Avengers: Age of Ultron review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
The keyword with the sequel to Marvel’s The Avengers is “more.” Director Joss Whedon throws more superheroes, more baddies, more explosion and more comedic jabs at the screen than he ever has before. In other words, it’s more of the same in how it delivers on what you’d expect from a superhero summer blockbuster. The good news is that while it still cranks up the special effects and silly one-liner, the running time has been extended to allow for much more character development than you’d expect from a film that has to juggle so many heroes.
For such a lengthy blockbuster, Whedon wastes no time in the pacing. It only takes three minutes in the first scene to see the old gang already in action, cleaning up the remaining forces of HYDRA (the secret villain organization from Captain America: The Winter Soldier). Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) zips and blasts through the air in his Iron Man suit. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) whips and twirls his mystical hammer, smashing the ground with mighty quakes. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) flings his mighty shield off the heads of bad guys as the old-fashioned Captain America. Black Widow/Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) aims her pistols, Hawkeye/Clint (Jeremy Renner) aims his arrows and Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) aims his green smash-craving body at the opposition. All the while they trade that familiar humorous banter during their teamwork.
Somewhat successful in their mission, the Avengers retrieve Loki’s staff of mind-control power. Peering into its full capabilities, Stark spots the perfect opportunity to create an artificial intelligence he’d been tinkering around with to protect the world. The mad scientist succeeds at creating a mechanical being he has dubbed Ultron (voiced by James Spader), but, surprise, Ultron’s method of peace involves global extinction. Despite being a robot inspired to kill all humans, Ultron has a surprising amount of charisma and expression for being a metal monstrosity. Spader’s performance comes through with a surprising amount of nuance in the motion captured animation. Considering his limited facial expression parts, there’s an amazing level of personality to this robot as opposed to Marvel’s past organic antagonists which do little more than scowl and growl. Ultron’s plan to destroy humanity may not be all that original for a bot gone bad, but his cunning and enthusiasm for such tactics is unparalleled to any other mechanical movie monster.
Though Captain America and Iron Man come to blows over the need for Ultron, there’s a higher level of character development for the Avengers we haven’t seen as much of in previous Marvel films. If you had to choose one hero that steals the show, it’s undeniably Hawkeye. He’s been given a better backstory, better drive and has some of the best lines in the whole film. We can relate to him as the human glue of the team especially when he remarks how a human being firing arrows at robots on a floating city doesn’t make a lick of sense. Meanwhile, there’s a rather touching relationship between Black Widow and Hulk that manages to hit some unique levels of a complex romance. And most every character is given a brilliant moment to shine when they hallucinate visions of a doubtful past. The past battles they’ve fought are not forgotten and weigh heavy on their decisions to fight, forcing them to rethink their tactics. As Tony Stark states before the final battle, they can’t just win; they need to prove they’re right.
Age of Ultron doesn’t skimp on the action by any stretch of the imagination. Accompanying Ultron is an endless army of robot goons - easy fodder for large-scale action scenes giving every hero enough to hit, punch, shoot or blast. He also adopts some experimental superheroes for his offensive that include Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). Several expected sequences are trotted out as when Iron Man and Hulk trade fists or when a train goes off the tracks, but they’re given enough playfulness and smarts to be engaging. For instance, I loved how the runaway train doesn’t involve any character trying to push it back from the front. It could’ve easily gone that way, but three of our heroes manage to keep damage to a minimum with some clever strategies. Even the Iron Man/Hulk duel has a desire to keep the destruction to a minimum, but still allows cars to fly and buildings shatter.
As much as I love this sequel, there are some undeniable faults. Most of these issues seem to either revolve around there not being enough time to encapsulate the atmosphere. There’s a lot more telling than showing for certain areas. At one point the heroes decide not to return to New York given their untrustworthy nature, but we don’t see much of any public anger. Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch relate their tragic story of Stark Technologies destroying their family, but we are merely told this from the pair. Also, how many more villains are we going to have born from a past vendetta with Stark weapons seeing as how this has got to be the third or fourth instance? At this point there should be a Stark victim support group. And, wow, are the introductions of Ultron, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch ever rushed. The movie just seems so eager to get to the smashing and explosions that it doesn’t even allow these characters to catch up.
Avengers: Age of Ultron, despite being a messier movie to juggle, is still a major upgrade over the previous film. Those seeking action will get exactly what they came for. Those seeking more character development will be greatly surprised at the level of depth. Those seeking an all around fun summer movie will not be let down with a film that asks you keep a bit of your brain still turned on. Fans of the comics will be enthralled to see some new and favorite characters literally come to life on screen. Though I’ll bet a few will be turned off by Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch being a genetic experiment rather than the mutant children of X-Men villain Magneto. Even more of a turn off is that while Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen play siblings in this picture, they played a married couple in last year’s Godzilla reboot. You might want to turn your brain off for that analysis and just enjoy the amusing discussion about who is strong enough to lift Thor’s hammer.