Time to Assemble! Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron: Review

avengers_posterby Aaron Einhorn
It’s a good time to be a fan of things superheroic and comic-related right now. Comic-book based shows are all over network and cable TV, Daredevil has just erupted onto Netflix to critical acclaim, and there is at least one new superhero film scheduled to hit the theatres every six months from now into 2020.

It’s hard to believe that it’s only been seven years since the Marvel Studios train got started with Iron Man, and that it has only been three years since we first saw superhero films connect as never before with The Avengers.

This weekend marks the release of what is arguably Marvel’s riskiest film release yet, with Avengers: Age of Ultron. Very few would argue that the first film did something unprecedented, bringing together three separate film franchises into a single film, filled with a team of heroes, an alien invasion, and some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Director Joss Whedon truly captured lightning in a bottle with that first film. But can he do it again, with the stakes even higher, the cast even larger, and the story even bigger?

It shouldn’t surprise you to discover that I certainly think so. But read on to find out.

Synopsis

Marvel Studios presents Avengers: Age of Ultron, the epic follow-up to the biggest Super Hero movie of all time. When Tony Stark tries to jumpstart a dormant peacekeeping program, things go awry and Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, including Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Incredible Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye, are put to the ultimate test as the fate of the planet hangs in the balance. As the villainous Ultron emerges, it is up to the Avengers to stop him from enacting his terrible plans, and soon uneasy alliances and unexpected action pave the way for an epic and unique global adventure.

Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron stars Robert Downey Jr., who returns as Iron Man, along with Chris Evans as Captain America, Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk. Together with Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow and Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, and with the additional support of Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury and Cobie Smulders as Agent Maria Hill, the team must reassemble to defeat James Spader as Ultron, a terrifying technological villain hell-bent on human extinction. Along the way, they confront two mysterious and powerful newcomers, Wanda Maximoff, played by Elizabeth Olsen, and Pietro Maximoff, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and meet an old friend in a new form when Paul Bettany becomes Vision. Written and directed by Joss Whedon and produced by Kevin Fiege, Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron is based on the ever-popular Marvel comic book series The Avengers, first published in 1963.
(from Marvel.com/avengers)

avemgersss

The Feature

If you were a fan of The Avengers, then the good news is that this movie provides more of the same. Much more, in fact. Structurally, this film is incredibly dense, weaving in a battle against Hydra, the creation of Ultron, the reveal of the Black Panther’s nemesis, several battles of Ultron with increasing stakes each time, the introduction of Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver as villains and their eventual conversion to Avengers, the creation of the Vision, expansion on the role of the Infinity Gems, and Ultron’s defeat. Along the way, it sets up events for Captain America: Civil War, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War, and it does all this while giving us some character growth, tons of Whedon-esque wit and humor, and some of the most impressive action sequences we’ve seen on film.

I’m exhausted just writing that recap.

The bad news is that Age of Ultron is not the game-changer that The Avengers was. But then, it couldn’t be. The game has already been changed, and Marvel has established that they can bring superheroes from disparate films together into a single epic and make us love it. So, that this one doesn’t bring something new to that element is not a complaint.

Avengers - Disassembled

Avengers – Disassembled

Evans’ Steve Rogers remains the Cap we’ve gotten to know in his previous three films, and the same can be said of Downey’s Tony Stark, Hemsworth’s Thor, Jackson’s Nick Fury, and most of the supporting cast. Three of the core members of the Avengers get to expand on their inner lives and personalities, and it is perhaps no surprise that those are the ones who don’t have their own film franchises to dominate – namely Hawkeye, Black Widow and the Hulk. Renner gets to actually show us who Hawkeye is this time around, something he was largely denied in Avengers, but more significantly, the relationship we see between Johannson’s Natasha and Ruffalo as both Banner and the Hulk leads to some of the most sincere and moving moments in the movie.

