The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
I haven’t written a movie review in ages. This site used to be primarily comprised of movie reviews, but evolution was inevitable and I branched out to the point that I hardly ever wrote actual reviews of movies, leaving that to some of the other intrepid authors here. But I actually was god-damned excited to see Avengers: Age of Ultron this week. And I was even more god-damned excited to talk about it.
I’m going to get this out of the way first: Age of Ultron is awesome. And if you didn’t think it was awesome, you’re wrong. Not based on your opinion, but based on actual fact. It’s a fact that Age of Ultron is awesome. If this movie had come out twenty years ago, when all Marvel had under its cinematic utility belt were lame Punisher and Captain America adaptations and that goofy ass Duck movie that George Lucas made lame Star Wars Prequels to make you forget he was involved with, you’d think it was awesome. If you didn’t think it was awesome, you’re saying that because you’re spoiled goddamn rotten by a Marvel Cinematic Universe which has set its own bar so high that it’s easy to forget that a movie this awesome is, in fact, awesome. But the spectacle, the amazing fight sequences, the visual effects – they are all awesome. They inspire awe. That is a fact. You can nitpick plot elements or character development or faithfulness to the source material all you want, but you can’t take away its level of awesomeness.
With that out of the way, it’s time for the spoilers. I would implore you, if you haven’t seen this movie and plan on doing so, to stop reading right now. I’m not going to apologize for ruining your movie experience if you don’t heed that warning.
The movie starts with a fight. A big-ass fight featuring all the Avengers we have come to know and love over the course of the last 10 or so movies, all fighting in unison. We’re somewhere in Eastern Europe, there’s snow on the ground, Captain America is throwing shields, Thor is tossing hammers, Iron Man is flying around blowing shit up with rockets, Hulk is, well, Hulking, Black Widow is doing assassin shit, and Hawkeye is driving a truck or something. This is the Avengers Avenging. This is the big fight with all the main players working together like a well-oiled machine that we all waited two hours for in the first film, but Joss Whedon isn’t making us wait this time.
This scene immediately sets the movie’s pace. In fact, the first line of dialogue is an expletive, which sets up a recurring joke that runs throughout the film. The audience is immediately in the right mode: oohing and ahhing, cheering, and laughing.
We find out quickly what they’re fighting: A Hydra fortress helmed by Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, who we last saw in a mid-credits scene from Captain America: The Winter Soldier. We also again see the Maximoff Twins, aka Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, who despite Strucker’s reluctance for them to do so, also enter the battle against Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. In the chaos, Tony Stark manages to find a secret room in the fortress and discover’s Loki’s staff, which leads to the discovery of a powerful new form of Artificial Intelligence. In an attempt to use this AI to create a mechanism for protecting the people of Earth, he instead does what every overzealous mad scientist does: he creates a monster in Ultron.
Rather than running down all the major plot elements, I’ll give a rundown on the major characters, since they are really the true heart of the movie:
Captain America: In the wake of the destruction of S.H.I.E.L.D., Captain America is clearly the man in charge. He’s every bit as much the super soldier he ever was. Cap becomes the voice of reluctance and reason when Tony stark and Bruce Banner are concocting their Ultron plans. It’s clear Marvel studios has designs of Chris Evans as the star of this franchise, and for good reason.
Iron Man: Tony Stark is still reeling from The Battle of New York, especially after his first encounter with Scarlet Witch. However, it’s unclear why he’s here and why he’s still got multiple Iron Man suits after blowing them all up at the end of Iron Man III. His fear and remorse leads him to creating Ultron, As far as his character goes, he’s Robert Downey playing Tony Stark, so we know what we’re getting – except that the true extremities of Tony’s character are found elsewhere in the movie, and not in Stark himself. At the end, he walks away, which seems a little redundant.
Thor: Thor is kind of doing his own thing for half of this movie, but that plays in to him coming back together with his fellow Avengers at the end. He still gets some of the best lines in the movie. His journey leads to the revelation that creates The Vision, and at the end he’s back off to Asgard to take care of the war at home.
Hulk: Bruce Banner is given tons of character development in this installment. We see that he and Black Widow have a bond together and that her presence has the ability to turn the Hulk back into a mild-mannered scientist, and as we learn later, back into the Hulk. They share moments of real tenderness, and quite a bit of anguish as well. He is at first reluctant to work with Tony Stark on the Ultron project, and again on what ultimately results in the creation of The Vision. He’s also reluctant to fight his enemies in the presence of the innocent, after Scarlet Witch takes control of his mind, which leads to the balls-to-the-wall fight with Tony Stark in his Hulkbuster armor. At the end, he’s a question mark, opting to take himself to parts unknown in the Quinjet and leaving Natasha as some sort of a metaphorical actual widow. Where he goes from here is an interesting question, though. The last Hulk standalone movie is the Edward Norton one, which only kind of tangentally ties in to the rest of the films in this series, and there’s no plans to my knowlege at the moment for another. A Hulk-only movie is tough to do now, since his buddies are there to rein him in when needed, but a Hulk movie set in some faraway land (or perhaps a faraway planet) could be interesting.
