Avengers: Age Of Ultron (2015) Review:
So in the months leading up to the release of ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ the anticipation for the sequel was far less skeptical than the original. How could a movie that purported to balance six different characters from films that, while in the superhero genre, were said to have come from drastically different worlds, actually work? Could the world of “science so advanced its magic” of Thor work with the advanced, yet grounded sci-fi of Iron Man? Many thought that characters would be short changed as a result of sharing the silver screen, ultimately doing a disservice to the universe that they were trying to advance. The real question is, why in the world would any of that be a concern?
Picture, if you will:
- A man who wears a robot suit that flies around the world shooting lasers out of his arms
- The world’s first superhuman who carries an indestructible shield that works almost like a boomerang.
- The literal Norse God of thunder; hammer and all
- A Hulk.
That is not a combination of things that you should worry about putting into your film. That is the kind of combination that is the formula for printing legal tender.
As the conversation leading up to the sequel wasn’t “Will it make any money?”, but rather, “It will probably make ALL the money.”, it’s safe to say that formula worked. But really, there’s no reason to think it wouldn’t. Comics and television shows have always crafted giant crossovers of this nature. To this day, it still occurs, and it always brings a bigger audience. Now whether or not it’s a good artistic decision is a different argument entirely, but since ‘The Avengers’ sits comfortably at 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s also safe to say it worked critically just as it did commercially.
The issue of juggling an ensemble cast I suppose could have been a concern, but then again not really. The X-Men films had been doing it successfully for years on the superhero front, and even films like Silverado, which is essentially ‘The Avengers’ but a western. Both those films worked best because there was a director who could manage an ensemble cast, and Joss Whedon also belonged in that company. To say that an Avengers film wasn’t going to work is to misunderstand and discredit audiences of popular cinema.
The real question is, can you do it twice? ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ is not just a sequel to it’s predecessor, but the eleventh iteration in an ongoing franchise, with a universe that gets more complex as the years go by. There was always going to be a difficulty finding a focus. Age of Ultron immediately shuts up any doubts you might’ve had prior to the curtain being drawn. The crowning moment in the original is seeing the titular team actually assemble. Age of Ultron recognizes this and opens with a tracking shot that very much is similar to the one shown near the end of ‘The Avengers’. The team is as you left them, working in tandem, and quipping at each other left and right. You get a sense that a great deal of bonding has occurred. The heroes work together this time around instead of being at each other’s throats.
This is essentially what the movie deals with. The Avengers now exist. The rumours of giant rage monsters and hammer warriors have become reality. Of course, such a monumental change would have at least, a modicum of effect on the world at large. It’s not a new route for a sequel to take. Batman Begins described it best with Jim Gordon’s speech about escalation. The Avengers have escalated the world of crime prevention so naturally, the criminal element would respond in the only way they know how. This introduces us to our newest superpowered element, the Maximoff twins.
As a result of evil experiments using tools of an otherworldly origin, regular old Pietro and Wanda Maximoff have been transformed into the “enhanced” Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. As the film eloquently puts it “He’s fast and she’s weird.” That weirdness however, is the driving force for the film’s plot. Working in the shadows she treats Tony Stark to a vision of impending doom. Being the type of guy Tony is, he takes this to be completely literal, and here one of our heroes is burdened with the urge to stop the fight before it even starts.
It’s this that drives Tony to kick-start the Ultron program, an artificial intelligence program capable of “peace in our time”. Tony, having invented robo-butler Jarvis and having never seen Terminator, I Robot, War Games, 2001, Wall-E, The Matrix, Tron, or even Transcendence, he decides to go ahead with it anyway. Of course, Captain America has definitely seen War Games so in order to make sure he doesn’t stop him, he tells only fellow Science Bro, Bruce Banner. Eventually it goes right and Ultron is born, and immediately, as a robot, decides humanity is it’s own worst enemy and the only way to establish peace is to end it because OF COURSE HE DOES.
While Age of Ultron may not provide anything new to the artificial intelligence genre, the character himself is like something I can’t say I’ve seen before. Voiced by the ever so devious James Spader, Ultron is more charismatic than I anticipated he would be. The character is supposed to reflect the personality of his creator, the snarkiest of Avengers, which accounts for his charm and smarm. Spader brings a realm of nuance to the character that makes his speeches about world domination not as cheesy as the script might suggest. He’s fiendishly clever and extremely likable. The performance only furthers the character’s credibility, simply because, although he is a robot, he is still extremely human.
