‘Avengers; Age of Ultron’ Review
It’s that time again!
The time to see our favorite heroes come together and save the day from a bombastic villain with a vendetta. It sounds just like the unprecedented smash that we all experienced three years ago, but is it really a comparable watch? Does it make us feel the same way it’s predecessor did, for the same reasons? And better question, does that effect it being a worthy follow up?
A good year or so after the events of ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’, what’s left of the corrupt organization HYDRA is holding not only Loki’s scepter from the first film, but a pair of secret weapons in the form of the super-powered Maximoff twins. The films opens with the re-formed Avengers taking down the HYDRA compound and recovering the scepter, only for one of the twins to plant the seeds of death and destruction in the head of one Tony Stark.
Sufficiently freaked by the vision of his friends and planet dying, Tony enlists the help of Bruce Banner to create an Artificial Intelligence capable of preventing such a thing from happening. Said AI, called Ultron, goes full-tilt crazy almost immediately, and after attacking the team as the wind down from a wrap-party, gives himself a shiny new body and dedicates himself to taking the team (and the rest of humanity) down.
Like the first film the A-plot is simple and straightforward. Ultron needs a lot of components for his plan to work, true, but the effort to take him down is the base for everything else in the film.
Unlike the first film, which got off to deliberately slow start in case anyone was still unfamiliar with the characters and setting, ‘Age of Ultron’ is allowed to hit the ground running. As a result, each act is jam-packed with action. Thankfully no action sequence feels like a waste of time, as each one serves a practical purpose, whether that be establishing the team’s dynamic in a fight, to providing a launch pad for character arcs, or just informing the audience of Ultron’s ever-increasing abilities. If I’m being brutally honest, the final action scene is the only one that felt a bit…off. It wasn’t a bad sequence, but it wouldn’t have lost too much by being just a bit shorter.
The increased amount of action is helped by the fact that the film moves rather fast. Not fast enough to feel rushed, as every scene that needs to has natural breathing room, but fast enough that there’s no lull between important developments.
The film isn’t just a never ending slugfest though, as there’s actually a lot going on in it thematically. This could be in small, blink-and-you-miss-it shots or entire extended dialogues, but ‘Age Of a Ultron’ arguably has a lot more going on in its metaphorical head than the first ‘Avengers’, who’s deepest themes were still tied inexorably to the central thrust of making its own premise work.
Unlike many others I don’t feel like the film’s numerous subplots / character arcs were anything difficult to understand. Call me a savant with easily making sense of convoluted plots if you must, but I find that if a movie is engaging enough piecing together what’s happening AS it happens isn’t at all hard,.
For as much talk as there was going on of this movie being darker than the first, there’s not a moment where it stops being fun, which is what I feared might happen. Things go south a few times in the various fights, but the heroes’ insistence on protecting and aiding civilians throughout each fight make it so the destruction of entire city blocks doesn’t feel like too much of a downer.
Even at its most tense, Joss Whedon’s spectacular dialogue keeps the tone just casual enough that we take the threat seriously, but also acknowledge that what’s onscreen is meant to be a spectacle first and foremost.
The first Avengers film was all about proving that this mix-matched cast of characters from disparate worlds could inhabit a feature together, and now that we know they can this movie allows them to get more comfortable with each other. Disagreements (sometimes violent ones) can still break out, but unlike the trailers might have you believe the team really feels like a unit throughout the whole story. That extends to everything from fight scenes, to calling each other by first names, to just not getting into big ego-stroking contests that the first film loved to play ball with. They’re no longer a group of people who team up just because of the greater good, they’re friends. It’s refreshing to see that the character dynamics have been allowed to grow and not simply be a retread of the first’s.
It feels like a long time since I’ve seen Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark, and he’s just as entertaining as ever. Going back to the first film again, it’s easy to see how even in that movie, the average film-goer could point to Stark as one if the movie’s main draws, if only because RDJ’s pure bombast in the part was already the most beloved performance of the main cast. Here though, the events of ‘Iron Man 3’ have finally allowed Tony to mellow out a bit, and while he’s clearly still the same character we know and love, he doesn’t seem quite so spotlight-hungry as he did before.
