THEATRICAL REVIEW: Avengers: Age of Ultron
Produced by: Kevin Feige
Written by: Joss Whedon
Edited by: Jeffrey Ford, Lisa Lassek
Cinematography by: Ben Davis
Music by: Brian Tyler, Danny Elfman
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johasson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Linda Cardellini, Claudia Kim, Don Cheadle, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Anthony Mackie, Hayley Atwell, Idris Elba, Stellan Skarsgård, Andy Serkis, Julie Delpy, Kerry Condon
Based on the Marvel Comics
I don’t think anything will compare to the anticipation that led up to the release of Marvel’s first Avengers movie. When Samuel L. Jackson showed up at the end of the first Iron Man back in 2008 and basically announced Marvel’s intentions to create a cinematic universe in which pretty much all of their characters would coexist in one massive multimedia project, each subsequent addition to this universe has basically been made with the goal of getting people excited for the next while being fairly to immensely entertaining in its own right. This is something that could have easily imploded on itself, particularly if Marvel screwed it up by either playing it too safe and mucking their characters up in order to cater to audiences who might not be willing to accept them or by getting caught up in their own hype and letting the films coast on brand recognition and not paying attention to quality control.
The sheer scale and coordination between everything in this synergistic universe is unprecedented in mainstream media and a big risk, and yet here we are – seven years, 11 movies, 2 TV series, 1 miniseries, and another 13 years of projects promised beyond 2015 – and not only has the project not imploded, it’s become possibly the biggest cultural phenomenon since Star Wars while arguably maintaining a higher level of quality than some of that franchise’s more questionable projects. The quality of Marvel’s work has undoubtedly varied, but I’d argue that none of them has been outright bad, and some of their gambles have paid off big time – Guardians of the Galaxy and the Netflix TV series Daredevil being the best examples of what Marvel’s capable of when they’re willing to really let loose. As a result, Marvel’s second Avengers film has a lot of hype around it, and for good reason. As if you didn’t know it was going to be, Age of Ultron is yet another incredibly entertaining film, but where exactly does it fall within that spectrum of Marvel projects? Well, let’s first talk about the premise of the movie itself.
After the uprising from within S.H.I.E.L.D. during the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Hydra begins to experiment using Loki’s scepter, which was confiscated by S.H.I.E.L.D. in the first Avengers, and uses it in experiments that have resulted in Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, the twins glimpsed at the end of The Winter Soldier, being granted special enhancements – super speed and (roughly) telepathy, respectively. The Avengers are sent in to take down the Hydra camp where they and the scepter are being held, but, after a brief confrontation, they ultimately escape while Hydra is defeated and the scepter is retrieved.
Due to his past experiences, Tony now believes that the world needs a global defense system against extraterrestrial/extradimensional forces and convinces Bruce Banner to collude with him in the creation of the Ultron system, using the advanced artificial intelligence found within the scepter, intending to relieve the outdated J.A.R.V.I.S. system of its duties in running the Avengers Initiative as well as Stark Industries. The alien technology, however, unexpectedly leads to Ultron achieving a higher level of sentience than expected. Having seen humanity’s history of violence, Ultron goes to the same extremes that many sentient and weaponized machines are drawn to and basically declares war on humanity, recruiting the Maximoff twins to his cause along the way by telling them that he will help them get revenge on Stark for his company’s creation of the weapons that ultimately led to their family being destroyed. Thus, the world needs the Avengers to assemble once again and save us all from extinction.
I must admit that, initially there was a sense of disappointment when I came out of this film that I had to process – the novelty of seeing all these heroes team up again is not nearly as strong a draw this time around, you see, possibly due in part to the hype that led up to it, but mostly because, even though it’s only happened once before, it’s already feeling like something that we’ve seen before. I’m actually totally okay with that, however, as I figured out that there’s plenty of other reasons to see these characters unite and fight alongside each other beyond mere novelty – the characters still work incredibly well off one another, what with their shared values and conflicts and, yes, even attractions, which is actually the main draw with these movies. The Avengers movies can use audiences’ familiarity with the solo films as shorthand for understanding these characters, their backgrounds, and thus avoid unnecessary exposition, allowing for quick summaries of what is going on and then allowing for the charismatic personalities to come through and allow us to see how these heroes relate to one another rather than just interactions with supervillains and the usually more ordinary supporting characters around them. I actually think I came out of the movie wanting to see more character meetups, if only to see how they work alongside each other. It’s not so much spectacle any more as it is… a party? I think that’s appropriate to this film.
Age of Ultron, of course, isn’t perfect. Word has it a full hour was edited out to bring it down to a running time of 2 hours 21 minutes, and it certainly feels like the film could’ve benefited from that hour. It moves at such breakneck speed, I can understand why some have felt like it was too confusing, as it’s easy to miss the myriad of plot details and feel like you’re not getting enough time to spend with the new characters. There are hints of future installments in the MCU, but those not really in the know about these things (i.e., nerds like me who, even if they don’t read the comics, will voraciously consume information about them so that they can speculate alongside everyone else) will likely feel less satisfied by the small snippets and won’t be comforted by the idea of having to sit through another film to get the full picture. I also found myself feeling like the film had actually been way too short, despite being only 2 minutes short of the previous Avengers. Luckily, an extended edition has been promised for the home release, and I fully expect that to become the stronger, definitive version of Age of Ultron once it comes out, but that might be little consolation for those who paid full price for tickets and snacks for what might feel like a truncated film. This might be the movie studios’ equivalent to the video game studios’ downloadable content….
The central premise regarding Ultron as well-intentioned technology getting out of hand is not in any way original, either, but as with most things Marvel Studios produces, the good outweighs the bad. Whedon’s wit and humor, as before, runs throughout the duration of the film, though he definitely still knows when to fall back and let his characters be remarkably vulnerable for a while, too, which allows for us to admire and relate to them.* The use of Wanda Maximoff’s hex powers here is a great way of integrating the power display with character development, and fans of Hawkeye can rest assured – he gets his full dues here after getting the shaft the first time around, and it actually makes his participation on the team surprisingly poignant, too. And let’s not forget James Spader, who provides the sardonic voice of Ultron with appropriate levels of humor and sinister angst. Great casting, as always. And even if his plan is basically that of your usual machine uprising against humanity, the reasons for his actions are still somehow compelling enough because of that delivery, and the actual actions he takes definitely feel like they necessitate the participation of all these superheroes working alongside one another throughout the numerous exciting action sequences – all of which are choreographed with clarity, so no need to fear the shaky cam.
I’m still riding a high after seeing this film almost a week ago as of this writing, and I’m fairly certain I’m going to pay nearly double the amount I did the first time around just to see it again in IMAX 3D format. I really did enjoy it that much, and I’m hoping that my second time through will allow for just a bit more of a relaxed feeling in spite of the frantic pacing, soaking it all in and maybe even noticing things I didn’t see before. This cinematic universe is still going strong after seven years, and I couldn’t be any more excited than I am now to be a fan of these characters despite not being a comic book reader. I grew up on this kind of stuff but could never justify spending a bunch of my money on these things when I had so many other interests, and now that I’m an adult, I don’t feel like I have the time to spend reading them, either. Plus, I’m far more disposed to watching something than I am reading, so things like this are a godsend, ‘cause I still like the core concepts and know enough about what goes on in the comics to speculate and get excited about what might be coming in the future. Age of Ultron is like a victory lap for Marvel’s Phase 2, which I thought was overall even stronger than the first, even when you consider just the movies themselves. I can hardly wait for Phase 3, which, luckily, won’t be too much longer since Ant-Man’s just right around the corner!
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 4 / 5