Solves most of the issues with the first Avengers and brings Phase 2 to a satisfying conclusion.
BY RYAN MILOWICKI
How do you follow up one of the biggest blockbusters of all time? The Avengers was an unprecedented spectacle of ensemble, destruction, and even humor, but it wasn’t without its flaws. Fortunately, Joss Whedon and company appear to have taken copious notes from their previous endeavor, and the result is a polished, electric sequel which builds upon what made The Avengers such a thrill and improves several of areas in which Marvel has repeatedly been weak.
Age Of Ultron earns its title when Tony Stark uses the mystical power of Loki’s scepter to complete the titular initiative to create artificial intelligence. His aim with Ultron is to create a benevolent peacekeeping force to allow the Avengers to live their lives without constant threats of global destruction which only they can successfully defeat. However, in typical superhero movie fashion, Ultron turns out to be a brooding philosophical sociopath, who believes that humanity must either evolve or be rendered completely extinct in order to secure the future of Earth. As Ultron works to see his plan through to fruition, Earth’s greatest heroes must fight a most formidable enemy as well as themselves in order to prevent a threat of global annihilation which becomes increasingly imminent.
Right from the getgo, Age of Ultron‘s story is a big step up from the first film. Instead of spending 90 minutes waiting for a cryptic alien army to swarm on New York through an inter-dimensional wormhole, the presence of evil is felt immediately and often. The trope of creation rebelling against creator is a long-present one, but here it adds a tantalizing layer of personal responsibility to the superhero formula.
Marvel has had a problem with villains in the past, with all due respect to Loki. Oftentimes, the bad guys are merely just dark versions of the protagonist or quippy personalities who sit back while our heroes take out their minions. This problem is solved in a big way, something I never would have expected from a rogue robot with an army of flying doppelgangers. A big reason why Ultron works so well as a villain is the devastatingly effective vocal performance of James Spader. The level of nuance to his dialogue is a welcome rush of excitement, filled with equal parts poignant monologue and dark wit. The ability of Ultron to vocally inhabit any of his robot minions at any time permits a unique opportunity to infuse even more humor and meaning into the climactic fight sequences. Captain America hurtling a robot to its destruction out of a plane receives so much more meaning when accompanied by Ultron’s dry “Dear God, not again” as he tumbles to his demise. A villain able to undergo so many miniature deaths while still remaining active and present is an effective and terrifying duality, which Age Of Ultron parlays into a nonstop fanfare of destruction and humor.
The other problem with the original Avengers was a seeming overabundance of characters. Every hero has their own specialty and appeal, but I couldn’t help but think to myself, “what did Hawkeye really do to help in those last scenes?” As if hearing my plea for explanation, Age Of Ultron grants the less-godlike characters much more agency, crafting compelling storylines which play a big role in advancing the plot forward. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I got more out of the scenes between the fights than I did from the admittedly euphoric action sequences. This film delves deep into what makes characters like Hawkeye and Black Widow Avengers, even if their skills might not hold up beside the awesome power of Thor or Captain America. Simply put, these characters are the relatable human faces of the world’s greatest team, and they save the day on more than one occasion,whether it be Black Widow successfully calming the Hulk down (the interplay between Scarlett Johansson and Mark Ruffalo is indisputably the best part of the movie), or Hawkeye being the only one to evade the mind-warping tactics of Scarlet Witch. Speaking of the newcomer, the Maximoff twins were a welcome addition to the Avengers canon. Sequels always roll the dice when adding characters to the fray, but Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch bring an interesting backstory with them, one which underscores the film’s overarching theme of being responsible for the consequences of your actions.
This isn’t to say that the big characters aren’t without their phenomenal moments as well. The whole movie revolves around Iron Man’s desperate fight to save the world from his own creation, a task handle with the typical Robert Downey Jr. bravado. And Cap and Thor alternate seamlessly between kicking butt and continuing to be the funniest characters in the universe. All your favorite supporting characters say their hellos as well, from Nick Fury and Maria Hill on the SHIELD side of things, to Iron Patriot and Falcon stepping in to help the fighting, to Heimdall and Peggy Carter tipping their caps in brief cameos. As a conclusion to Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it is fitting that almost every major character still alive from the past 12 films climbs aboard to play their part.
If there’s one area where Age Of Ultron falls a little short, it’s in the overall scope of the film. With a $250 million budget, you knew that everything would be bigger and bolder than before, but this occasionally results in a desensitization to the destruction depicted on screen. There’s nothing wrong with what is shown; in fact, the visual effects are as stunning and hypnotically gorgeous as you’d expect. But Whedon squeezes just a bit too much spectacle into these 150 minutes, in an effort to assure that every character has multiple chances to show off their powers and send another of Ultron’s robots to the junkyard. As I said before, I was a bigger fan of the interactions between characters which occurred outside of the fighting, so I found myself clamoring for more character development at times, as the battles raged on for minutes on end. That being said, this is far from a fighting-only action movie, so enjoy the top-notch effects but remember to take equal pleasure in watching the character studies which lurk beneath the surface. We’ve watched these characters grow over the past seven years, and this movie does a great job at showing us how far they’ve come.
So overall, Age Of Ultron takes the world of the Avengers to a new level, bringing filmgoers a globe-trotting adventure filled with action, humor and a surprising amount of heart. It fixed nearly all of the gripes I had with the original Avengers, while still retaining the sense of awe that accompanies a blockbuster of such a scale. With Civil War lurking on the horizon, I am curious to see how Phase 3 will take what we’ve learned about each of these characters and use it to pit our beloved heroes against each other. Most importantly for the immediate future though, Age Of Ultron kicks off summer blockbuster season with great style, and has set the table wonderfully for the rest of what 2015 has to offer.
RYAN’s RATING: 3.5 Stars out of 4