors the opposite of a simple conversation scene with Tony Stark and Captain America talking of superhero ideologies. Personally, Whedon is a superhero at balancing action, drama, and comedy to a movie and Age of Ultron shows that. Speaking of action scenes, while the climatic end battle is great in the movie with heavy visuals, and gracefully camera works, it’s not as appealing as the battle in New York City was in the first Avengers film.
Where the idea of bringing together each franchise lead character into a feature film collaboration made The Avengers movie new and exciting, Age of Ultron somewhat losses that allure as the teaming up of powerful superheroes feels more like business as usual. It’s still a very entertaining piece and good wholesome comic book fun, but the wonderment of the first go-round is not as present in this sequel as it was before. There is also a lacking part in the middle act with the Thor’s story as the character sets out on his own to uncover the message in a vision he had. This side story seems choppy and edited down from its intended original cut. It makes you wonder why Whedon and his team choose to edit this particular scene. Did it give too much away for future plans or just simply too long. Whatever the reason, Thor’s subplot detour is a hodgepodge head scratcher.
There are also some odd omissions from film’s narrative from previous MCU entries. Things like Tony Stark destroying all his Iron Man suits in Iron Man 3, but now has several news ones. Steve Rogers, who was last seeing to begin his search for the whereabouts of the Winter Soldier, is now back with the Avengers and his also team leader. Black Widow, who blew all her covers after the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but is now with the Avengers. Thor was last seeing smooching with Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster from Thor: The Dark World . Where has he been since then? I know that Marvel’s television show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D partially connects the dots to the film’s opening scene, but Age of Ultron doesn’t commit to explain the reassemblage of the Avenger for audience members. Lastly, Thomas Kretschmann’s Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, who was presumably set up to be main threat for the Avengers, gets quickly dismissed by the thirty minutes mark of the movie. Kind of a disappointment and wished he had a bigger role to play.
Each member of the Avenger team gets their moment in the spotlight, offering an interesting character development, a comedic gag, or an action-packed whirlwind of superhero feats. In addition, in terms of acting, each cast member of the core Avengers team still retains the fundamental persona of their respective characters. Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark is still an egotistical genius, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor is still lofty and godlike, Chris Evan’s Steve Rogers is still stalwart and righteous, Scarlett Johansen’s Black Widow is still a deadly assassin, and Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner is still a torn individual between man and beast (or Hulk). For some characters, Age of Ultron does shed some new light on certain things. The biggest example of this in Jeremy Renner’s character of Hawkeye, who has a much bigger role this time around, as the movie devotes more time for viewers to peek into his personal life. Oddly enough, the film also gives a budding romance connection between the Hulk and Black Widow. This concept is completely out of the blue for each character and with Romanov’s general aloof nature and past romantic closeness with both Captain America and Hawkeye, it just seems odd. Yes, it gives more depth to their characters in Age of Ultron, but the whole star-crossed lovers of a beauty and a beast feels clunky and forced. Lastly, the film also explores the dreamscape realm via Scarlet Witch’s powers on several Avengers, glancing into their visions of fear, tormented pasts, and ominous futures.
As for the movie main antagonist, Ultron is a great superhero villain. Voiced by James Spader, his physical transformation is interesting, looks cool, and is true sizeable threat for our heroes (playing out the common mandate theme of a rogue A.I. creation). While some fans of the comics will be a little upset that he’s not as sinisterly cold and calculating, Spader serves the character well and gives Ultron more of a personality, channeling and expressing similarities with his co-creator (Tony Stark) with cheekiness and glib remarks. All in all, while he isn’t the exact carbon copy of the character created by Roy Thomas & John Buscema from the comics, Ultron is a terrific villain for what the movie wants to him to be on-screen and is voiced by a brilliant actor.
