By Brett Bunge (Avery, CA)
Avengers: Age of Ultron is the penultimate film in Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which will conclude with the Ant-Man film later this summer. Phase 3 of Marvel’s grand continuity experiment will include Captain America: Civil War, Thor: Ragnarok, Doctor Strange, Black Panther, and conclude in the two part film Avengers: Infinity War, which will presumably be the payout to the ongoing multi-film arc concerning the Infinity Stones and Thanos, the mad Titan.
The original Avengers was a milestone not just in what it represented for comic fans—who had been waiting decades to see a team-up like this on the big screen—but also in what it meant for the films preceding it. To quote film critic Bob “MovieBob” Chipman, “The Avengers was basically a victory party celebrating its own existence.” To successfully combine not only the onscreen chemistry of so many ensemble cast members but also the various genres of their respective films was nothing short of a miracle.
In the years following the first film, the MCU has become more complicated, not less (not only in the films but also with TV shows such as Agents of SHIELD in the mix), which creates some problems for Age of Ultron. But let’s talk about what the film does right. The plot, for what it’s worth, involves Tony Stark’s creation Ultron—first built as an AI designed to run Tony’s “Iron Legion” drones and protect the world—turning against the team.
First and foremost, writer/director Joss Whedon has lost none of his prodigious talent when it comes to writing organic and witty dialogue; first showcased during his years working in television on Buffy and Firefly. The quieter scenes in the film are some of its best, and the interactions between the core casts feel less like a script and more like actual people. The best part of the film is the character banter; the action scenes are fun and well-paced, but the dialogue keeps you invested in the characters, in particular Hawkeye.
Ah yes, Hawkeye. While Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow received plenty of characterization in the previous films, Hawkeye was sidelined as Loki’s mind-controlled henchman, which unfortunately meant that Jeremy Renner, an excellent actor, had little to do. Perhaps to make up for this, Hawkeye is front and center here; he’s the heart and soul of the team, and his presence reminds viewers exactly why he’s an integral part of the films. His scenes during the finale with the new characters are easily some of the high points of the film, although to reveal why would veer into spoiler territory. In short, Hawkeye is one of the lynchpins of the film.
Let’s talk about these new characters for a moment. Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson of Kickass and Elizabeth Olsen, respectively), show a genuine brother-sister relationship more profound than that of Thor and Loki from the previous films (although, as Thor reminded us in the first Avengers film, Loki IS adopted). The way they’re introduced feels natural (Quicksilver’s overprotectiveness feels genuine), even if their sudden mid-film heel face turns feel contrived: they find out that Ultron is evil and suddenly their desire for revenge against Tony Stark disappears as well? I have a sneaking suspicion that this particular point may show up in future films; perhaps Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch will side with Cap against Iron Man in Civil War. We can only hope.
There’s also The Vision, whose presence in the final act is a breath of fresh air. Played by Paul Bettany, Vision is a great character that brings a new perspective to the team, and I’m eager to see where he goes from here. I can’t talk too much about him for fear of spoiling the plot, but suffice to say he’s a welcome new edition.
While Loki was a great villain in the first Avengers, Ultron steals the show here whenever he’s onscreen. James Spader, always a fantastic character actor, really sells the fact that Ultron is both at once evil and misunderstood. The decision to motion capture Spader’s face for Ultron’s final form is a stroke of genius when it comes to conveying the robot’s emotions, and Spader’s distinctive delivery style and tone fit perfectly with the character. He’s basically the anti-Tony Stark, no matter how much he denies it. It’s a shame, then, that the two get so few scenes together, and that Ultron is defeated by the film’s end (although who knows whether he might show up again). In my opinion, he should have stuck around longer.
This “here one moment, gone the next” mentality is my main problem with the film. With so many characters showing up, some of them are bound to get short shrift, and unfortunately this is the case here. While the main cast is of course on full display, characters such as Don Cheadle’s War Machine and Anthony Mackie’s Falcon are shoehorned awkwardly into scenes. It’s particularly egregious with Falcon, who appears in one scene and then at the very end as a new Avenger whom we’re expected to accept without question. Even the Hulk disappears from the film very hurriedly, as does Nick Fury, who’s basically there for a cameo. Finally, there’s Thor, who vanishes from the film for a period of time to ostensibly “investigate” some visions he’s been experiencing. He has one brief scene with Dr. Selvig and then he’s back; it definitely feels as though some scenes have been cut, making Thor’s side trip feel contrived and pointless.
There are other minor flaws in the film—some the action scenes drag on, and the bad guys are even more generic than the Chitauri from the previous film—but they don’t detract from the overall excellent Age of Ultron. If you’re a fan of the MCU or superhero films, or even just a fan of action movies in general, you’ll love this installment, and I for one can’t wait to see what comes next.
Final Score: 8/10View Movie Quotes