REVIEWS

Review: 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' Rides Familiar Wave to Entertainment

by
May 1, 2015

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

Meanwhile, back in the Marvel cinematic universe, it's business as usual. Iron Man soars through the air blasting tanks and terrorists with his repulser beams. Thor, immaculate hair flowing, tosses his hammer around controlling the lightning. Hulk, you know, smashes. Even Hawkeye, with his bow and arrows, flings his…arrows with his…bow. Yes, it's everything you've come to expect and anticipate when the Avengers get back together, and Avengers: Age of Ultron has familiarity in abundance. That's good and bad when you get down to it, and even with the bloom off the rose, Marvel sure knows how to entertain with the best.

In between all those superheroes doing all those superhero-type things, we have Ultron, the artificial intelligence Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) has created. Stark, along with Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), believes the Ultron program to be the answer to the Avengers' weekend plans, a conscious being that can take on the heavy lifting in keeping the planet safe and secure. The rest of the group; Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), and the remaining members of S.H.I.E.L.D., Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), aren't given an opportunity to debate the scientists' intentions before Ultron (voiced by James Spader) goes live and promptly decides that humanity must be wiped out. Of course, Ultron decides this. He's artificial intelligence in a motion picture. What else is he going to do with humanity?

That's an awful lot of names strewn throughout what amounts to a pretty thin synopsis, but such is the case with superhero films in 2015, especially when it's a culminating event picture like the latest Avengers movie. The jam-packed roster is always going to be more important than intriguing storylines and interesting developments. There isn't even enough room in that simple synopsis to include such newcomers as Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), and Vision (Paul Bettany) or the returning, secondary players like War Machine (Don Cheadle), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), or Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). If you're experiencing overload, you're not alone.

The Avengers: Age of Ulron

While the bubble hasn't exactly burst on the whole superhero movement in film, the walls are definitely beginning to grow increasingly tighter. The days of finding yourself amazed that Tony Stark might show up at the end of a Hulk movie or being shocked when you notice a Marvel easter egg hidden in the background are coming to a close. It's a foregone conclusion that not only will these movies make a boatload of money, but they'll continue to get churned out just as quickly as production will allow. It's a renaissance period for fans of comic book movies. Whether you're growing tired of it or not, it isn't ending any time soon.

Chances are, though, you're just as gung-ho for Age of Ultron as the very company who made it. As with 2012's The Avengers, Marvel has recruited Joss Whedon to bring this latest caper to cinematic life. Any argument against Whedon handling such duties on a film franchise this big were swept aside upon release of The Avengers, a completely satisfying film that made the 4-year build that came before it all worthwhile. While Age of Ultron doesn't have that same level of satisfaction in terms of a series arc, the amount of sheer entertainment it brings makes it bigger and, yes, better than The Avengers.

Every scene in Age of Ultron, almost every shot, is loaded with eye-popping visual effects and awe-inspiring stunt sequences. Hell, the first 15 minutes of the movie feels like a highlight reel of the last, great adventure the Avengers tackled. It's a whirlwind sample of the action feast that's to transpire over the next 2 1/2 hours, but, while there is enough action in Age of Ultron to fill a whole year's worth of the comic book line, there's still plenty of gaps between sequences to let the story breathe a little.

The Avengers: Age of Ulron

Whedon, to his credit, isn't solely interested in action beat after action beat. There's a lot written into the central characters this time around, a lot of comic-book drama that's now working it's way into the movies. Chief among these in Age of Ultron is Stark and his obsession with achieving peace in our time on the planet Earth. Stark's tombstone is sure to say something about "Good Intentions" and "The Road to Hell." Even though he's about to make an obvious blunder (see last week's Ex Machina review for reference), Whedon's attention to the character and the development of Stark throughout the entire series dictate the choices he makes now and even the threats that are building out there in the world. It's believable, and, what's more, it vaguely casts Stark in a villainous light. That may come in handy once Captain America: Civil War rolls around this time next year.

The unfortunate side to Age of Ultron are the late additions, the new wrinkles to the story that don't get as much time to develop. A love grows between two characters that has probably already been spoiled to the world, but I'll keep the identities of those involved a secret. You know, for their security. Seriously, though, if there HAD to be a romance somewhere among the central team, that's the most logical pairing. Unfortunately, it's not necessary, and the avenues to which it leads could have easily been found elsewhere. It's an interesting development, one that should have been given more set-up earlier in the franchise. As it is, though, it feels like an afterthought that screams of Obligatory Story Developments 101.