The wonder twins I mentioned earlier are quick to aid Ultron in his plight. Interestingly, the characters don’t suffer from being new additions to a film already jam packed with super people. Being orphans as most in their profession are, their origin is refreshingly glossed over. Having lost their parents to bombings making use of Stark Industries weaponry, the Maximoff twins swore vengeance against the former arms dealer and his band of superfriends. It’s a story beat that benefits from this already existing universe. It would be logical to assume that the illegal weapon smuggling established in the first Iron Man would have some adverse effects down the line. Aside from that, the characters themselves are very much well defined. Scarlet Witch gives off a creepy vibe and Quicksilver is impatient and feisty. What makes them work is their innate connection with each other which is more than brought forward in the performances by Taylor-Johnson and Olsen. Of course this doesn’t negate the fact that just last year I saw these two have a different innate connection, but that’s Hollywood.
Of course since 9 characters isn’t enough, Paul Bettany also joins the cast as the Vision, the movies other caped crusader. Bettany’s voice is nothing new to the franchise, having played the aforementioned robo-butler (robutler?) but this performance is slightly more involved. Much like Ultron, Vision is an artificial intelligence, although rather than deem the world ripe for extermination, he is far more forgiving. I don’t know if this is because this character was introduced in the last 30 minutes, or if Spader was just so convincing, but I found this character to be a bit lacking. He seemed to be far too removed from any sense of actual humanity to have any real connection to it. While he’s part of a few of the movies more memorable moments, I still wish there had been more to chew on with this role.
The main cast might be making jokes and kicking ass, but they’re far from just vehicles for action and comedy. They each have bits of their stories that get advanced ever so slightly through their characters. The Hulk and Hawkeye are the most notably developed out of the main cast, having been absent since the last Avengers film. Jeremy Renner’s performance in this is particularly noteworthy, which is probably because it’s the first time we get to see him be his character.
There’s a romance between Bruce Banner and Black Widow that might seem sudden, but it’s nonetheless believable. It’s a sweet subplot that might also seem out of place but provides a sense drama to the film as it begs the question of how sustainable is this whole arrangement, and how soon is it before it all falls a part. Can you be an Avenger yet still seek to have the coveted normal life? Many superhero films have tried this to the point where it’s a recognized trope, but again, due to the universe these characters inhabit, it made sense to me that you’d ponder such things after all this time.
Amazingly, the film strikes a balance between humour and tension and fares more along the side of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, than Thor: The Dark World, in terms of overall tone. The story itself plays out well enough. You never really believe that Ultron will win and it does play out somewhat similar to the first one. As the first one had the Avengers split apart only to come together to fight against a hoard of evil minions controlled by the big bad, so does this one. The set pieces are still absolutely fantastic, taking advantage of the fact that the Avengers are now a globe trotting force and are truly Earth’s mightiest heroes.
What’s even better about this film is that it doesn’t feel as though action is put in because there needs to be an action scene at that point in time. There always feels like there is a reason for a fight, and not just ticket sales. Furthermore, the movie directly acknowledges a troubling trend in superhero films which is Superhuman Reckless Endangerment. Rather than throwing their enemies into buildings with abandon, the Avengers make painstaking efforts to control the collateral damage, something that was present in the first film. There are still innocent lives lost but there’s an effort to keep that number as low as possible. There’s a particular scene following the fight between the Hulk and Iron Man in which the film takes a step back, letting you know that these heroes feel the weight of those losses.
I once heard C. Robert Cargill say that a film is great based on the moments that stick with you. To Age of Ultron’s credit, I have a hard time picking which moment I liked the best. I could say it was one of the glee inducing bombastic action sequences, I could say it was seeing superheroes actually save people, I could say it was seeing The Avengers eating Chinese food and trying to lift Thor’s hammer. The point is, there’s always going to be something. Avengers Age of Ultron is an action movie but it’s also a classic “Man vs Self” story, emphasizing that our biggest obstacles come from within. It’s extremely comedic but it always takes time to acknowledge the drama. There’s a romance in there but there’s also a 3 way bromance. Avengers: Age of Ultron isn’t a perfect film. Like the Star Wars films before it, Avengers films are the sort of big event filmmaking that the cinema is for, that simply shouldn’t be left to be caught one day on cable or when bored browsing through Netflix. Not too many movies deserve to be seen on the big screen these days, not even in the summer, but Avengers: Age of Ultron definitely does.
Rating: Big Screen Watch