Age of Ultron also adds new superheroes into the mix starting with the two gifted Maximoff twins (Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver), who made their cameo introduction in the mid-credit scene for Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Both are regulated as secondary character in the movie and get their moments to shine. However, Quicksilver, played by actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson, seems underserved in this superhero feature. Could they of done more with them? Absolutely and it would’ve been a welcomed addition. As it stands, in comparing apples to apples, I personally thought that Evan Peter’s Quicksilver from X-Men: Days of Future Past was better than Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Quicksilver (Just my opinion). Scarlet Witch, Pietro’s sibling sister, fares a little better than the inherit speedster. Naturally, Elizabeth Olsen is easy on the eyes, but her character of Wanda Maximoff has more to do with film’s central plot than her brother does, making her a slightly stronger presence on-screen. Lastly, an arrival that comes late in the movie, is the character of Vision, played by actor Paul Bettany. While his screen time is somewhat limited, there’s a curious mystery surrounding Vision, transfixing a viewer’s attention to him. His physical look (a mixture of CG render and practical costume and make-up effects) is a good combination for a being synthesis of A.I. and humanity. As a side note, Bettany’s calm demeanor sounding voice fits Vision quite well. Let’s hope that there’s more of Vision in future MCU installment, unveiling his character’s persona and exploring his newfound powers.
Minor supporting characters from the MCU grace the silver screen in Age of Ultron including Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, Coble Smulders’s Maria Hill, Don Cheadle’s James Rhodes aka War Machine, Anthony Mackie’s Same Wilson aka Falcon, Stellan Skarsgard’s Erik Selvig, Idris Elba’s Hemdall, and Haley Atwell’s Peggy Carter. Some roles are larger than others, while some are more than just brief cameos.
For fans of Marvel’s continuity, Age of Ultron makes references to others in the MCU, The secretive dealings of Hydra, a cameo appearance from comic character Ulysses Klaw (played by actor Andy Serkis), and the further interest in the Infinity stones are there as well as foreshadowing of dark events for the Asguardian avenger in Thor: Ragnarok and dropping subtle hints of between Iron Man and Captain America for next year’s Captain America: Civil War. Interweaving and layering connections to other feature films (past and future ones) have almost become of a trademark staple to the MCU. Yet, while these connections are enjoyable, Age of Ultron felt at times just a little too distracting with these nods. I know the studio heads at Marvel probably planned to use Age of Ultron as a catapult to launch future plans for their universe, but, at the same time, I felt they should’ve kept the narrative a little bit more invested in the events of the current movie and not trying too hard to lay the ground work for films yet to come.
For fans of Marvel’s infamous end credits scene, stick around for it. While I won’t spoil what it is, it’s a mid-credit scene (lasting only twenty seconds or so), and it’s a great one. Sure did give me goose bumps just watching it.
Lightning may not strike the same place twice, but Avengers: Age of Ultron comes overtly close. While its story fumbles slightly and the wonderment of a superhero assemblage doesn’t resonate as much as it did in the previous film, its comic book integrity and grandiose blockbuster spectacle is, for the most part, left in intact, cultivating in a highly enjoyable sequel that will please many fans out there. The anticipated hype and excitement for Joss Whedon’s superhero follow-up was personally well worth it, kicking off the summer move lineup of 2015 in a fantastic way. With Ant-Man releasing later this summer and bringing a close to the MCU’s Phase II saga (ushering the Phase III saga in next year), the long road begins again for the next Avengers movie, which is to be split into two movies and officially titled as Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 and 2 . How these two movies will ultimately shape up is still a mystery and will further develop as the Phase III saga movies are underway. For now, one thing is certain, 2018 (which is when Infinity War Part 1 is set to be release) can’t come soon enough.
4.3 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)
Very fair review. I found it to be a very entertaining movie and superhero movies normally aren’t my thing. What did you think of Black Widow’s backstory getting explained with the sterilization? I thought that was very moving and helped me see her as more of a real person and not just a cold superhero. I guess I’m not as tied to the MCU as I haven’t even seen all the movies so I enjoyed some of the winks but didn’t notice some of those omissions you mentioned.
I agree with you Ultron was a great villain! For a villain like him to work the heroes have to feel vulnerable to his powers. I totally felt like the Avengers were vulnerable and didn’t know exactly how it would end.
People ask me ‘is it better than Guardians? or Avengers? or Capt 2?” My answer is I don’t know and don’t care. I just know I liked it and don’t feel a need to rank it before or above anything else.
Thank you for writing. Your right, I found Black Widow’s backstory to be interesting and probably one of the best visions from the bunch. As for the omissions, may be I notice it because I’m very passionate about the Marvel movies just as you are passionate with Disney’s animated films.