As my first review for a film still in theaters, Avengers: Age of Ultron is luckily just the kind of film to see on the big screen, with all the eye-popping action and comic book culmination that drive superhero fans like me nuts. The first Avengers stands as one of the most breathtaking feats of any superhero franchise, bringing together characters from past films and achieving a surprising balance between action, heart, and geek heaven character interaction. It’s a high point in the superhero genre that won’t be easily topped, and though Age of Ultron doesn’t quite match it, it comes close enough to still be worthy of the Avengers name.
Like X-Men: Days of Future Past, the cast is potentially unwieldy. There’s the heroes we already know and love: Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), plus other familiar faces like Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), War Machine (Don Cheadle), and at least three others. Add to that Ultron, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, and at least three others, and you’ve got a likely mess in the wrong hands. Luckily, we have Joss Whedon’s hands to mold it into a mostly satisfying blockbuster, with all the wit, humor, pathos, and awesomeness you might expect from his name.
With the glut of old and new characters, their treatment and screen time necessarily vary. Iron Man and Captain America get little more than some funny exchanges about foul language and disagreements about how to make safe the world, while there’s some unexpected development for Hawkeye, Widow, and Hulk, making the most and least super of the group sympathetically human. Though the presence of recognizable faces from past films will fill hardcore fans with glee, a few are so fleeting that the filmmakers could have left them out, if only to avoid confusing the less initiated. The same goes for would-be antagonists like Baron von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) and Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), who barely stick around long enough to make an impression. (I find it interesting that those two previously appeared together as shipmates in Peter Jackson’s King Kong, though with opposite fates.) As for Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), the two newest an/pro-tagonists don’t stand out as much they should have, in some cases being treated as afterthoughts amid all else happening. Quicksilver isn’t quite as fast or memorable as Evan Peters’ version of the character in Days of Future Past, but he and his Eastern European sister manage at least a couple scenes that highlight their eventual importance to the still growing team.
As you would expect from so many characters, there’s a lot going on. If your mind wanders at the wrong moment, you might be wondering why everyone is suddenly headed to a fictional African nation to visit Gollum or why Thor is skinny-dipping in a mystical Norse pool. (I’m still not sure I understand that last one). A couple added plot elements are even introduced with little to no explanation, trusting the audience to simply keep up. Just as the first film has Thor and Iron Man going toe to toe, this one sees Iron Man and Hulk duking it out. Despite all the urban devastation throughout the film, the end places special importance on the safety of civilians, and some sacrifices toward the end do touch the heart, if not very deeply.
Ultron himself is more charismatic than just some bloodthirsty robot, and James Spader’s voice gives him a compelling personality with darkly humorous and strangely religious overtones. Yet his motivations and origins are consistently murky, similar to Peter Dinklage in Days of Future Past, a villain who deep down admires his prey but intends to extinguish them for nebulous reasons. His evil plot is astonishingly inventive (though one of his creations leads to a promising new character and his inevitable downfall), and the battle to thwart it is eye-popping, including one of those goose-bump-raising extended shots with all the heroes kicking enemy butt like only the Avengers can.
I didn’t intend to make three references to Days of Future Past here, but I suppose both of these films exemplify the trend in superhero films, to bring past triumphs together into an overstuffed but breathtaking array of comic book goodness. These films and Guardians of the Galaxy seem to draw their energy from a “the more characters, the better” mentality, so long as an even-handed writer and director keep everything balanced and entertaining. Time will tell if DC can pull the same thing off with their Justice League intentions or if Marvel is destined to remain the big name in superhero hits. Age of Ultron was almost everything I had hoped, yet another sign that Marvel has yet to stumble.Best line: (Tony Stark) “We’re the Avengers; we can bust weapons dealers the whole doo-da-day, but how do we cope with something like that?” (Steve Rogers) “Together.” (Stark) “We’ll lose.” (Rogers) “We do that together too.” Rank: Top 100-Worthy (to join the first one)
© 2015 S. G. Liput
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