Avengers: Age of Ultron review
Director Joss Whedon (The Avengers, Serenity) proves yet again that he was Marvel Studios’ man for the job when assembling their mightiest super heroes for a single motion picture event. The wave of super hero films in the last decade has seen numerous comparisons to the wave of westerns in the 1960s and 70s. If Christopher Nolan (the Dark Knight trilogy) is the postmodern Sergio Leone, then consider Whedon a po-mo Sam Peckinpah. The director faced a daunting task in not only matching, but exceeding the success of his first Avengers entry from 2012—the third-highest-grossing film in box office history. Unfortunately, his Avengers sequel focuses too much of its runtime to set up “Phase Three” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and has pacing issues with the titular character not even appearing until twenty minutes into the show. Avengers: Age of Ultron assembles too many masters for the filmmaker to serve, bloating the runtime and too-often deviating from the main plot. On the other hand, most of Marvel’s newest blockbuster film consists of exciting, extended action sequences featuring all of the Avengers, with a few newcomers. Whedon takes his heroes all over the world: Eastern Europe, South Korea, and Wakanda, treating his audience to an exotic, international ride.
What begins as a means to an end for the Avengers quickly turns into an experiment gone awry as Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr. - The Judge, Chef) creates Ultron with newly-discovered technology to protect the world and provide an avenue for the Avengers to retire. Considering recent sci-fi films like Transcendence, Lucy, and Chappie, the theme regarding Ultron’s artificial, Internet-travelling consciousness is hardly an unfamiliar one, reducing the film’s originality. Stark goes so far as to refer to himself and Mark Ruffalo’s (The Kids Are All Right, Foxcatcher) Bruce Banner as “mad scientists”—a common character-type in studio blockbusters. Only Stark and Banner really know what concerns their rebellious creation as the other heroes simply step up to fight and extinguish the threat. While not all the heroes factor in to creating the problem, Whedon does a better job this time around in balancing his heroes’ screen time. We even get a tongue-in-cheek quip from Hawkeye regarding mind control.
In order to avoid shortchanging the other stars’ screen time, the picture branches off into several tributaries for most of the second act, culminating to another epic, climactic battle with the Avengers. It’s rather straight-forward, but the picture grows predictable when it wanders down the same path as the first entry: a bunch of superheroes assemble, face a series of disagreements, but ultimately team up again in the end to defeat the villain. Where Loki sought to rule humanity in The Avengers, the sequel finds the newborn Ultron seeking to eradicate humanity. The filmmaker needed a simple story to better feature each super hero and villain than a more complex narrative would have allowed. Luckily, Whedon’s knack for dialogue and developing characters shines through the basic plot and allows characters to fluidly interact.
The new characters invigorate the Marvel Cinematic Universe, adding a dynamic beyond the typical punch/kick hero in the Avengers lineup. These are fan-favorites Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson- Kick-Ass 2, Anna Karenina) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olson- Godzilla, Martha Marcy May Marlene). Quicksilver runs with incredible speed as time moves more slowly for him and Scarlet Witch uses telekinetic/ mind-based powers to subdue her enemies. However, the villain yet again gives the highlight performance of this Avengers entry, with James Spader (“The Blacklist,” Lincoln) showcasing Ultron’s chilling attitude toward humanity coupled with Whedon’s unique brand of humor, perfect for the super hero genre. Spader’s Ultron comes off as a violent, newborn entity with Shakespearean brevity and serious daddy issues in regards to Downey’s Tony Stark. Without spoiling too much, another fan-favorite character appears in the third act as some sort of literal deus ex machina to aid the Avengers.
Not a complaint among the returning cast’s performances. Downey’s Stark provides all the quips and zingers. Chris Hemsworth’s (Blackhat, Snow White and the Huntsman) Thor dresses down but keeps his godly qualities. Ruffalo plays up Banner’s scientific knowledge while accepting his “green guy” side more than in previous entries. Chris Evans’ (What’s Your Number?, The Iceman) Captain America establishes himself as the Avengers’ leader, continuing the hunt for HYDRA from his standalone franchise. Scarlett Johansson (Lucy, Chef) and Jeremy Renner (Kill the Messenger, The Immigrant) get the opportunity to expand on their roles as deadly S.H.I.E.L.D. agents now that their team operates privately out of Stark/ Avengers Tower in New York City. The most distracting aspect here is the budding romance between Black Widow and Banner that never contributes to the plot or theme, but just slows the pace and takes away from introducing new characters to the fold.
What more can one expect from a blockbuster sequel but to expand on pre-established characters and allow for more star-studded action sequences? Gifted filmmaker Joss Whedon takes his love of comic books and storytelling to yet again offer another quality Avengers assembly that successfully satisfies each hero’s importance to the team and plot at the expense of creating a pace that skips from one action scene to another with a few short scenes in between to establish a villain and little else. We already know Cap’s hunting HYDRA, Banner’s afraid of himself, Thor needs to get home, Widow has a dark past, and Stark doesn’t want to do this anymore. Only Hawkeye really gets room to grow as the audience finally peeks into his private life. The villainous additions to the cast shake up the M.C.U. action dynamic as a maniacal computer program poised to extinguish humanity and super-powered twins provide another worthy challenge for Earth’s mightiest heroes.
For fans wanting even more Avengers: Age of Ultron, rumor has it that Whedon’s original three-hour cut will arrive on the Blu Ray release this autumn.