Black Widow: Natasha also gets plenty of time to shine here. Her relationships with the other members of the team, primarily Dr. Banner and Hawkeye, shows that she’s been humanized quite a bit from the calculating secret agent we first met. Through her Scralet Witch-induced dreams, we learn a little more about her past. She also gets some of the best action scenes in the movie, which is not too bad for one of the non-enhanced members of the team.
Hawkeye: We get far more of Clint Barton in this movie than in the last one. Part of the reason for that is that he doesn’t spend the first two acts under the control of the enemy, but the other part is that he really gets fleshed out as a character here. We really see the nature of he and Natasha’s friendship, but we also discover he has a family. Seeing the way that Barton was being fleshed out as a character, and knowing Joss Whedon’s tendency to off one of his heroes, I was sure that Hawkeye was going to say his final goodbyes to his team members in this movie. Before I saw this film, I would have been fine with that. Now that I have seen it, I’m glad I was wrong. At the end, we presume that he’s been given his leave, as he reunites with his wife and kids in their picturesque country home.
Ultron: James Spader, without appearing in a single frame of the film, still manages to pull off the best performance in it. One initial criticism I heard was that Ultron isn’t played seriously enough, but I think those people couldn’t be farther from the truth. Ultron, at least the Ultron in this universe, is the other side of Tony Stark. He’s Stark at his most cynical and nihilistic. Ultron has taken all the most extreme aspects of Tony’s personality and woven them into the logic of a highly powerful computer, which means the end result is a walking contradiction – whimsical and poetic, while at the same time pragmatic and cold.
Quicksilver & Scarlet Witch: The Maximoff twins are done very well, although Wanda steals the show with her mannerisms and abilities. Quicksilver here is far different than the version we saw in X-Men: Days of Future Past, and while this one is truer to the source material, the other is a little more fun in his brief appearance in that film. Scarlet Witch truly metamorphasizes from an uncertain, revenge-driven child to a strong and brave hero by the end of the film. At the end, she’s given an opportunity to step up and become that hero, while Quicksilver meets an unfortunate end. The Russian accents here left a lot to be desired, but if that’s the most criticism I can lay on their characters, then I guess I don’t have much to say.
The Vision: Holy crap, The Vision. Not only did they make him look great, they created a remarkable character by infusing Jarvis into a human/machine hybrid (and giving Paul Bettany a role on the other side of the camera.) He, of course, is ultimately the savior who turns the tide in the war with Ultron, and because of the nature of his origins, he has the potential to be the ultimate source of good as well as the ultimate source of evil. As a bonus, he rescues Scarlet Witch at the end of the last battle, perhaps alluding to future character development between those two, as comic fans are aware of.
Nick Fury and Maria Hill: The former agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have small roles, dispensing wisdom when necessary and getting the band back together when it counts.
Falcon and War Machine: Rhodey gets a little bit of screen time here, trying to impress people at a party, helping Tony try and lift Mjolnir in a hilarious scene, and getting to join the big battle at the end. Sam, however, is barely there. He’s at the party, but is gone by the time our heroes are wisecracking about worthiness later on. He’s absent from both the first and last battles with Ultron, which seems like a wasted opportunity, especially since the last scene officially anoints him as a member of the team.
These characters come together, and come apart, and come together again over the course of two and a half hours which come at you at a frenetic pace. The second act felt like it dragged in a couple of places, but that’s probably only because it was in contrast to the breakneck pace of the rest of the movie. In fact, some of it even felt rushed, as if another half hour or so might be necessary to contain all of the story and character development that this movie has going for it.
One theme that runs through this film that has been lost in a lot of comic book movies in recent years is that these guys are, in fact, heroes. In the early battles, Tony Stark sends his drones to populated areas to warn the citizens of potential danger, although they’re often met with disdain. Ultron is created as an attempt to save the people of the world, although Ultron interprets that as saving the world from its people. The damage done in the battle between Hulk and Stark becomes a mental anvil for Banner, and leads to concerns about the group’s abilities to defend. And in the final battle, saving the people of the village is just as big a concern as stopping Ultron, down to our Super Heroes risking their lives for individuals.
The big fight at the end brings everyone back together in unison in a similar way that they came together at the beginning of the film. And this, by far, is my favorite battle in any Marvel Cinematic Universe film yet. I’ve heard (and used) the comparison in movies to a “comic book panel brought to life”, but nowhere has that been accomplished the way it is here. The image of nine superheroes fending off an army of Ultron drones was one of the most amazing things I’ve witnessed in a theater.
The film’s finale takes place at the new Avengers Headquarters. As mentioned before, Tony, Thor, and Hawkeye walk off into the sunset, and Hulk’s whereabouts are a mystery. Cap and Natasha are still around to lead the next generation of Avengers: Scarlet Witch, Vision, Falcon, and War Machine. Seeing those four “Assemble” sent goosebumps up my arms, and makes me excited about the possibility of an Avengers movie where some of our classic guys play second fiddle to this new crop of heroes.
I went in to this movie expecting big things. The first Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, both Captain America movies, and Iron Man I and III are some of my favorite films of the last decade, so it’s hard not to have big expectations, and it’s also hard not to be let down. I certainly wasn’t let down. It’s exciting, funny, sweet, and everything else you expect in a Marvel movie, while also being a little more introspective and tackling some darker themes as we enter the third phase of our grand story arc.
And now, I can’t wait to see how Ant-Man and Doctor Strange get sucked into this universe…