Review - Avengers: Age of Ultron
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), PG-13, 141 minutes - What does one do to follow up a film that becomes a global phenomenon and banks more than one billion dollars at the box office? If you're Joss Whedon, you co-create a television series within the shared universe (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) then take the reigns of the follow up film; taking the Avengers on a romp around the world, neutralizing another global threat, and officially solidifying them as Earth's Mightiest Heroes.
Not having to worry about introducing the world to these characters, Whedon throws us right into the fray as the Avengers: Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) - lay siege to a H.Y.D.R.A. stronghold under Baron Wolfgang von Strucker's (Thomas Kretschmann) command. A mission that uncovers the artificial intelligence (AI) that von Strucker was attempting to develop, powered by the gem in-bedded in Loki's scepter (from 2012's The Avengers and more recently seen in the mid-credits sequence from 2014's Captain America: The Winter Soldier). Back at Avengers tower, Stark and Banner use the scepter and the data they discovered in an effort to further Stark's previously abandoned 'Ultron' project, an effort to upgrade Stark's Iron Legion of drones with an AI that would allow them to take The Avengers place as the world's protectors. Of course, things can't work out that easily. After several trials to incorporate the AI fail, Stark leaves the program unattended during more tests. Unexpectedly, Ultron (voiced by James Spader) gains sentience earlier than anticipated - and neutralizes Jarvis (Stark's butler program) before taking control of the Iron Legion and attacking The Avengers with them. As Ultron's programming was incomplete when 'he' gained sentience, 'he' lacks certain protocols, freeing 'him' to learn and develop on 'his' own. Ultron concludes that the human race needs to be wiped out in order to save the world and sets up shop at a H.Y.D.R.A. base in Sokovia (an Eastern European country in the MCU), enlisting the help of the Maximoff twins Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen), enhanced humans resulting from von Strucker's scepter-powered experimentation. This leads to a number of showdowns around the globe as The Avengers attempt to thwart Ultron's efforts to induce an extinction level event.
Age of Ultron is jam packed with characters. Most are recognizable from previous Marvel films, and others are new. Despite the size of the cast, each character has their own voice and their own chance to shine. A difficult accomplishment, but something that Whedon has always excelled at as he's great with character development. Black Widow and Hawkeye are both fleshed out a bit more. Now in her fourth appearance, we finally get a peek at Natasha's past and Hawkeye gets a much larger role within the group, providing a place for The Avengers to lay low after an encounter with Ultron and the twins. We learn that he's a family man, very much solidifying his status as the 'normal' one within the group. No powers, no abilities, just an expert marksman with the most basic of motivations: keeping his family safe. The scene at the Barton family farm house is about the only breather in the film, as the rest is chock full of action sequences. I enjoyed it though as it gave our heroes a place to regroup. It also provided an opportunity to explore some of the inter-personal relationships within the group, especially the budding dynamic between Natasha and Banner. That particular conversation between the two adds good depth to both characters considering their limited number of appearances.
It should be no surprise that the cast is wonderful. Some of the new additions like Taylor-Johnson, Olsen, and Andy Serkis (Ulysses Klaue) have smaller roles that are not explored too deeply, but will more than likely appear again in the future. Paul Bettany's evolution from the voice of Jarvis to the physical embodiment of Vision is as good as anyone could have hoped and was a natural transition considering the changes made to the origins of both Ultron and Vision from the comics. James Spader's voice work for Ultron was also excellent. It took me a little while to get past the weirdness of Ultron's metal mouth moving like one of flesh and blood, but aside from that slight visual distraction, the role was spot on.
The action is well choreographed, and the visual effects are top notch. Much like its predecessor, Age of Ultron has an extensive final battle. The entire movie feels quicker than the almost two and a half hour run time, so I wasn't looking at my watch, but I wouldn't be surprised if it went on for forty minutes (like the Chitauri invasion at the end of The Avengers). People may be starting to feel a bit of destruction fatigue from these super hero films, but I believe that Marvel does a good job of countering that by making a point of showing their heroes actually saving people. At one point, Captain America even says that he won't leave until every civilian has been cleared from the area. Acknowledging that these super-powered battles don't take place in a vacuum may be a small touch, but it goes a long way. After all, buildings and cities can be rebuilt, human lives cannot.
All in all I really enjoyed Avengers: Age of Ultron. I personally enjoy the various origin stories of these characters, but the greatest strength of Age of Ultron is that viewers are already familiar with the primary characters and there isn't much need for back story. This film has already posted the second best three day opening in history (behind only its predecessor) and will likely continue to dominate the box office in the coming weeks. I plan on seeing it a second time to really let some things sink in and to catch smaller bits that I'm sure I missed. Age of Ultron gives us everything we could want as fans of Marvel's Cinematic Universe: a good story, great action, development of existing characters, and the introduction of new ones. It also leaves things in an interesting place heading into Phase 3, which begins with Captain America: Civil War next May. I had fairly high expectations for this film based on how well The Avengers performed in 2012 (as well as the rest of Marvel's films for that matter), but Age of Ultron easily lived up to them. It's a film that I would highly recommend to anyone. And it's not very often that I can say that without any stipulations.
