When I think of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Dean Martin comes to mind.
“My head keeps spinning,
I go to sleep and keep grinning,
If this is just the beginning,
My life is gonna be beautiful”
What if you saw a doomsday ahead for your fellow soldiers and the citizens you wished to protect? Would you overreact and create a monster in the process of trying to save the world? That is the lining of the engine at the heart of the latest Marvel extravaganza, Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Writer/director Joss Whedon created the pinnacle of superhero team-up movies when he brought the Marvel family together in 2012’s Avengers and he throws everything but the kitchen sink at the viewer here in an attempt to match or top the spectacle that the first film created and the path it put our favorite heroes on. One of the greatest treats of this film is the fact that someone could walk into it blind and still enjoy it while the diehard fan will soak up everything and the comic book aficionado will be drawing his own map as the film pivots around historical comic book details. Avengers can be digested by any kind of film fan and that’s its main delight.
While it’s flawed and not as seamless as the first film, the film is highly enjoyable and sets up the next batch of Marvel entertainment such as Infinity Wars and the next Captain America adventure, Civil Wars. As epic and air gasping of an experience as Avengers: Age of Ultron is, it’s basically the seasoning before the juicier part of the steak is revealed.
What is it all about? As the Avengers recover Loki’s magical scepter in the opening of the film, they run into a pair of twins(Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch) and Scarlet throws a scary end game image into Tony Stark’s mind. A vision that all the Avengers end up dead and the aliens that rocked New York in the battle eventually win and take over Earth. This image forces Stark to develop the Ultron program, an alien robot program that can protect Earth against whatever storms in the door next that maybe the Avengers can’t handle. In the process he creates a monster in Ultron(voiced by James Spader) who would like to not only finish off the Avengers but get rid of humans and civilization as they know it. Take away “hope”. Problems, name calling, betrayals and LOTS of fighting ensue.
The film wastes little time in getting to work, as the first battle takes place less than a minute into the film with the retrieval of the scepter. For the kids in attendance, this will keep them happy and won’t allow any restless parents to become weary. A mother of three can watch Chris Hemsworth’s Thor sling his hammer at 10 bad guys and watch her kids rejoice without a hint of a complaint. Ten minutes won’t pass by without every hero getting their licks in. Mark Ruffalo’s Banner/Hulk bashing through bunkers. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow taking apart bad guys with her bare hands and Captain America(Chris Evans, stout and full of red, white, and blue stew) trading barbs with Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man/Stark as they all partake in battle. It’s like watching a famous rock n’roll band reassemble, and is a proper kickoff to the movie.
While the action is white hot and full of CGI wizardry and breathtaking images and classic moments, the most flavorful part of the film are the frequent doses of humor. Every Marvel film works by adding a certain measure of levity to the situation. The tongue in cheek humor helps when you are watching superhuman heroes, demi gods, and armor plated millionaires battle advanced teenagers who can fool with the mind while oversized green bodied hulks lay wake to entire cities. As Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye informs a younger Avenger late in the film, “This city is floating right now, and I have a bow and arrow so right or wrong, you just have to make a choice. When you walk out that door, you are an avenger.” Right inside that line is a dose of adrenaline lined hero war cry and also a funny reference to the fact that humans aren’t alone anymore. Whedon and the cast seem to get that and embrace the idea that this is all weird and overwhelming but it’s also fun so it works. The humor grounds all the wild action. Also, a running gag with Thor’s hammer is hilarious.
Another element that propels the film is the darker tone of the story. If the first film was the “let’s get together rally”, this film is the event that tears apart our heroes and momentarily pits them against one another. Old blood rises up and feuds takes place as Scarlet and Ultron plant seeds of betrayal and stretch the trust in our group of heroes. James Spader’s work as Ultron is very good, and please view it on its own merit. Comparing it to Tom Hiddleston’s Loki may not be fair or appropriate. Spader doesn’t get to show his body or work with much here(he supposedly did motion capture work though) so all we have is his creepy fearful voice as the token of dread, Ultron and its enough. Whedon’s dialogue for Spader also allows for some unexpected humor and it really works well. The Avengers films have an ability to be highly intense yet never feel too heavy. Whedon is the maestro at the helm of this beast, and his confidence level is considerably higher this time around.
Everything isn’t perfect. I wasn’t as impressed with Aaron Taylor Johnson’s Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet as I should have. While not horribly rendered or realized, they don’t produce much spark and pale in comparison to the larger than life cast. Their purpose is served and random parts are good, but overall they are average. The film is a bit long and could have used some trimming around in the middle. The action, while pleasing, can be overwhelming and left me with a headache. I felt like I had taken a few lumps from Thor’s hammer by the time the credits rolled. You may feel as tired and beaten up as the heroes did and fight them for the bottle of aspirin.
These are minor nit pick junctures, for the majority of the film is ridiculously fun and jaw dropping inducing. Marvel doesn’t know how to make a bad movie and succeeds here in setting up future films. A new character is unveiled and I won’t spoil it here(let’s just say Paul Bettany’s Jarvis gets reloaded) because it’s pretty cool when it unfolds. The best scenes in the film are the ones where our heroes merely exist and enjoy each other’s company. A party where Don Cheadle’s Iron Patriot tries to tell a joke or Thor gets everything very drunk on Asgod liquor is especially fun. A scene where the group is hanging out right before Ultron crashes their party is brilliantly set up.
The development in supporting characters is key here, as fans get to see Renner’s Hawkeye get a fully fleshed out story line and Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff has a past built into her relationship with Ruffalo’s Banner that really connects and slows down the film at opportune times. A scene at Barton/Hawkeye’s “home” resonates because it’s unlike most of the film’s events and it allows the viewer to calm the nerves before more fighting begins. You may even miss a few moments where Marvel presents certain characters that will peek their heads up in a larger fashion later.
For me, it’s spending time with reliable heroes that’s most memorable. Evans working his Captain America magic and Downey Jr. turning on his irresistible combo of charm, arrogance and humor. Hemsworth’s Thor creates something that is more than muscle and a cape. For my money, Ruffalo’s soulful take on Banner’s Hulk is still the greatest achievement of Whedon’s films. The one character here that makes the complete usage of his screen time and has me asking for more is The Hulk. Ruffalo’s portrayal of him, wrapping the fear, angst and aggression into one storm of thought, is great and deserves a stand alone film fans may never get.
Is Avengers: Age of Ultron as good as the original? No, but it’s still a highly enjoyable and deeply satisfying round with cinema’s most charismatic heroes. The humor, darker tone, and supply of energy into all the characters is prevalent and makes this Marvel rock a worthy spot to rest on this weekend. You can take your wife, kids, parents and grandparents to this flick and they will dig it. Avengers appeals to any gender and age group.
Diehard fan or not, you won’t want to miss it.