A lot of people feel the Bruce/Natasha relationship was forced, but I for one actually liked it well enough (though that may be on account of being one of the very few people who saw it coming). At the very least, Scarlett Johansson and Mark Ruffalo have undeniable chemistry. It was an effective way to reveal and/or develop aspects of two characters in tandem, and I want to see way more of the pair both together and separate after the events of the film. Yeah, I suppose I understand the complaints about Natasha getting into a “damsel in distress” situation for part of the movie, I think it’s important to keep in mind for as self-sufficient and competent as she is she’s still a human being going up against bloody ULTRON, so at least it’s believable. There are other, spoiler-y issues that people have with her character, but if I’m being 100% honest I think the problem is with people grossly misinterpreting her dialogue! rather than anything in the movie itself.
Chris Hemsworth’s Thor is the team member with the smallest character arc, contributing more to the plot of the cinematic universe as a whole than he does go through any character shifts. Like Chris Evan’s Captain America, he doesn’t really suffer from a lack if change since, even static, they’re endearing and entertaining just the way they are. Add to that Cap getting to further prove how effective he is as a leader and coordinator, effectively erasing the question of “why is he in charge?” before it can even be asked.
I think I’m going to turn a few heads when I admit I prefer Ultron to Loki. Loki as a character is more complex (on account of being more than a few days old), but I find Ultron a much more threatening presence, and a more entertaining one as well. He also has the added benefit of the Maximoffs, with whom he has a surprisingly humanizing and affectionate relationship. Like so many other actors in this franchise, James Spader is what makes the character. He makes him funny, he makes him off-putting, he makes him slightly sympathetic, and it’s a shame that this will likely be the only appearance this incarnation of the character will make. It’s especially surprising since I’m used to seeing Ultron as a generic doomsday villain. My one regret is that outside of one scene, we don’t get to see Spader’s performance paired with the iconicly creepy Jack-o-Lantern design that Ultron is more heavily associated with.
I almost feel kind of bad for not letting the lack of explicit character arcs for most of the team get to me more, since the two characters with a big arc get somewhat sidelined as a result. They of course are Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the Maximoff twins Wand and Pietro. Firstly yes, their accents are ridiculous, but they’re easy enough to understand and they’re not at all bad performances. If anything, thus is just another of just how much range Taylor-Johnson has. Their arc is the one aspect that feels the most rushed, but even then it’s not rushed to the point of being unbelievable, and Wanda at least has one really good character building scene. Both are fun to watch and they serve a nice purpose in the movie.
Really, the biggest service the twins provide is serving as an excellent bounce-pad for the characterization of Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye. Originally a character who hadn’t left much of an impact, Hawkeye is in this movie essentially the team’s heart. He interacts the most with the twins, and they feed each other’s roles nicely. Like the rest of the team, Hawkeye doesn’t really change much, perse, but he doesn’t really have to in order for us to learn more about him. He gets to be relaxed, and endearing, and funny, and a useful member of the team just like everyone else.
Lastly, there’s the Vision, who doesn’t appear until late in the film, but is played brilliantly and leaves quite an impression in his small screen-time.
With a main cast this big, the supporting cast naturally gets a bit less to do, though Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smoulders, Don Cheadle and Claudia Kim are all effective in smaller roles. Add to that some neat extended cameos from other characters, plus Anthony Mackie and Stellan Skarsgård somewhere awkwardly in the middle.
Effects wise, the film is as good as any other Marvel product. Ultron’s motion capture feels totally natural, ditto the Hulk. I actually like that they went a mostly makeup route with The a Vision, as it serves to highlight his humanity in comparison to Ultron. Aside from that there’s not much in the way of standout scenes, as the look of the film is very consistent.
The only things I can really complain about are one or two scenes of questionable CGI and a soundtrack that’s not very memorable.
Also, I advise against seeing it in 3D. None of the effects really benefit from it, and the film’s pleasant color palette is made unnecessarily dark.
This movie is an interesting animal to me, it’s reception even more so. There are some who think it’s too similar to the first, some who think it’s not similar enough, some who prefer it’s first half, some the second, some who wanted more-of-this, less-of-that, etc. Really, I feel like I’m going to go down as one of the very few who can best be described as content with what I got.
The one thing I really felt was missing compared to the first film (aside from some slightly tighter writing) was the sense of novelty. It’s not the giant fireworks display meant to end the party like the first ‘Avengers’ was, but another awesome attraction being presented despite that. Honestly, the first film is an experience that I don’t think is ever able to be duplicated, and industry-shifting phenomena that could only ever be properly pulled off once. It would be impractical and impossible for ‘Age of Ultron’ to have the same mission statement as the first, so instead it contents itself with being a worthy follow-up chapter. Whether it succeeded in that is up to you, but I personally feel there’s not a single aspect of it that I wasn’t glad I saw.