Avengers: Age of Ultron Movie Review
The Avengers really did change everything, certainly everything about the movies at least. Nobody would have believed that a post-credits teaser at the end of Iron Man almost seven years ago would herald in what would prove to be the most influential film of the past decade, much less the expansive multimedia empire that followed. Nevertheless, I can point out the exact frame which changed the way people looked at movies forever:
Let’s ignore for a moment that The Avengers made a literal mint at the box office, received glowing reviews, and permanently turned Marvel Studios into a household brand. Since then, Hollywood has been chasing the same “shared universe” model that Marvel turned into a golden goose, comic book movies have become a genre of their very own, the apologetic era of grimderp that peaked with The Dark Knight began its continued downfall, and becoming “the next Avengers” has become the industry goal line.
So needless to say, even after the very strong offerings from the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase Two films thus far, Avengers: Age of Ultron has some very big shoes to fill. How do you top a movie that burned down the old order and blew our collective minds in the process? You go bigger and bolder than ever before, that’s how, and Avengers: Age of Ultron looks ready to just that. The cast is more expansive, the plot sees the team globetrotting and facing off against the biggest threat yet, and the predicted box office gross will likely be enough for Disney to build a fleet of gold-plated helicarriers. Still the question remains, can it measure up to the original? Like the rest of the country, I intend to find out.
So do Earth’s mightiest heroes still pack as much punch, or has the bar finally gone too high for the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Suit up my dear readers, and join me for my review of Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Following Captain America uncovering Hydra’s infiltration of SHIELD, even as the Avengers are hunting down the scattered remnants of the group, Tony Stark worries that a day may come when there is a threat that even the Avengers can’t overcome. To this end, he envisions the creation of “Ultron,” an advanced self-replicating robot with artificial intelligence programmed to neutralize threats to Earth’s security. Once brought online however, Ultron gains both sentience and a god-complex, going rogue to reshape the world in his chosen image, even if he has to throw humanity into the furnace in order to forge it. Facing their most merciless foe yet, one that they themselves had a hand in creating, every Avenger will need to bring their A-game if they hope to prevent the Age of Ultron.
Though on the surface, this is yet another movie where the heroes have to come together to prevent a global threat from succeeding against high odds, what has always set the films of the MCU apart is the focus on the smaller personalities and relationships of the characters involved, with all the quirks, quips and conflicts that come with them, and Avengers: Age of Ultron is no exception. Once more, Joss Whedon’s hand at the wheel and on the script plays a key role, with the banter and team chemistry sharper than ever, with quite a few jokes and lines managing to get a reaction from the packed theater. Plots of several of the prior films are references, several future plot points are foreshadowed, and much like its predecessor, Avengers: Age of Ultron manages to tie together separate plots and subplots while weaving its own with admirable ease.
As you’d expect after almost a decade of movies about them, the acting and characters are in top form, this time with even more evident chemistry, new highs and lows in their respective character arcs, and much of the tension in the movie is focused on this being a time of transition and change for many team members.
By this point, I think we would watch Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark read from the phone book, and he’s always a joy to watch onscreen. Chris Evans continues to rise to the forefront of leading both the Avengers as Captain America and the marquee as the MCU’s lead actor as Robert Downey Jr. passes him the baton. Chris Hemsworth hams it up as the always enjoyably high-fantasy Thor, and Mark Ruffalo and Scarlett Johansson both have a few moments to shine as the Hulk and Black Widow. Of the core Avengers though, the standout though is Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, who in comparison to the last movie, gets real attention given to his character, with one of the key points of the movie being introducing his family, and him expressing his doubts and fears from being the most mortal of the Avengers.
Which brings us to our villains, which despite under using Thomas Kretschmann’s Baron von Strucker, are just as much of a focus in Avengers: Age of Ultron, to be expected when one of them shares the title. The Maximoff twins of Quicksilver/Scarlet Witch, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen, work together far better here as siblings than they did as spouses in Godzilla, but part of that might just be that they get pretty solid heel-face turns in the movie.
Not surprisingly though, it’s Ultron (played via motion capture by James Spader) who almost steals the movie, as the character revels in chewing the scenery as a self-aware monologuing villain with a confessed god-complex. Unlike with past villains like Loki, who could be viewed somewhat sympathetically, or the various past MCU villains whose backgrounds and motives explain what drives them to such wicked extremes, Ultron deviates from the pack by virtue of sheer megalomania, and makes very clear he lives solely to see the world of men replaced by a world of metal. While simple, a lot of what makes it enjoyable is Spader’s performance, and Ultron stands out from the horde of other killer robots in cinema largely because I don’t think there’s ever been one who so joyfully turned on its creators.
Another big breakout performance and character in the film can’t be revealed due to potential spoilers, but let’s just say once they show up, they make quite a marvelous vision.
As far as direction and special effects, while not nearly as strong as the last Avengers movie, mostly because of little things – the action isn’t as strong, the score isn’t as instantly iconic as Alan Silvestri’s – the movie remains a very sharp, fantastic looking body of work. Joss Whedon manages to sneak in a lot of easter eggs and symbolism in the background, to give one example, there are some small signs that the honeymoon phase where the world universally loved superheroes is over. There are little things here and there about the movie that make me hope there will be a three-hour directors cut of Avengers: Age of Ultron when we get the DVD, but all in all, in terms of grand spectacle, it will take some mighty effort to dethrone this as 2015’s gold-standard blockbuster. Balls in your court Star Wars.
No doubt there will be any number of articles flooding the net once more comparing the Marvel Cinematic Universe favorably to the attempts of Warner Bros/DC to do the same, and maybe its just because of the recent release of the teaser for Batfleck v. Genocidal Jesus Metaphor: Dawn of Grimderp, but its an apt one. Once more, where Man of Steel or The Dark Knight Rises would pontificate its political message or religious undertones, while highlighting destruction porn, the focus of the Avengers is always on how human the characters are, and the heroics focused on saving lives and protecting people.
Its a stark contrast – do you want gods of marble or heroes of flesh and blood? – and Marvel’s continued success here only highlights why I’m not the only person concerned about DC’s own efforts. The fact Marvel has juggled two whole Avengers films while DC dropped the ball with just Superman on their plate doesn’t help, but I digress.
There will be plenty of time for comparisons and analysis in the future, because if Avengers: Age of Ultron is any indication, the Marvel Cinematic Universe doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon. The worst thing you can say about Avengers: Age of Ultron is that it isn’t the once-in-a-decade game changer that The Avengers was, but then again, what is? Aside from that though, the movie is incredible, which is no small wonder given it managed to strike a balance between dozens of different elements, from the ensemble cast to wrapping a nice bow on the MCU Phase Two.
If The Avengers changed everything about the movies, perhaps the best thing that you can say about Avengers: Age of Ultron is that is showcases that the Marvel Cinematic Universe can change as well, without losing any of the momentum its gained over the last eleven movies. We see the first signs that the MCU is going to start going in some new directions, and that whatever may come, the age of the Avengers isn’t ending anytime soon.