In 2012, Marvel’s The Avengers dominated the box office and was a favorite among critics, fanboys, and everyone in-between. Like a great symphony conductor, director/writer Joss Whedon harmonized five interlocking movies and six different characters to give audiences one of the best comic book movies ever made.
Thanks to Marvel Studios well planned phases for its Cinematic Universe, audiences knew a sequel was coming and the expectations were high before the film made its way to pre-production.
The sequel, Avengers: Age of Ultron picks up some time after we last saw the group assembled. Thor, Iron Man, Hawkeye, The Hulk, Black Widow, and Captain America are crashing HYDRA compounds in search of Loki’s scepter. The group finds Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) and his crew in possession of Loki’s magical stick. After successfully raiding the compound, The Avengers learn Strucker’s been using the scepter to experiment on twin siblings Pietro aka Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda aka Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). While investigating the data HYDRA left behind, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) learns Strucker was also working on an advanced robotics project. In an attempt to save the world through peacekeeping, Tony applies the robot technology to an A.I he’s already been working on. Just like that, Ultron (voiced by James Spader) is born and he’s not the happy son Stark always wanted.
Almost as s quick as Ultron is created, he realizes humanity is a problem. If his peacekeeping mission is to save Earth, humans must be extinct. Before he can be destroyed, Ultron downloads himself onto the internet and uploads into another robot. The Avengers search to find Ultron before he can move forward with his global annihilation plan, as well as give birth to his own creation – like father like son. The team is also dealing with their personal dramas. The group splintering thanks to Tony and his narcissism and a little push by Scarlet Witch.
Like an abstract version of Frankenstein, Age of Ultron plays with the father/son dynamic between Tony Stark and Ultron. Instead of a mindless monster, Ultron is an intellectual robot who’s constantly evolving but also has temper tantrums like a 15 year old whose parents wouldn’t let them go to Coachella. Ultron’s delicate balance of insanity and immaturity makes him a serious foe for The Avengers. The fact that he’s so much like Tony Stark, with his sarcasm and genius, is just the icing on the cake.
The group dynamic in Age of Ultron is a little different. We learn more about Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) (more on that later), there’s a budding romance between Natasha (Scarlett Johannson) and Bruce Banner (Mark Rufalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is concerned about what’s happening in Asgard, and Captain American (Chris Evans) and Tony Stark aren’t really seeing eye-to-eye. All of this on top of saving the world would be a lot to unpack for most filmmakers. Thankfully, Whedon is masterful at not making the group dynamic separate from the superhero stakes, but making it part of the film’s set up, problem, and solution. For a film that’s packed with a lot – and it’s packed with a lot- it never feels like it’s too much.
And like most of Whedon’s projects the dialogue is fantastic. Despite the trailers loaded with scenes of destruction and the creepy remix of Pinocchio’s “No Strings”, the film is surprisingly funny and light hearted. There are running jokes and hilarious gags throughout the film. The best part of the film is Clint Barton aka Hawkeye. Vulture did a great break down of how much screen time each Avenger had in the first movie. Renner’s Hawkeye clocked in at 12:44. If you wanted more Hawkeye in Age of Ultron you got your wish. Not only does Renner have much more time in the film, he absolutely crushes every scene he’s in. He does everything from laugh out loud one-liners, to battling Quicksilver, to some of the film’s more touching moments.
If there is an issue I have with Age of Ultron, it’s the films inability to explain some things. Both Ultron and Vision’s (Paul Bettany) creations are sort of yadda-yadda’d and a lot of the what happens feels like an alley-oop of the backboard to Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther, and Infinity Wars Parts 1 & 2. This is less of a problem for fanboys like me but it may lead to average moviegoers spending a little time on Wikipedia and message boards to answer their questions. I’m patiently waiting for 10 text messages from my sister asking “Who was that one guy?” and “What does that mean?”
Outside of the Tony Stark and Steve Rogers conflict, the best connection to another Marvel film was Ulysses Klaue was talking about Vibranium and saying, “I paid a price” while rubbing the Wakandan brand on his neck. I know what that means and I know where they’re going. All I could do was smile.
Even with those little gaps in explanation, Age of Ultron is as entertaining and enjoyable as any movie that will come out in 2015. The film is paced well through its 141 min run-time. The big action sequences are superb and the eye popping visual effects keep the activity onscreen from looking cluttered. The sequence when The Avengers first confront Ultron is fantastic – it’s everything you want from a comic book movie. Some people say the future of cinema is video on demand. I also think the future of cinema is movies like Age of Ultron that are required to be seen in IMAX with all the bells and whistles. It’s impressive what Whedon and his team is able to pack into one movie.
The Avengers was perfect and it’s hard to recapture that magic. While Avengers: Age of Ultron isn’t catching lighting in a bottle twice, it’s as close as we’re going to get to it. At this point, Marvel Studio’s films are all about managing expectations. The films will look good, be well acted, and well directed. For a film that’s been managing Hulk sized expectations for 18 months, Age of Ultron meets a lot of them while maintaining the integrity of the comics and being fun for all ages.