- There is one mid-credits scene and no post credits scene so don't sit around and wait until the very end unless you're looking for a particular person's name in the credits. The mid-credits scene shows Thanos donning a gem-less Infinity Guantlet and saying something along the lines of 'I'll do it myself'.
- A number of supporting characters from previous Marvel films have either small roles or make cameo appearances: Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Maria Hill (Colbie Smulders), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), Heimdall (Idris Elba), and Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård). Pepper Potts and Jane Foster are referenced in conversation but do not make appearances.
- Another fictitious Marvel African nation is brought up: Wakanda - the source of the world's supply of Vibranium. Wakanda is the home of Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), due to first appear in next year's Captain America: Civil War before getting a solo film in 2018.
- Andy Serkis' Ulysses Klaue is another tie to the eventual Black Panther film. Klaue loses his hand in this film, possibly leading to his replacing it with a sound transducer and becoming the villain named Klaw (as in the comics).
- Hawkeye's family man characterization draws strongly from the Ultimate Universe version of Clint Barton from the comics.
- There's a nice little connection to current events from the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television series. In the most recent episode Doctor List (Henry Goodman) flees from Coulsen's group and ends up in the company of von Strucker's here in Age of Ultron.
- The existence of the Infinity Gems and which ones have already been found were revealed to Thor in the vision from the pool in the cave that he and Selvig sought out.
- Scarlet Witch's power set is different than in the comics. Here she has telekinesis and telekinetic powers whereas in the comics they are referred to as 'hex' powers which are quite complex and have been shown to do virtually anything that she can imagine.
- I can't remember if they are ever referred to by these names in the film, but in the comics Wanda is known as the Scarlet Witch and Pietro as Quicksilver.
- I didn't really like the fact that Pietro was killed off so quickly, but it helped solidify Wanda's dedication to The Avengers so I understand why they did it.
- I was also a little surprised that Baron von Strucker was also killed off. He was a long standing villain in the comics and I thought that they would have used him for more in the future.
- The character of Quicksilver also appeared in last summer's X-Men: Days of Future Past (no connection) played by Evan Peters. Peters and Taylor-Johnson both appeared together in 2010's Kick-Ass).
- Captain America got a bit of an upgrade (as he did at one time in the comics) with a magnetized shield retrieval apparatus on his arm.
- Very early in the film, Cap calls Tony out on his use of language, he then takes flack for it throughout film from just about everyone.
- Ultron's origin was changed from the comics where he was created by Hank Pym (the original Ant-Man). This change works well in MCU as Pym has yet to be introduced (the Ant-Man film comes out this summer) and Stark has already been shown to have dabbled with AI.
- Dr. Helen Cho - In the film, Ultron forces her to produce the physical body that he tries to inhabit that eventually becomes the Vision. In the comics, her son Amadeus Cho is a super-genius and an ally of The Avengers.
- Falcon makes a comment to Cap about working on their 'missing persons' case - referencing their search for Bucky Barnes after the events of last year's Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
- Since Jarvis has become part of Vision, Stark needed a new AI for his Iron Man armor. The new one is called FRIDAY. This is apparently a wink and a nod to the 1940 film His Girl Friday.
- Hulk Buster Armor (code named: Veronica)! Epic Iron Man/Hulk fight in South Africa in which we get to see one of the coolest Iron Man armors from the comics.
- Of course Stan Lee had his typical Marval Films cameo - this time as a war veteran partying it up with The Avengers. He tells Thor that he can handle the thousands of years old Asgardian drink. After taking a shot, a drunker Lee exclaims 'Excelsior!' while being carried out.
- I liked the 'lullaby' sequence that Black Widow would go through with the Hunk in order to calm him down so he could revert back to Banner.
- Captain America and Stark continue to have differing view points on things but work together. The basis of Civil War in the comics (and presumably in next year's film) is a strong disagreement between the two. What will actually trigger that divide?
- Banner takes a Quinjet and leaves the group, knowing that he cannot control the Hulk's rage and is unsafe for those close to/around him. Hawkeye returns to his family, now including his new-born son (whose middle name is Pietro, honoring Quicksilver's sacrifice). And Stark takes some time off after the Ultron incident, leaving Cap and Black Widow in charge of a new S.H.I.E.L.D. base of operations and a team including Vision, Scarlet Witch, War Machine, and Falcon.