Movie Review: Avengers – Age of Ultron

Yes, we have already reached another summer blockbuster movie season. I’ve already seen this sucker twice and have let it settle for a bit before writing this.

-◊-◊-◊-◊-
Starring:
Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner
Director:
Joss Whedon (Serenity, The Avengers)
Rating: M
-◊-◊-◊-◊-


.

And so it is that Marvel’s all-conquering cinematic universe has completed its second “cycle” (well, almost – there’s still technically Ant-Man left in July). Even though it seems like yesterday that his first Avengers movie changed cinematic history by tying up four movies of build-up with a very pretty, rather hilarious bow, Joss Whedon has returned with his second and final major contribution to the increasingly expansive web of continuity that is the MCU. And while it’s probably fair to say that it would have been impossible for Age of Ultron to match the euphoric sense of triumph achieved by its predecessor, something tells me that we’ll be lamenting the lack of Whedon come the third movie. He just gets ensemble stories like this.

If you weren’t exactly paying attention to the four movies released since The Avengers almost exactly three years ago, you should be mostly fine here. Although a number of the film’s references and side stories might leave you scratching your head, the main thrust of the story is pretty much self-contained, building only on themes established in The Avengers. I do recommend you at least watch last year’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, though, as the developments of that movie are by far the most consequential to series continuity, and also it’s just a really good movie.

The events of Avengers: Age of Ultron kick off a few months after The Winter Soldier, with the reveal of that movie’s mid-credits teaser clip put to work straight away. There’s action and snappy one-liners aplenty as we see the team doing what it does best, and then as Loki’s troublesome mind control staff reappears the true plot begins – Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr)’s insecurities and doubts combine with the staff’s power to birth Ultron, a robot (or series of robots) controlled by a slice of true artificial intelligence performed magnificently by James Spader. The acting veteran’s motion-capture movements and growling voice combine with Whedon‘s signature script writing style to create a truly memorable villain, an AI who isn’t so much cold and calculating as he is proud, sarcastic and above all vengeful against his creator. Every scene he graces is to the movie’s immense benefit.

He doesn’t represent the only plot thread of the movie, however, and the rest of the plot’s content is a little inconsistent. Age of Ultron is an even longer movie than its already lengthy predecessor, and a not-insignificant percentage of that time is devoted to more universe building. Most of this just comes off as distracting. Given how tight the first Avengers outing felt, and how good the Marvel standalone movies are at generating hype for event films like Ultron, the idea of inserting more forward-thinking hooks (not to mention unnecessary characters) into said event movie seems not only superfluous, it also arguably diminishes the movie’s standing and stunts the otherwise natural flow of its pacing.

One non-Ultron-related decision that does pay off in a big way, however, is the use of the famous Marvel superhero Scarlet Witch (a role nailed by Elizabeth Olsen) and her mind-screwing powers to show us inside the darkest recesses of our heroes’ hearts and minds. It’s a rather ingenious way to skip out on pretense and show us some real character development, adding an extra dimension to most of the six primary protagonists. Even more meat is added via a sub-plot featuring Scarlett Johansson‘s Black Widow and Mark Ruffalo‘s Bruce Banner/Hulk, a fantastic sequence that makes up for the terrible treatment afforded to Jeremy Renner‘s Hawkeye in The Avengers, and a superbly Whedon party scene set in Stark Tower that trumps just about anything else in the movie.

There’s also lots and lots of action, and it puts to the screen the kinds of team combos and team face-offs (Hulk vs Hulkbuster, anyone?) that justify the ticket price of movies like this. The otherwise kind of useless presence of Aaron Taylor-Johnson‘s Quicksilver is legitimised in these moments, and though he was always going to struggle against Evan Peters‘ version of the character as portrayed in last year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, he goes for a bit of a different take on the character and comes off alright as a result.

But above all it is still that writing and direction from Joss Whedon that keeps Avengers: Age of Ultron up to snuff. The highly anticipated entry in the evolving Marvel screen canon is just a great time at the movies, in spite of its occasionally distracted nature and inherent inability to repeat what The Avengers brought to world audiences in 2012. I can’t not recommend it, really.

THE VERDICT

-◊-◊-◊-◊-
Good:
 Great villain, meaty character development, another super-sharp Whedon script, sweet action highlights
Bad:
Irritatingly distracting setup for future films, ineffective pacing
-◊-◊-◊-◊-

515/110A M A Z I N G

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: