– Light Spoiler Review –
Avengers: Age of Ultron is not the first Avengers film, which is a good thing because it should be something different. Age of Ultron is not the Avengers film you want it to be, which is a good thing because it can never be that. Instead, Age of Ultron is thoroughly entertaining but definitely imperfect, much like the heroes who inhabit the team, and its focus more on those people as it’s also forced to set up the grander tapestry of the web being spun by the Marvel Cinematic Universe is what makes it worthy the Avengers name.
The team invades Baron von Strucker’s base to obtain Loki’s Spectre, which Hydra has been using to experiment both on enhanced and normal people to see if they can get their own enhanced fighters. While Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Black Widow, Captain America, and Hawkeye all use their various skills (in one of many to follow impressive action sequences) to get inside, we’re introduced to the only two successful experiments: Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). While Hydra gets taken down easily, these twins are left to wreck havoc on the team, as Scarlet Witch uses her abilities to get into Stark’s head and show him the thing he fears most: aliens invading Earth and the rest of the team dead, by his own fault. That single vision sets into motion a series of events which lead to the creation of Ultron, an artificial intelligence who’s goal is world peace. Of course, like most AI’s who get to connect to the internet, he quickly believes the best way to achieve world peace is to wipe out the humans and start his own master race.
Because Stark, with some help from Banner, create Ultron in secret without telling the rest of the team, things obviously get a little confrontational between the Avengers after the metal beast is let out upon the world. Thus begins AoU‘s true strength: the character interactions. Much like Joss Whedon’s work in the past, his excellence with character dialogue really stands out. Each character really feels like they are who they should be, spouting jokes or advice in the manner befitting their characterization to this point in the MCU. At the same time, we get expanded looks into each character, especially Hawkeye with his family farm, a glimpse of Black Widow’s training (which we saw the predecessor training regimen in Agent Carter‘s first season, specifically “The Iron Ceiling“), and even how much Hulk-ing out psychologically affects Banner.
Because the plot is very light–Stark makes Ultron, Ultron wants to blow up world, Avengers do everything to stop him–the bigger focus on members of the team really pays off. This is ultimately a story about all of our favorite heroes together, but seeing as it’s also another cog in the MCU’s well oiled phase by phase machine, it also needs to get everyone shuffled along towards their next solo appearance. Thankfully enough there is character development, no matter how light, for nearly every character in the film and it’s these moments, which are entertainingly written, directed, and acted, that make the film well-worth watching. Whether it’s the Banner/Natasha romance finally taking off, Hawkeye’s family life and how he’s seemingly the moral center for the team, or even the story behind the Maximoff twins’ hate for the Avengers, it’s a pleasure to spend time with the main characters.
Speaking of hate, Ultron’s hate is brought to wonderful light by James Spader, who’s performance almost steals the movie (that honor falls to Vision, but more on him later). While Ultron might be pretty clichéd in terms of plans and motives, his mannerisms and characterization are anything but and Spader knocks it out of the park (and I’m not even really a fan of the actor). Ultron feels that not only is he doing the right thing, but that he is better than everyone, including the Avengers, and this mentality makes the character a blast to watch and is the strongest part of his AI menace.
On the flip side of AI menace is the android benevolence of Vision, played perfectly by Paul Bettany. He’s been serviceably entertaining as Jarvis, but this feels like the role Bettany was meant to play since joining the MCU. The story of how he comes to be built, by who and with what, and ultimately brought to life by, was by far my favorite part of the film. With all the somewhat been-there, done-that feel of the giant action pieces, it was refreshing to be introduced to such a unique new member of the team. And the way he proves he’s worthy to keep the Mind Stone ties hilariously into what initially felt like a one-off moment at a drunken afterparty between the team.
The special effects make it hard to notice that at times you’re just watching computer generated characters duke it out all over the cityscape. The big standout fight has to be Iron Man in his Hulkbuster suit against a Scarlet Witch-ed Hulk, as it’s basically both a dream come true and beautifully destructive in it’s choreography. The whole scene where part of the team is going after Vision’s birthing chamber (for lack of a better term) was extremely inventive, continually forcing both sides of the battle to improvise. But by the end, with all the Ultron made ‘bots against our heroes, the action gets a little too much and battle fatigue sets in.
Here are a few other things:
- Andy Serkis’ role, as a arms dealer or something, is so short and unimportant, it’s utterly forgettable…but utterly enjoyable as well. He’s one of the strongest actors out there and how much fun he had with his short role is apparent. As for his role, I feel like it could’ve be axed as the vibranium could’ve just been located there as part of some secret Howard Stark lab.
- Claudia Kim’s role as Dr. Helen Cho, while also nothing wrong with her performance (loved her in Marco Polo), felt like a character created just to service the plot to introduce Vision. It’s just a shame both her and Serkis’ roles were so poorly implemented.
- In a really odd, weird, and disconcerting move, character developments from Iron Man 3 and Winter Solider seemingly got ignored without any explanation: Tony decides to hang up his suit after battling PTSD at the end of IM3, only to be happily back in the suit here and his PTSD gets used against him again; while Black Widow was setting off to be a loner after Winter Solider and is back with the team here. Why bother with continuity if you’ll just choose to ignore it?
- There is a mid-credit sequence, but it wasn’t anything shocking or revealing. It shows Thanos reaching for his own Infinity Gauntlet and promising to get the stones himself i.e. setting up the two part Infinity War films. But I guess there is one surprising thing: this is a second gauntlet, as it’s not the one in Odin’s treasure room. Hmmm…
- I saw Ex Machina (here’s my review) a week before this and I can honestly say, in terms of AI storytelling and concepts, I liked this less than Ex Machina. It’s hard to compare them overall though, as they are two completely different beasts.
- Stan Lee’s cameo is probably one of his best yet.
- There’s a short but sweet look at some of the special effects wizardy that went into making an even more realistic looking Hulk over at Wired.
- Without giving anything really away, I’m totally digging the new Avengers team line-up. Expect to see some of them in action for Captain America: Civil War and the results of all that make me wonder who will be teaming up as Avengers for the Infinity War films. See, already looking past this film to what will come next, a feeling that hangs over the film the whole time.
- X-Men: Days of Future Past Quicksilver over Age of Ultron Quicksilver any day of the week, but I like AoU didn’t try to one-up his scene-stealing moment in DoFP and instead tried to build up his character for a big moment at the end.
- Loved seeing War Machine, The Falcon, Heimdall, Peggy Carter, and Maria Hill, even if they are just mostly cameo roles but it’s appreciated to see them put on screen even in the big team up films.
- There’s a lot of back and forth about the Black Widow/Hulk stuff, and here’s an article at Blastr against it and an article at EW for it.
Fleshing out some of the supporting Avengers, who don’t have their own films just yet, was both Age of Ultron‘s best strength and biggest weakness: while it’s great to finally give the supporting Avengers their necessary time under the sun, it feels like a strategy to avoid doing anything with the other characters so new developments can come in their own movies. But despite the feeling of holding back hovering over the film, fans of the MCU so far won’t have to sit long in their seats to find something to enjoy during AoU‘s over two-hour long run time. It might not be anywhere near the best of the MCU yet, but it certainly sets up many bests to possibly come.
+ Great performances, especially Spader
+ Entertaining dialogue
+ Character interactions
+ Slick special effects
– Feels a little too middle-of-the-road
– Bare-bones plot
– Side-character roulette
– Puzzling continuity issues