Release date: May 1, 2015
Written and directed by: Joss Whedon
Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr. Scarlett Johannson, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Cobie Smulders, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Elizabeth Olsen, Don Cheadle, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Paul Bettany, and Samuel L. Jackson.
The Avengers may have conquered the box office in 2012, but they have their work cut out for them in the sequel, “Avengers: Age of Ultron”. Not only are they battling monumental expectations to live up to its predecessor, but they also have to battle an out of control artificial intelligence bot hell-bent on world destruction, and set up a bunch more movies.
Picking up where “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” left off, “Age of Ultron” jumps into action with our heroes raiding a HYDRA base where they are conducting bizarre experiments and housing Loki’s infamous staff. This action set piece provides enough geeky eye candy alone to keep the Marvel geek kingdom happy – well, until the next movie comes out anyway.
With most of the Avengers coming of their own individual movies, there’s little need for catching up. Instead a lot of the focus is where relationships stand. Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) provide some of the best scenes of the movie as their relationship develops down a dangerous path. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is given some much needed screen time and back story, not to mention some of the best lines in the flick. Cap (Chris Evans) has settled into his role as leader of these Avengers. Tony Stark is still haunted by the idea he won’t be able to save the world when the stuff really hits the fan and sets out to create the ultimate protector, Ultron. Needless to say, it doesn’t go as planned.
The action is spectacular, and the visuals are more than even the most devout fan could ever dream…Hulk versus Iron Man, anyone? But at times, it feels too familiar. Many of the beats of the film are rehashed from the first “Avengers” and the final battle of the flick with pits the Avengers against thousands of Ultron drones isn’t anything different than climax of at least three other Marvel films. It’s fun to watch but by now, it’s kinda lost that wow factor.
Ultron is a beast of a villain though, and he’s voiced with a menacingly calm sarcasm by James Spader. The accidental creation of Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, Ultron has one purpose: to protect the world. Unfortunately, his twisted logic means wiping out humanity, starting with the Avengers. As completely badass as Ultron is, there is so much going on in the movie that he never really gets the treatment he deserves.
There are several new faces for this go round. Wanda and Pietro Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, respectively) aka The Scarlett Witch and Quick Silver are subjects in HYDRA’s project, providing each of them with their own powers. Scarlett Witch is armed with telekinesis and the ability to invade your mind, while her brother is the speedster. For the comic uninitiated, he’s the same character (different actor) from “X-Men: Days of Future Past”. Unfortunately for both, neither gets a proper introduction and while Quicksilver’s powers never need explaining, Scarlett Witch may leave those unfamiliar with the character a little mystified as to what exactly her powers (and limits) are.
The biggest addition is Vision, a long time fan favorite character from the comic books who is essentially – in the movie at least – as the embodiment of Jarvis (Paul Bettany), Stark’s A.I. sidekick, he is an android that is more powerful than anyone. Much like the rest of the new characters joining the roster, Vision’s story feels rushed and wedged into an already over-stuffed plot. Maybe they are able to really flesh out the character as the films progress, but here, even thought he is essential to the comic book plot, he just feels unnecessary and slightly out of place.
Joss Whedon returns to direct and as expected, “Age of Ultron” is loaded with typical Whedon-esque banter and silly one-liner jokes. This will be Whedon’s last (at least for now) venture into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and it feels like it. There’s a genuine since that Whedon is doing his best to make the Avengers movie he wants to make and use all the toys and characters he has always dreamed. Under another director’s eye, this could have been a disaster, but Whedon handles the expectations like a pro. His struggle is real though, as the film never really finds a comfortable balance between character, action, and story.
In his defense, it’s painfully obvious that he’s obligated to set up Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe because there are more than a few subplots that don’t quite vibe with the “Ultron” story. Thor keeps wandering off to investigate a dream, but it’s really only serving to set up “Thor 3”. Cap and Stark are getting ready to do battle in “Captain America: Civil War”. Those seeds are planted here. Marvel is about to bring “Black Panther” to the big screen in a couple years. His homeland Wakanda and his nemesis are introduced here.
That is the problem main problem with “Age of Ultron”, at times, there’s just too much going on with too many characters balancing too many subplots. But it’s never enough to derail the movie. Whedon has ascended to the hierarchy of the geek kingdom because he knows what the fans want. There are plenty of hidden jokes, easter eggs, and cameos to warrant multiple viewings. Plus, Hawkeye finally gets to do some stuff.
If your expectation is that “Avegners: Age of Ultron” will be the greatest movie ever – or at least the greatest Marvel movie ever, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but while it’s not one of Marvel’s best, it’s still an exciting and fun sequel that will keep the fans coming back for more.
Running time: 2 hours 21 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction, and for some suggestive comments.
After credits scene: There is one mid-credit scene, but the press screening in Kansas City showed no after credits stinger. Stay at your own risk…or reward…just in case.