The twins, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, are somewhat more interesting additions to the series. Their backstory ties in perfectly with the Marvel universe and, more importantly, Age of Ultron, but, individually, they don't amount to much more than the CG that supports them. Quicksilver darts across the screen like a flash of light while his sister goes all red-eyed and gothic-y. Her powers support the central push for Age of Ultron, but it's late in the game when Scarlet Witch, and Olsen, gets any kind of real moment by herself.

The Avengers: Age of Ulron

We're extremely lucky, then, that Olsen and Taylor-Johnson are in top form in their respective roles. So, too, is everyone in Age of Ultron, really. There isn't a weak link in the entire chain, but, after this many outings, we all know the right people are going to get chosen for the right parts within the team. Ever since Marvel made the obvious decision, the right decision, in putting Downey in Stark's suits, the batting average for matching performance with superhero has been pretty much 100% with the studio. We're even finding it in our heart to forgive them for the Terrence Howard deal. Kind of.

With a loaded inventory of great acting, it becomes even more important to bring up those that shine, and that includes actors we never even see. Ultron, more than just the film's eponymous villain, is a quirky, yet psychotic, computer program, the word of interest there being "quirky." The character has a dry, sarcastic sense of humor, something that suitably reminds you of Stark, Ultron's creator, but something that Spader absolutely nails. He doesn't adjust much in the voice he gives Ultron when he's being menacing versus when he's letting the humor through. The overall discomfort from the villain is undeniable, and made even more apparent by Spader's motion capture work in bringing Ultron's robotic host to life. The character has Spader's head shake when he talks, his head tilt when he's attentive to someone speaking, and, through-and-through, the Ultron character is made one of the most intriguing villains brought to the Marvel film universe yet.

The Avengers: Age of Ulron

Mention must also be made to Renner in Age of Ultron, who, with help from some fine character writing by Whedon, transforms Hawkeye from the least interesting character of the group - He's the one who shoots arrows, remember? - to the one you're most rooting for. I know. I didn't expect it to happen, either, but Hawkeye becomes the most engaging member of the Avengers over the course of Age of Ultron. The fact that the character actually makes light of his…super powers goes a long way. It's not enough to warrant a Hawkeye or Black Widow standalone movie. Not that that's ever going to happen, anyway, but at least we're laughing with the character now instead of at him.

The humor of it all is where Age of Ultron ties itself up nicely and becomes a wholly entertaining experience, beginning to end. Whedon's talent for such is a secret to no one. Even he's come a long way since The Avengers just three years ago. The explosive panorama wrapping itself around that sense of humor fuels the sheer joy you're feeling all the way until the film's post-credit sequence. It's a Summer blockbuster well worth placement right here at the front of the busy season.

Yet, even with the entertainment level pumped all the way up, Age of Ultron is, at its core, just another superhero movie. The Captain America films of this entire series will always remain the best, since they play on a sub-genre with their respective stories. Captain America: The First Avenger was a World War II movie. Winter Soldier was a political thriller. There's nothing wrong with Age of Ultron not playing against a particular sub-genre, nothing that can be held against the film itself, that is. The nature of the industry in its current state, though, predestines that anything we once loved will be shoved down our throats until we're sick of it. Superhero movies aren't making us sick just quite yet, but we can feel the nausea coming.

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  • TheOct8pus
    I was wondering when Firstshowing would start to mention the over-saturation of superhero movies in Hollywood. But despite the comic book movie fatigue, I'm still going to the movies...
    • Steven
      Agreed. I've not the time or inclanation to invest in a TV series, but a movie is a whole different matter to me. It's an event to be enjoyed.
      • Richard Head
        hahaha!! "Agreed. I've not the time or inclanation to invest in a TV series.." The attempt at trying to sound intelligent is funny enough, but you misspelled inclination and it should be "I have neither the time nor..." See what I did there? Do you see?? Do you see?!?! hahahaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!! Wooooooooooo!! ugh!
        • Steven
          After an 8 hour shift I couldn't give a sh..... about my spelling or grammar. So glad you feel obliged to be spelling Nazi.
    • ari smulders
      Clever remark of you, it was expected that fatigue would indeed be used here at firstshowing...
    • Richard Head
      Yes, clever remark of you.
  • TK
    I was a bit underwhelmed with some parts of this movie. I found it to be along the lines of Iron Man 2 and 3. Entertaining most certainly but was it necessary or did it add anything new and act as a springboard for the upcoming installments? Sadly no. I felt as though I was watching the exact same movie. Add new bad guy that needs the help of everyone to destroy it and then add another token army for everyone to have their time to shine on the screen. I was afraid that it would seem that way. Yes I am with you on the fact that the Capt America movies have been the best. We have seen the character grow and I so can't wait for Civil War. Was it just me or did anyone else get the mid season filler feel during this movie?
    • Zack Snyder
      You aren't alone. The film was horribly paced and edited.
    • Rock n Rollllll
      Exactly. What the Russo bros did with Captain America is how ALL marvel movies should aspire to be like.
  • Mr Chatterbox
    The beginning was awful. I thought they were in some sort of game simulator.. then it settled into some interesting character stuff. I liked Ultron much more than the previous arch enemy and Joss has created some interesting story conventions for a comic film but somehow it just never really all gelled as well as I'd hoped. Even with all the crazy explosions and destruction and inhuman movements, it just fell a bit flat somewhere along the line. Some jokes were hit or miss but on the whole the comical relief was and continues to be a smart move in Marvel films (credit to Iron Man 1). I thought Hulk, Cap America, Black Widow and the Scarlet Witch (damn she is beautiful) faired best but I am getting a little fed up of Robert D Jnr - he seemed a tad bored himself. The ending felt very much like the first film - all characters partake in fighting off a horde of baddies. Repetitive. Finally, I am not a massive comic fanboy but who in their right mind thought Vision was a cool concept for a character? Awful.
    • JBroti
      You didn't like the opening scene in the forest???! That was one of the best action shots in the movie next to the climatic scene at the end. Yea it was hard to watch....only because you had to pick which avenger you were going to watch kick ass. Which gives you another reason to go see it again.
    • I'm With Mel
      Vision is a GREAT CHARACTER. And this is a fantastic portrayal of Vision. Loki is a far superior villain than Ultron mainly because Ultron was a bit of a cry baby.
  • Payne by name
    Whilst I enjoyed the film, it didn't feel as much like a Whedon film and more like he was maybe allowed a few minutes here and a few minutes there before he had to return to being on the path that was laid out for him. The film had a very much tick box, direct by committee feel to it. Make sure there are this many new characters, ram in some interaction even if it doesn't feel organic, ensure that we put in irrelevant scenes only to provide links for future films, don't stray from the plan. The mid credits scene only re-inforced this and reminded you that the film you just watched was really nothing more than a filler. There was masses going on and loads of new characters but it just felt that it was going at 100mph and didn't want to stop and smell the roses. I can understand why Joss would want to step away from this for a bit and that maybe the slightly more easily manipulated Russo brothers could take the reins for A:IW 1 & 2. Joss once famously said about GOTG after reading the script or seeing a first cut of the film, that it "needed more James Gunn". I have to say that I think AoU needed a lot more Joss Whedon. The film was entertaining, there was plenty of cool tech on display but many people that I've spoken to have said that they thought it was okay but not great. Like that they wanted it to be great but couldn't in all conscious bring themselves to say that it was. It wasn't, in my opinion, as well made or as enjoyable as Guardians.
    • Rock n Rollllll
      I agree. Was a great movie but still felt lacking in a small sense. I didnt think Ultron was as menacing as he was supposed to be.
    • Richard Head
      blah blah blah blah blah!!
  • Xerxexx
    I never laughed at Hawkeye...always liked his character.
  • Richard Head
    I hate feet!
  • ari smulders
    I will see it next week and I expect a comic book adaptation no Shakespeare. Yes of course there's a villain, yes of course allot action, yes of course a city to blow up! Yes indeed the avengers is hard to top because it was new and fresh and indeed cap 2 is the best thus far because we see how a character grows! It's stupid to expect a better joker than ledger, expectations are to high for this one!
  • NarcolepticNinja
    Why does your writing always sound rather churlish, Jeremy?
  • Blake
    Hawkeye became a favorite of mine when Matt Fraction and David Aja were working on it, so I was happy to see him get his time to shine a bit in this one.
  • Blake
    Ultron was a little too human and not enough robot for me. I love the film overall but it did have its issues. Elizabeth Olsen ughhhh
  • DAVIDPD
    Tony looked like an old man.
  • Alpivan
    to the VFX gods of the movie industries. It'll be so Fluffing nice to see any of the movies you produce in full color.

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