The new additions to the cast are also very good, although they get a little less time than we may have liked. Elizabeth Olsen is very convincing as the conflicted Wanda Maximoff, and if Aaron Johnson’s Quicksilver is not quite as memorable as the one from X-Men: Days of Future Past, that is simply because he has so much more to compete with.

Seriously, you know things are going to be bad when the redhead’s hair starts raising into the air on its own…

Similarly short-changed, but with glimpses of a fascinating character to come, is Paul Bettany as the Vision. Bettany gives us a truly alien performance, which both his body type and his voice lend themselves to quite well. We don’t meet the Vision until the final act of the film, so we get less of him then I wanted, but he’s absolutely compelling every time he appears on-screen, and I look forward to seeing much more of him in Infinity War.

But really the show-stealer is James Spader as Ultron. Although I was unprepared for the humanity in the physical design of Ultron (and might have preferred the non-moving mouth with the Kirby dots), Spader steals the screen as the mechanical monster. His decision to exterminate mankind is entirely plausible, and while he may not quite evoke the sympathy that Loki or Magneto can command, it’s hard not to feel a little bad for him – even as he remains a terrifying presence. Ultron is, after all, a child – and he has the emotional maturity of one. He just happens to be a child with an unstoppable robotic body, an army of robots at his command, and a supercomputer for a brain.

avengers-age-of-ultron-hd-background-wallpaper-18

The movie does drag at points, but that is largely because of how dense the film is – and if the set-up for future films does drag on the action of this one, I can still appreciate the groundwork that is being laid for the continuation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Would I have minded seeing it tightened up a little? Sure. Because at two-and-a-half hours of runtime, there are always going to be some desired trimming, but I can also state that those one-hundred and fifty minutes passed very quickly for me.

The Good

Great action sequences abound, with each hero more than able to showcase their abilities. Joss Whedon’s characteristic humor in writing shows through, and the laughs come frequently and sincerely. Ultron is a rich villain, and the new Avengers each get a chance to shine.

The Bad

There are pacing issues in the film’s middle – in some ways it feels a bit too much like they’re trying to mirror the pacing of the original Avengers

The Ugly

Although I pointed out frequently how the original film was a great counterpoint to the reckless disregard for civilians shown in Warner Brother’s Man of Steel, the direct calling out of “We need to clear civilians” was a bit too heavy-handed this time around.

avengers-age-of-ultron

Final Thoughts

As I sat down to write this, my first thought was “How to turn superfanboyspazflail into a coherent review?” At risk of understating things, I really loved this movie. It’s not perfect – but that doesn’t change the fact that I was deeply entertained for the entire run-time of the film.

My biggest complaint about this film as compared to the first Avengers is that film was the culmination of several films – it didn’t have to set anything else up (although it teased us with Thanos), and so nothing was wasted. This film sets up Captain America: Civil War, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War. With so much set-up, that means some elements get less time than they should have. It’s a balancing act – like spinning plates for a circus, and if some of the plates wobble a bit, at least none of them fall.

I am a Marvel fan, and especially a fan of Captain America, so I was predisposed to like this movie going in, but I was thoroughly impressed with Marvel’s latest offering, and I am looking forward to the film’s general release so I can take Cordy and Mira with me to see it again. It’s not my favorite of the Marvel Cinematic Universe releases (that honor goes to either Captain America: Winter Soldier or the original Avengers), but it was still very enjoyable, and will be given a place of honor on my Blu-Ray shelf once it arrives.

Bonus

Stan Lee has been afforded the opportunity to do a cameo in almost all of the Marvel films to date, and that remains true this time around as well. It may be one of his funniest cameos yet. And as we’ve come to expect, there is a mid-credits stinger scene that sets up a future Marvel movie, but in a departure from all of the other Marvel films, there is no post-credits sequence to stick around for.

(Disclaimer: I was provided a free preview pass screening to attend Avengers: Age of Ultron. I received no other compensation for writing this review, and all opinions and views expressed are my own.