The many creators of the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe must spend an unusual amount of time managing expectations.
The 400-Word Review - Avengers: Age of Ultron
By Sean Collier
May 5, 2015
In some regards, they succeed. In four films since The Avengers dominated the box office in 2012, we’ve seen two members of the superhero team on the same screen only three times — and, with the exception of Captain America (Chris Evans) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) palling around for most of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, those appearances were gags.
So even with Marvel’s near-total saturation of media, the thrilling opening sequence in Avengers: Age of Ultron — wherein the whole team leads a frenetic raid on a remote, eastern European compound — feels like a rare thrill; the band’s back together again!
On the other hand, the big-event feel surrounding a film like Age of Ultron — expected by some analysts to record the biggest single-weekend box office haul ever, at least until Star Wars arrives — creates expectations of mind-blowing grandeur. And (call this a non-spoiler) there are no major surprises in Age of Ultron; no Guardians of the Galaxy, no Spider-Man, nothing teased that we didn’t already know about.
Fortunately, the Marvel team — led for the last time by Joss Whedon, who serves as sole writer and director — opted to overcome the weight of expectations by making a very good movie. Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), still traumatized by the near-disastrous alien attack in the first Avengers, enlists Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) to create an artificial intelligence capable of safeguarding the planet. Inevitably and instantly, that A.I. — in the form of Ultron (James Spader), a whirring robot with a gargoyle’s face — decides that people are Earth’s real problem, and begins replicating in an attempt to obliterate the human race.
Spader is an excellent villain, the equal of Tom Hiddleston’s scheming Loki (also absent from Age of Ultron, by the way). Impressively, Whedon manages to add three new characters to the mix — Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnston), and a third whom I won’t reveal — that match their more-famous counterparts in charisma, impact and excitement.
A middle act drags significantly — let’s stop focusing on ho-hum hero Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), please — but the action sequences contain some of the best computer-assisted direction on record. Eleven films in, Marvel has completed an unlikely task: They have me excited for more.
My Rating: 9/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark