Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron
By Matthew Huntley
May 6, 2015
Less than a month ago, I reviewed Furious 7, and of that movie, I wrote that it solidified The Fast and the Furious franchise as one that’s here to stay because it proved the series could successfully re-invigorate itself, despite the number of installments, and was similar to James Bond in this regard. This means we’re bound to get more “F&F” adventures for years to come.
I think we can safely assume the same thing about the Marvel superhero movies, particularly those featuring characters from the Avengers squad. From here on out, and probably even before Avengers: Age of Ultron was conceived, we can view each of these sequels as just another episode in an ongoing saga rather than a means to an end. Because, let’s face it, given their popularity and enormous box-office returns, there’s really no end in sight.
Luckily, though, just like Furious 7, Age of Ultron shows that as long as the storytellers continue to develop the characters and give them interesting conflicts to resolve, the Avengers franchise can remain interesting, relevant and, above all, entertaining. It is, in fact, a very good “episode,” mostly because it tells us new things about its players, particularly the lower profile ones, and the plot is fun and exciting. As long as the Marvel movies fulfill these two duties, we basically have what we need to enjoy them, even if their novelty and overall sense of awe is waning.
If you’re up to speed on all the recent Avengers-related movies, with the last one being Captain America: The Winter Soldier, then you know where the series stands as of Age of Ultron, and that S.H.I.E.L.D., the covert organization that once oversaw our beloved heroes, has folded due to corruption and secret experiments at the hands of the evil Hydra group.
The most recent of these experiments is a human enhancement project using Loki’s powerful scepter (Loki is Thor’s adopted brother and was the chief villain in the first Avengers movie). In the fictional Eastern European country of Sokovia, Baron Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) has been conducting tests on twins Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) Maximoff. Pietro has superhuman speed while Wanda practices telekinesis and mind manipulation. As S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) puts it, “He’s fast; she’s weird.”
When the movie opens, the Avengers team, comprised of Tony “Iron Man” Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Bruce “The Incredible Hulk” Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Steve “Captain America” Rogers (Chris Evans), Natasha “Black Widow” Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Clint “Hawkeye” Barton (Jeremy Renner), who have been working together on their own accord, break up Strucker’s party and retrieve the scepter, although not without taking a hit from Wanda, who manipulates some of their minds by not only giving them visions of fatal things to come but also awakens their unpleasant past memories.
With the scepter now in the Avengers’ hands, Stark discovers its powerful gem contains an artificially intelligent life force and convinces fellow engineer-scientist Banner they can and should utilize it to create Stark’s low-awaited Ultron defense program, which Stark argues could protect the universe against alien invasions and finally allow the Avengers to, as he says, “Go home.” But the plan backfires when Ultron (voice of James Spader) becomes self-aware and fights back, manifesting himself into one of Stark’s robots. He convinces himself it’s his duty to rid the Earth of humans. In other words, like all villains in these movies, Ultron craves world domination (what kind of villain would he be if he didn’t?) and recruits the aforementioned Maximoffs to carry out his plan of first turning the Avengers against one another and then crushing the planet.
Of course, Ultron’s evil scheme sets the stage for all the usual events associated with mainstream superhero movies, including several extravagant action sequences that come fully loaded with lots (and lots) of special effects. Anyone looking for pure action escapism will get more than their fair share here, which is more or less standard and something we’ve seen time and again, although the showdown between Iron Man and The Hulk was a nice treat.
What makes “Age of Ultron” slightly above standard is its quieter, non-action elements, such as its character interactions and often-witty dialogue. Writer-director Joss Whedon mixes in some playful, down-to-earth moments, including a funny scene when the heroes, dressed in their civilian clothes, gather around a coffee table and each tries to lift Thor’s hammer. There’s also a sweet romance that blossoms between Banner and Romanoff, which opens up possibilities and raises interesting questions that will no doubt be explored later on in the series.
Whedon also lends some intriguing backstory to some of the lower-profile characters. We learn, for instance, that Hawkeye has a wife (Linda Cardellini) and family who live in a secluded safe house and that Romanoff had a very tragic upbringing. The screenplay also makes the Maximoffs more than just one-dimensional villains with cool powers; they actually have a complicated past and their motivations to join Ultron are somewhat justified.
It’s these developments that convince us the Avengers series has room to grow and is not solely about flying superheroes, over-the-top fight scenes and special effects, although if its these qualities you’re most into, the movie certainly isn’t lacking. I wouldn’t go so far as to call Age of Ultron special or one-of-a-kind. It does stay within the lines of its genre and operates on rather safe terms, but it’s slick and energetic (it better be given its near $300 million production budget), delivering all the usual stuff and then some, with that “some” being the key to its appeal.