Review: 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' Rides Familiar Wave to Entertainment
by Jeremy Kirk
May 1, 2015
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.