The next entry in the MCU and the last for Joss Whedon. Age of Ultron is an action packed superhero movie that, once again, features Whedon’s wit. This review contains some spoilers, but I tried to leave the big stuff out.
The Avengers have been hunting down Loki’s scepter so that Thor can take it back to Asgard. They find it with Baron Von Strucker at a HYDRA base and launch a full on assault on the facility. This version of the Avengers is completely in synch and firing on all cylinders. Iron Man has updated everyone’s tech and is flying point on the invasion. Black Widow and Bruce Banner are kind of an item now, which gives her the ability to calm him down when he becomes the Hulk. Thor and Captain America are using combo attacks like they’re some kind of pro wrestling tag team. Even Hawkeye has found his niche supporting the team. They invade the HYDRA base but are met with a lot of resistance, which they promptly deal with. They also find two “enhanced people” who have been created with the power of the scepter. They are the twins Pietro and Wanda Maximoff (aka Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch). The twins give the Avengers a hard time, especially since the Avengers have never seen them before. Quicksilver has super speed and Scarlet Witch has pretty much every mental power known to man. Still, the Avengers manage to retrieve the scepter.
Ever the scientists, Stark and Banner start poking around at the scepter to figure out what it is and figure out that the scepter is actually some kind of advanced form of artificial intelligence. Stark sees the advanced AI as a chance to complete the Ultron project. It was a project that Stark designed in order to protect the Earth from extraterrestrial invaders after the events of the “Invasion of New York” event in the first movie. Ultron is meant to be a kind of automated defense system or, as Stark puts it, a “suit of armor around the world”. Tony leaves Jarvis to run tests on integrating the alien AI into Ultron while the Avengers have a going-away bash. When one of the tests succeeds, Ultron comes online but is apparently malfunctioning. Ultron immediately becomes self-aware and quickly assimilates data from Stark’s computers. He understands that Stark created him to protect humanity, but determines that the best way to save humanity is to destroy it. To that end, he needs to eliminate the Avengers. He cobbles together a body out of spare iron man suit parts and launches a preliminary attack at the Avengers. The Avengers defeat the newly born Ultron, but he escapes into the internet. He builds himself a new body and recruits the Maximoff twins in order to help him create an even stronger one, so that he can complete his mission.
Understandably, the other Avengers aren’t thrilled when they find out that Tony (and partially Bruce) is responsible for the creation of Ultron. They’re team chemistry is shaken, but they realize that they need to stop Ultron. In the process, the team takes some shots and almost completely falls apart. They end up at Hawkeye’s safe house where they can recover and reevaluate what they’re doing. This part of the movie is a little slower and deals a bit more with the mental/emotional state of the individual Avengers. After licking their wounds and creating a new team member, called the Vision, they converge in the twins’ home land to fight Ultron. They’re also aided by the twins, who have now figured out that Ultron is more evil than they bargained for. A huge fight ensues with Ultron ultimately trying to create a man-made meteorite and drop it on the Earth. SHIELD gets involved and the Avengers are put into a tight spot but, in the end, they get the job done. Once the adventure is over, the Avengers say their goodbyes, seemingly disassembling the team for the time being. The Hulk steals a stealth jet to leave the team so he can’t be found/followed by Black Widow. Thor returns to Asgard with Loki’s scepter to investigate the strange events that have surrounded the Avengers. Stark decides that it’s time for him to take a step back from the front lines and Hawkeye returns home to his family. Black Widow and Captain America stay behind at the New Avengers facility where they’re tasked with training a new team consisting of: War Machine, Falcon, Scarlet Witch and the Vision.
The Avengers is a flawed movie to be sure. Reportedly the original cut of the movie was 3 1/2 hours long and the 2 1/2 hour long version that made it to theaters definitely feels like there are parts missing. There are also some other things that didn’t work for me, that probably can’t be attributed to trying to condense the movie for run time. Here’s a few things I didn’t love about the movie:
- There’s a sequence of events where Thor leaves the team to go have visions in a water filled cave. His visions tell him something about the Infinity Gems and, the next thing we know, he’s crashing through a ceiling to Frankenstein the Vision to life with a lightning bolt. The movie doesn’t do a good job explaining what he’s seeing or why it makes him think that the vision needs to be created.
