AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON
Written and directed by Joss Whedon
Featuring Paul Bettany, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Elizabeth Olsen, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, Colbie Smulders, James Spader, Aaron Taylor-Johnson
'Rama Rating: 7.5 out of 10
The challenge in reviewing Avengers: Age of Ultron, the upteenth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is understanding it as a part of a greater whole while appreciating it as movie that can stand on its own. Audiences can be thankful the Avengers sequel can take its place in the upper third of the growing Marvel catalog.
Beware as plot spoilers follow.
The film opens up as the S.H.I.E.L.D.-less Avengers storm a secret Hydra base to recover Loki’s staff. They uncover a number of secret experiments - namely those involving artificial intelligence and the creation of super-powered beings. Iron Man / Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) briefly falls under the influence of Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), the subject of one of these experiments. Stark’s fear of being the sole survivor in an Avenger-less world leads him to a logical conclusion: he needs to protect the planet from all external threats. And so begins a mad-scientist/monster movie disguised as a super-hero tale.
Stark enlists Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) to aid him in bringing his plan to life through the construction of a protective super intelligence. And why not? Stark currently funds and houses the Avengers and its support staff, the next logical step would be expand that to a global - maybe even galactic - scale. The plan goes disastrously wrong, but gives rise to Ultron, an artificial intelligence that decides he’s earth’s best chance at survival, even if it means the extinction of all human life. To do this, he enlists Wanda and her twin brother Pietro / Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a speedster, to take down Stark and his Avengers.
Playing god didn’t work the first time for Stark, so he does it again, this time with using a semi-synthetic body created by and for Ultron. That goes wrong as well, but only slightly, as Stark, Banner, and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) give life to the Vision (Paul Bettany), a semi-organic android with the A.I. of Stark’s J.A.R.V.I.S. system (as featured heavily in the Iron Man trilogy and first Avengers movie). A huge battle ensues, new heroes are born, and our team suffers real casualties. The post-big battle fallout leads to the introduction of a new and more diverse team of Avengers, and promises a threat that’s been in waiting in the wings for some time.
Relationships dominate a large portion of the movie, with a focus on the budding romance between Bruce “Hulk” Banner and Natasha “Black Widow” Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson). Romanoff becomes the keep of Banner’s humanity who can calm him in his Hulk persona and charm him as Banner. As with the first film, the sequel struggles with a place with Romanoff, and renders her pretty useless by its climax. Even an extended look into her past only makes her marginalization all the more tragic.
Faring better this time is Clint “Hawkeye” Barton (Jeremy Renner) as the “everyman” Avenger. He’s a self-aware, a simple “point-here-and-shoot” John McClaine character with less baggage than Romanoff who is constantly outclassed by his super-powered brethren. Much more is learned about the resident bowman as he reveals himself as the one Avenger with the most to lose with the most personal of stakes.
James Spader’s Ultron deserves a high position next to Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. Ultron is absolutely frightening in delivery and method as the worst parts of Tony Stark realized. Whedon smartly follows this thread as it becomes the focus of the Steve “Captain America” Rogers (Chris Evans) and Tony Stark rift. Rogers’ measured strategies don't jibe with Stark’s near-reckless exploration, no doubt setting the stage for future infighting in future movies.
The Maximoff twins are a nice surprise. Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays Pietro / Quicksilver as arrogant, playful, and dark when necessary. Olsen’s Wanda comes off as mysterious and eerie. Her powers are defined as telekinetic and telepathic in nature, yet they play as murkily defined.
Paul Bettany’s the Vision gets the short shrift. The Vision makes few, albeit important, appearances. It’s no wonder given the number of characters Whedon and company attempt to juggle with mixed success.
Comics fans will appreciate the cameos and easter eggs — including one of the best Stan Lee appearances to date. This reviewer is particularly grateful for the appearance of a certain Golden Age S.H.I.E.L.D agent. More of her, please.
The film hits all the high points an audience would expect. Whedon plays up the humor with clashes between Captain American’s old timey-ness and Stark’s bravado. Captain America is the film’s best combo player, notably with Thor and Black Widow. The Hammer of Thor gag carried through film gives life to some of the film’s better character moments. Whedon even addresses the “destruction porn” comments leveled at this genre by giving the Avengers crowd control duties.
Overall, Avengers: Age of Ultron makes a great addition to the Marvel catalog and will no doubt thrill those invested in the franchise.
Avengers: Age of Ultron opens May 1, 2015.