Well, it’s finally here. After all the tie-ins, crossovers, and easter eggs that Marvel has flaunted over the last few years, Avengers: Age of Ultron has finally been released in theaters. Calling Age of Ultron one of the year’s most anticipated movies is a gross understatement, especially after its 2012 predecessor exploded into a record-breaking juggernaut and international phenomenon. Whedonites, Marvel fans, and general moviegoers alike have all been bursting at the seams for this movie to be released, and the stakes have been proportionally dialed up. We’ve already seen the previously unfathomable, aka a well-balanced forming of The Avengers despite the sheer number of characters involved. As such, Age of Ultron has to be inventive and discover new ways to wow us in the same way that the original did. It can’t just coast by on the familiarities of the last film for the sake of comfort: it must shake things up. Thankfully, Joss Whedon returns to helm this movie and once again, he strikes pure fangasmic gold.
Ingrained in a continuing conflict with Hydra, the Avengers – Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), and Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) – storm a Hydra compound and regain Loki’s scepter. Upon recovering the scepter, Tony completes a work on a global defense program called “Ultron”: Tony’s answer to the question of national security left behind in the wake of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s destruction in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Unfortunately, Ultron develops artificial intelligence (James Spader) and comes to the conclusion that it must exterminate humanity in order to save the planet. Ultron sets its plans in motion by building itself a new body and manipulating a pair of metahumans, the lightning quick Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and the mind-bending Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen), into splintering apart the Avengers. Assaulted by their greatest fears and buried underneath the consequences of Tony’s most dangerous creation, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes must pull themselves together and eliminate Ultron before it brings about the end of humanity as we know it.
Much like 2012’s The Avengers, Age of Ultron‘s greatest asset is the guiding hand of Joss Whedon, who once again demonstrates his mastery of large ensemble casts. Despite the fact that there are nine principal Avengers by the film’s climax, Joss sprinkles in enough character touches between the action set pieces to add a nice dose of humanity to the story. This is especially true for characters who weren’t the focus of the last film, and who fans might’ve hoped would be better utilized this time around. Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye is given a lot more poignance as a human balance to a team full of demigods and his sardonic but surprisingly stirring dialogue enriches the overall story experience. Scarlett Johansson and Mark Ruffalo are allowed to venture into truly touching territory and their budding relationship between Bruce Banner and Black Widow is one of the emotional cruxes of the film. And as for the new Avengers themselves, the Twins are very entertaining and boast a combined power set that imbue already wondrous set pieces with greater awe. Granted, their not-so-subtle Russian accents were a little much for me at times and I’ll admit that there were certain aspects of Scarlet Witch’s character, particularly in the limitations of her powers, that could’ve been fleshed out better. However, these characters as a whole are deftly handled along with the more-established leading men of the Avengers: epitomizing the immense character skill gained by Joss Whedon in his television beginnings.
More than his proficiency with multi-tasking or his never-ending ability to spew clever, hilarious dialogue, I want to praise Joss Whedon for successfully raising the stakes of this sequel while making it stand uniquely alongside its predecessor. This especially comes in to play with the action sequences and cinematography: two areas where Joss haas managed to step up to the plate and truly knock it out of the park. While the sequel doesn’t build to one singular smash down of a climax like the original film does, Avengers: Age of Ultron jam packs its action sequences throughout the film’s run and manages to up the wow factor in a couple of ways. For one thing, the Avengers truly fight as a team in this one: lending themselves to exciting displays of fighting combos and cooperation that never fail to dazzle. Also, the cinematography is utterly gorgeous in this movie and pulls off some imagery that leaps off the comic book page and translates the spectacular battles from the source material into full life on the big screen. Granted, there might’ve been too much focus on the action at points, as there were minor stretches that left me utterly exhausted from the extensive asskickery on screen. But the film was a gorgeous sight throughout and never failed to re-ignite my inner eight year old with each fantastic moment.
Singled out for special praise is the film’s titular antagonist Ultron: a marvelously malevolent menace sprung from the combined imaginations of Joss Whedon and James Spader. Perhaps the most psychologically complex villain of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ultron is a malformed Pinocchio created by the irresponsible and arrogant Tony Stark. An incomparable intelligence with the maturity of a child, Ultron spouts Tony’s failures back in his face: demonstrating wicked glee as it trades snarky comebacks with Iron Man throughout the film. More than just an excuse for humor however, Ultron is a more credible threat than even Loki: standing toe-to-toe with the Avengers in physical combat while granting itself near-immortality with its ability to transmit his consciousness between his Ultron robots. But like Loki’s Tom Hiddleston, James Spader has an absolute blast playing Ultron and allows Ultron the range to be fearsome or funny depending on the situation. For the former, Ultron’s first appearance is most notable as he imbues the shambling metallic zombie with an unsettling level of insanity. As for the latter, Spader’s inherent ability to sound condescending plays to great effect here, as Spader’s Ultron, in simplest terms, is the prick you love to hate as he spouts off sarcastic villainy throughout the villain. Put simply, he is a villain in the tradition of great Joss Whedon villains: engaging in just about every conceivable area.
At this point in time, I am fully aware of the possibility that my opinion may change. If my time with the Marvel Cinematic Universe has proven one thing, it’s that this franchise is one that rewards multiple viewings to allow more enriching details to marinate. But that being said, I can’t say that I enjoyed this film quite as much as 2012’s The Avengers. In many ways, Age of Ultron is the perfect sequel: taking what the original one did so well and amping it up to the next level. However, there was a singular focus to the first film that is slightly absent here and it is hard to top the original awe of seeing The Avengers formed for the first time. Also, while I recognize that this may not be a popular opinion, I appreciated the original’s quieter moments before the action set pieces and wished that Age Of Ultron wasn’t quite so stuffed with wall-to-wall action all the time. An extra moment to breathe once and a while would’ve been greatly appreciated. However, Avengers: Age Of Ultron is still an awesome superhero movie and one of the best entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far.