- Thor mentions the Infinity Gems but it’s kind of assumed that the viewer knows what they are. He has a vision involving them but it doesn’t make too much sense if you can’t recognize the Infinity Gems by sight. They don’t really explain what the powers of the mind gem are very well either or how it works with the Vision.
- The Vision is another kind of puzzling thing in the movie. I didn’t realize that they don’t even actually give him a name in the movie, I just knew who he was because I was familiar with the character. The closest they come is when Ultron calls him “my vision”.
- Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch had these strange accents that reminded me of Boris and Natasha from Rocky and Bullwinkle (mostly Quicksilver). I got over it as the movie went on, but it was jarring when I first heard it.
- The longer the movie went, the less likely I was to laugh at some of the jokes. It’s not that the jokes weren’t funny, I think I just started to experience fatigue from the same style of humor being used in several MCU titles.
Don’t get the idea that I think the movie is bad though. The list of things that I enjoyed about the movie far outweighed what bothered me about it:
- This movie isn’t all action but, when the action is on screen, it is extreme and nonstop. Probably the three biggest and best action scenes are (in order of awesomeness) the final battle with Ultron, the opening fight scene at the HYDRA base, and the Hulkbuster fight scene in Wakanda.
- Visually, the movie is very impressive. The scene where all of the Avengers assemble in order to fight Ultron’s clones looked great. I couldn’t help but think of all the work that must’ve went in to rendering all of those powers on screen at once.
- The Avengers party scene is like distilled Joss Whedon comedy. Among other things, there’s Tony and Thor arguing about who’s girlfriend is better, the sidekicks (War Machine and Falcon) trying to compete with the big boys, and a drunk Stan Lee.
- The interactions between Bruce Banner and Black Widow added a lot of heart to the movie. It did feel like the relationship was a little bit forced, but they used it well enough to where I didn’t care. For example, having Black Widow be the Hulk’s “lullaby” was a nice little device to explain how he could be used.
- Hawkeye was featured as the “mortal” who is tasked with supporting the “gods” (the other Avengers). Despite being the least powerful member of the group he served a huge role in this movie.
- Tony Stark played well against Capt. America and Thor as the pragmatist who wanted to take steps that the idealists wouldn’t support. It’s reminiscent of the moral quandry of preemptive strikes that was in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
- The movie very briefly introduce the idea the Capt. America didn’t know how to do anything besides be a soldier, which I thought was interesting. There were similar insights into the other Avengers characters as well. Even though it was brief, the movie took shots at trying to give a little more depth to each character.
- Even though it is the same kind of humor found in the other MCU titles, this movie was funny. Robert Downey Jr., Jeremy Renner, and Chris Evans in particular had some great lines of the film. Renner was particularly good during the big battle with Ultron where he managed to be maintain his humor and still try to motivate the Scarlet Witch.
- I actually really liked Ultron as a villain even though I know some people didn’t care for him being “funny”. He wasn’t traditionally menacing but I thought James Spader did a great job of playing him as kind of a bizarro version of Tony Stark. I don’t think there’s any reason the villain can’t try to be funny and menacing at the same time. I do think that he will end up being one of the more memorable villains out of the MCU even if he’s not the best.
- I won’t say who gets it, but there is death in this movie. The movie does a great job of setting it up so that you can’t just easily predict which character(s) is in danger of dying.
Even though the movie’s not perfect, it’s still plenty entertaining. Even with its flaws and a shortened run time, the movie is pretty dense. As I was doing this write-up I realized that there was so much that I wanted to talk about from the movie that I could’ve made this post two or three times as long. Under the direction of Joss Whedon, the Avengers franchises have always been more about compiling great moments under a central theme instead of trying to directly construct a great movie. Avengers: Age of Ultron has enough moments to at least make the movie worth your while. If you’re looking for a lot of deep meanings or trying to pull inferences about society or culture from this movie you’re going to be disappointed. You’re also probably going into the movie with the wrong mindset to begin with. Age of Ultron is nothing more than a fun summer blockbuster, in the best possible way. Comic book fans will probably not feel like there’s as much missing from the movie as casual fans do because a lot of the missing information from the movie can be filled in by your own prior knowledge from reading the comics. Casual comic fans, or any movie go-er, should still be able to enjoy a movie filled with humor, action and impressive visuals.