AGE OF AWESOME
Marvel’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron not only lives up to the lofty expectations set by its 2012 predecessor, it blows them into oblivion.
Age of Ultron is a success on so many levels, establishing its own unique identity and exploring new areas and themes rather than simply riding the coattails of the first film. Age of Ultron is the eleventh film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Each film ties into this in some way, yet a newcomer could jump in at this point and understand what is happening if needed.
MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW
The story begins in Sokovia, Europe where Iron Man (Tony Stark), Captain America (Steve Rogers), Thor, The Hulk (Bruce Banner), Black Widow (Natasha Romanoff), and Hawkeye (Clint Barton) are raiding a Hyrda outpost led by Baron Wolfgang von Strucker. Strucker has been experimenting on humans using Loki’s scepter from the first film. We are reintroduced to two of Strucker’s prized experiements, twins Pietro and Wanda Maximoff. If you recall, the two appeared in the mid-credits scene of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Pietro has crazy superhuman speed while Wanda can manipulate minds, much like Loki. She can also throw energy blasts.
Back at the Avengers new HQ, Banner and Stark discover an artificial intelligence within the specter’s gem. This is one of the six Infinity Stones, the fourth to be seen in the M.C.U. to this point. With the A.I., Banner and Stark use it to help complete Stark’s global defense concept entitled “Ultron.” Meant to protect the Earth and eliminate the need for the Avengers, Ultron becomes self aware, possessing a thought process like that of a human. Ultron believes he must eliminate the Avengers to save Earth, also taking out Stark’s A.I. J.A.R.V.I.S. In escaping the HQ, Ultron takes the scepter.
Ultron heads to Strucker’s Sokovia base to begin work on an army of robot drones that contain similar appearance to Terminators from the Terminator series. The Maximoff twins accompany Ultron as they share a common thirst for revenge on Stark – their parents were killed as a result of a Stark-built weapon. The trio heads to the base of a dealer named Ulysses Klaue, played by Andy Serkis (what a nice surprise!). The Avengers come to play, but Ultron eventually escapes with Vibranium, an element needed to aid in Ultron’s plans. Wanda helps Ultron to escape by giving most of the Avengers haunting visions.
It’s here that we get to see the advanced Iron Man suit, the transformer-like appearance, the “Hulkbuster.” This leads to an epic battle between Hulk and Iron Man. Following the visions seen as a result of Wanda, the team goes into hiding at Barton’s off-the-grid farm. We meet Barton’s wife and children, witnessing how close Romanoff is with the Bartons while closing the door on any perceived Romanoff/Barton romantic relationship. Thor departs to visit Dr. Selvig (remember him from both Thor movies and the original Avengers?) and Nick Fury shows up to aid the team at the farm.
Ultron kidnaps Dr. Helen Cho, a friend and colleague of Banner. She contains the ability and knowledge to create synthetic tissue. Ultron desires this to have the perfect body. Wanda sees Ultron’s vision of the future, seeing pure annihilation and decides that it is time to turn on Ultron. The synthetic body is stolen by Rogers and Barton, but Romanoff is captured by Ultron.
J.A.R.V.I.S. survived Ultron’s attempt to eliminate him by hiding in the internet and was uploaded by Stark into the synthetic body. As Stark and Banner begin to activate the body, Rogers tries to disrupt the activation, believing it will cause another Ultron-like entity. Thor returns and activates the body with lightning, explaining that the gem is the Mind Stone. The body, now aware, is now known as Vision.
The final battle begins with Vision and the Maximoff twins teaming up with the Avengers as they head to Sokovia. Ultron has utilized the Vibranium to build a device that launches a massive portion of the city into the air in hopes of crashing it down into the Earth and causing mass extinction. Banner rescues Romanoff before awakening as Hulk and diving into the battle. The Avengers delay Ultron’s final part of the plan as Nick Fury brings SHIELD’s former Helicarrier to rescue the citizens of the raised city. As Barton runs to save a child trapped in debris, Pietro saves them by blocking gunfire. Wanda, who is defending Ultron’s device and saving it from being set off, grieves of her brother’s death and accidentally lets a drone trigger it. Stark and Thor overload the machine together, shattering the city while Vision saves Wanda.
Banner departs in the fighter plane that he occupied, leaving Romanoff behind. Meanwhile, Vision confronts Ultron’s last remaining body and destroys him. Afterward, the team sets up a new Avengers base in Upstate New York to be run by Nick Fury, Maria Hill, Dr. Cho, and Dr. Selvig. Thor returns to Asgard to learn more about the force behind the manipulation of the events, Stark and Barton retire from the Avengers, and Rogers and Romanoff prepare to train the new Avengers: Wanda, Vision, Sam Wilson (Falcon), and Rhodes (Iron Patriot).
Age of Ultron is yet another success in a long line of Marvel Cinematic Universe films. What makes it so special is its unique sense of identity. None of the other 10 films feel like this. Director Joss Whedon performed miraculously and avoided making this a run-of-the-mill sequel. He claimed to have inspiration from The Empire Strikes Back and was quoted at one point to say that he wanted to avoid many of the memorable moments from the first film and run in the opposite direction. I stand up and applaud this greatly.
The Hangover films are the example of what not to do with sequels (though I still enjoyed them very much). The first film was a major commercial success, creating something that had not been seen at the time of release. It had a certain magic to it. Part 2 was nearly a shot-for-shot remake but in a different setting. Some jokes were even replayed. Part 3 did enough to differentiate itself and create its own feel, but most of the damage had been done by the time it debuted thanks to Part 2.
The Avengers was incredibly exciting surrounding the facet that the superheroes were coming together for the very first time. It created something we hadn’t seen before on the silver screen. The first time the camera panned around the squad in New York City, the audience got goosebumps. It was epic; it set the new bar for all superhero films. So how do you create a worthy sequel?
Age of Ultron dives into the human side of the heroes, much like Iron Man 3 did. When Wanda shows the team the haunting visions unique to their own situations, it was eye-opening to Earth’s Mightiest. Thor was deeply affected to the point that he needed to follow up with his vision and pursue closure. Captain America saw Agent Carter and finally danced with her in his vision, showing what could have been.
Bruce Banner leveled an entire city as Hulk when Iron Man had to knock him out. Banner saw citizens and innocent people around the city in the destruction and debris and was deeply affected, knowing that his wild side can be as destructive as it can be harnessed for good. This forces him to want out of the game.
NO STRINGS TO HOLD ME DOWN
The acting is again top notch. The impressive cast of characters is balanced very nicely despite its difficulty. The film’s length allowed for each character to get a solid chunk of focus.
Robert Downey Jr. will always be Tony Stark to me and I can’t imagine an Avengers universe without him. The ending of this film had me praying that this was not goodbye for Stark, though it lead on that way. The “passing of the buck” to the new Avengers had me thinking, but logically Stark has a lot yet to do despite wanting to live on a farm with Pepper Potts. There are 2 Avengers sequels scheduled for 2018 and 2019. Captain America: Civil War is supposed to heavily feature Iron Man, but that could change. Only time will tell, but there is no doubt that RDJ is the heart and soul of the Avengers.
Mark Ruffalo is superb as Hulk/Banner. As if I didn’t already love Scarlett Johansson, she shows a new side of Romanoff in this film. Banner and Romanoff’s romance was initially odd and foreign to me, as it had never been touched upon previously. In fact, I would have bet on a romance to blossom between Romanoff and Rogers due to their rapport in The Winter Soldier before this scenario played out. As the film went on, I became more accepting of it. The approach is that the two understand each other, that they are both “monsters.” Once it’s established that Barton has a wife and family, we knew that door was closed. Romanoff is incredibly flirty with Banner and it just seemed off point how quickly it came to be, almost as if it was a plot point that the crew had forgotten to initiate in previous films and threw in last second. One particular scene was the turning point for me – alone together after Banner exits the shower (again, Romanoff comes on rather strong), Romanoff explains that due to complications from her past life as an assassin, she is physically unable to have children. Banner seems open to the thought of a relationship but his mindset too seems to have changed so abruptly. As Banner takes off in the film’s final moments (in a way, retiring from the team akin to Stark and Barton), I didn’t really feel emotionally upset for Romanoff as was clearly intended.
Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Chris Evans as Captain America were again phenomenal. The subtle humor moments of these films are what help to make them special. In one moment early in the film, Captain is disgruntled that Stark swore. This becomes a solid secondary reoccurring theme throughout the story. In another part, we see the team all take turns trying to pick up Thor’s hammer. As we know, the hammer can only be picked up by a being truly “worthy” of doing so. Essentially, one with a combination of strength and clean moral intentions. This also shows up at certain times throughout but hits its high point when Vision is able to pick it up late in the movie.
I was extremely pleasantly surprised by Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff. As the film went on, she became more and more likable, if not lovable. It was also nice to see another female to battle along side Romanoff. This will bode well, as she is a part of the “new Avengers.” I look forward to seeing her in future films in the M.C.U.
The star of the film (if you can truly narrow it down) is James Spader as Ultron. The way Ultron was animated is the way you could envision Spader walking around and acting – his mannerisms, his voice, his style. Spader has a unique personality that he carries with him in whatever he does, whether its one of his episodic dramas or even his brief time on The Office. Tom Hiddleston is the example in which all villains want to follow as Loki. This is another bullet point in the way Whedon went in the opposite direction. It would have been tempting to either bring back Loki or create another villain just like him, but he went in a complete 180. Ultron is the most intimidating villain in the M.C.U. to date and I would place him just slightly under Loki in terms of ranking, which is saying a lot. Though we likely won’t see him again, Spader was the star of the show and rocked his performance. His mix of intimidation, personality, and presence is one that will go down in history.
It was announced that there would be no post-credits scene and this fact held true. I didn’t believe it until I saw it. There was, however, still a mid-credits scene. This scene has me excited for the next film! Marvel has made post-credit scenes the norm across Hollywood, not just for Marvel movies. After a while, we began seeing 2 scenes – a mid-credits scene and a post-credits scene. It’s somewhat comical that no post-credit scene is a disappointment now. We not only want one scene, we want a second! Whedon said that after the post-credits scene in The Avengers, he didn’t feel he could top it. I can get behind that. In other Marvel norms, we saw Stan Lee make his cameo. This was his best yet.
To wrap things up, Age of Ultron is the opposite of The Avengers, but is just as amazing. We received a true sequel worthy of the series while accomplishing the daunting task of moving the M.C.U. forward in a meaningful, memorable way. We witnessed more of the heroes we have come to love and adore, knowing we will see most of them again in their own films or the next Avengers sequel. For the ones that will not be returning, it remains to be seen if this was a worthy sendoff. It’s understandable – most of these actors have been involved since 2007. That’s a big chunk of their lives with regards to time. I can’t state how badly I want to see a Guardians of the Galaxy/Avengers team-up movie, particularly if RDJ sticks around as Iron Man. If it’s time to move on, then I am extremely optimistic of the New Avengers squad of Captain America, Black Widow, Iron Patriot, Wanda Maximoff, Falcon, and Vision. Whether they can capture the charm and spirit of the initial Avengers is the next challenge for Marvel.
In a highly anticipated sequel to a movie that brought many people into the world of comic books and super hero movies, this was a vitally important film in keeping the momentum going. Mission accomplished. Avengers, Assemble!
+ Superb acting and cast across the board, particularly in newcomers Olsen and Spader.
+ Takes every success of The Avengers and flips it on its head, exploring new themes and not simply riding the coattails of previous Marvel success.
+ Perfect pacing – not too long, not too short, and always engaging.
+ The best visual and audio effects to date of any non-Star Wars film.
– Not that a romantic relationship between Hulk and Widow exists, but the speed and randomness of it – it came out of nowhere without any hint of a buildup.
Check out reviews of past Marvel films, video games, and articles by clicking the links below:
Guardians of the Galaxy Review
Lego Marvel Superheroes Review
Daredevil Season 1 Review
Agents of SHIELD: The Frenemy of My Enemy Review
Daredevil Suggested Reading
Lou ranks the movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe
The Geekiverse: Marvel Cinematic Universe 1-10
<sources: comicbookmovie.com, mauiwatch.com, comicbook.com, dailymail.co.uk, screenrant.com, playbuzz.com>