AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015)
The highly anticipated sequel to the super-fun Avengers is admittedly a bit of a mixed bag but, it is an entertaining mixed bag and the good far outweighs any of it’s shortcomings, including a blast of a last act that makes up for most of them.
Joss Whedon once again writes and helms and picks up a few years after the last flick. The team has been scouring the world cleaning up Hydra’s strongholds. On the latest mission, they encounter two enhanced individuals, Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) Maximoff who bare a grudge and some heavy tech that Tony (Robert Downey Jr.) decides to mess with. Stark intends on creating an automated security system for the rest of the world but, accidentally creates a monster in the A.I. Ultron (James Spader). Ultron feels the only path to world peace is to eliminate the main source of the problems…mankind. Now the Avengers must face their greatest threat as Ultron, aided by the Maximoff Twins, begins to initiate his master plan of world peace through global annihilation.
Let’s get the negatives out of the way, so, we can get to the good stuff. The 141 minute running time seems both excessive and not enough, as some plot elements…such as the introduction of one new team member, The Vision (Paul Bettany), seems rushed…while other situations…such as a furlough at a team member’s remote farm…seem to go on too long and not accomplish much. The film has a bit darker tone and thus isn’t quite as outright fun as the original and the plot is a bit more convoluted. I did like James Spader’s Ultron, though I though he could have used more ferocity and menace to really put him over. Overall, this keeps this from reaching the same heights as the last one or the recent Winter Soldier but, there is plenty to like, too!
The good stuff is certainly abundant. There is some truly spectacular action and Whedon gives the film a far more cinematic scope and shoots this one in widescreen to enhance that. The characters are all given some nice depth and each have their own moments to add to this and it works. The camaraderie between members, now that they are a team, also works well and it gives it impact when Wanda…The Scarlet Witch…starts to mess with their heads. Speaking of Miss Maximoff, it’s no secret to Marvel fans that she and her brother Quicksilver will see the error of their ways and be Avengers by the final battle…which is a doozy. I liked not only these new characters, but, how they were portrayed and Scarlet Witch and The Vision especially make quite an impression. Quicksilver’s debut, though, is somewhat muted by the character’s more amusing appearance in X-Men Days Of Future Past last Summer. Again, while Ultron could have been a stronger villain, the showdown between the team and the mechanical megalomaniac and his minions is a spectacle to behold and bares a resemblance more to the finale of Man Of Steel than the last Avengers flick. It made up for some of the more disappointing elements with some riveting action and some truly great visual moments. There is also plenty of Whedon’s trademark snappy dialogue and a few magical moments, too, such as one involving Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and The Vision that brought the house down…and let’s not forget a mid-credits scene that had equal impact on the audience I saw the film with.
As for the cast, I am not going to go through all of them, suffice to say the regulars and cameos from familiar faces are all performed well and those cameos were fun. Though, I will say the Banner/Romanoff relationship needed a bit more time to really have weight. There is some character overload here and some of the little things get ignored. As for the new blood, Elizabeth Olsen makes the best impact with her Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch. She gives her a sense of tremendous power without overacting and while her transformation from vengeful bad girl to Avenger is another element that seemed rushed, she fit in very well with the team including a really nice scene with Renner’s Hawkeye…who has some good lines here. Johnson is fine as her slightly arrogant twin brother Pietro/Quicksilver and it’s not his fault that X-Men beat his character to the punch and his character also gets short-changed a bit time-wise. Bettany makes a truly impressive Vision and that he also voices Jarvis is no accident. Finally there is Spader. I have always liked James Spader and he is a good choice for the snarky, homicidal artificial intelligence but, he never really is given opportunity to emanate true menace. Ultron disappears for long periods of time and his matter-of-fact approach to his evil plot robs the character of being a real intense threat. Even in physical combat I never got the impression The Avengers were in any real danger of getting defeated. Our mid-credits cameo has more threat in the 30 seconds he is onscreen than Ultron musters in the whole movie.
So, to simplify it, on one hand the film’s running time works both for and against it. It’s not as much pure fun as the first adventure and there is a bit of a character/plot overload. Add to that a villain who is never really allowed to reach his diabolical potential and it falls somewhat short of Loki’s attempt to rule earth last time. On the plus, there are some great character moments and interaction. The new characters worked really well and I am certainly looking forward to more of the new Avengers members. There were some great cameos from familiar faces and some really good lines too and the last act was an amazing thrill ride that ups the ante for future Marvel epics. So, I do highly recommend Avengers: Age Of Ultron, just downshift the expectations a little bit and you should have a blast.