Every summer the box-office landscape has that one movie that's on an entirely different level than anything else out there. That one movie people of all age groups will go to see and enjoy regardless of demographics. That one movie that other studios know will be such a unbeatable juggernaut that the box-office that they don't dare release their own films till weeks later. That one movie that's bigger than blockbuster, it's an event to be witnessed. That event is here in Marvel's The Avengers: Age of Ultron.
The highly anticipated Avengers sequel has arrived and man is some geek-tastic ocular overload. Joss Whedon returns at the helm as writer/director for another assembly of 'Earth's Mightiest Heroes' in the definitive summer blockbuster. Whedon and Marvel Studios not only brought the band back together but also added a symphony and cranked it up to eleven. Avengers Age of Ultron is everything you want in summer blockbuster, everything you want in a sequel, everything a comic book geek like myself hoped it would be and more.
Age of Ultron picks up a short while after the events of Captain America: Winter Solider. Steve Rogers (aka Captain America, aka Chris Evans) has postponed his search for his friend Bucky to team back up with the rest of the Avengers to find Loki's scepter; which is in the hands of Hydra since S.H.I.E.L.D. fell. After multiple successful Avengers missions, and no significant threats on the horizon, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) work on a computerized peacekeeping program for the world so the team can hang it up for good. That plan goes terribly wrong and the artificial intelligence program Ultron is born. Believing the only true form of peacekeeping for the world is human extinction, Ultron plans for the genocide of humanity starting with the Avengers. Mayhem and global level destruction ensues.
Initially when Whedon was tasked to do the unprecedented mission to join all these standalone characters into a team multi-franchise film a few years ago for the first Avengers film, most were skeptical he could make it work. Not only did he make it work, Whedon made it look easy. The first Avengers film was a massive critical and financial success, but more importantly it was a success from a story stand point. The entire story arc and events of that Avengers film are now the bedrock for every sequel, new film franchise, and television expansion the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) has done since then in those Phase Two stories.
There is a decent amount of time that's past since the events in Winter Soldier. Yet instead of easing audiences back into this busy MCU world Whedon takes a cue from Bond flicks and rockets movie-goers into one of the craziest opening action sequences. From then on out its variable avalanche of even more action sequences that only get more epic and more intense till the very end. I could go into detail about the jaw-dropping slugfest between the Hulk and Iron Man's Hulkbuster suit. Or I could write at length about the astoundingly ambitious end battle between the Avengers and Ultron. But there's no point, those moments in the film are spectacles to be marveled at in a theatre, not summed up in a couple sentences.
Sure Marvel not only delivered but exceeded in stepping up their game when it came to visuals and action here, but Whedon also managed to cut out pockets intimate moments throughout the film. Just like the first Avengers film where every character got their own moments to shine while still equally sharing the spotlight, they all also got their own quieter moments to explore the characters under the costume. Cap and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) have that warrior camaraderie that help them bond after they put the shield and hammer down. Bruce and Tony have some great stuff during their science bros moments pre and post-Ultron where the ethics of playing god are debated. But some of the best of the quieter moments are between Bruce and Natasha (Scarlett Johansson, aka Black Widow) as those two dance around the idea of the two being something more than team mates, while equally being too frightened by the always looming shadow that their dark past casts over themselves. Oh and Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye actually has something to do this time around.
The issues I have with Age of Ultron are only minor ones and things that aren't even the fault of the film itself but rather its spot in the MCU as it currently is. I imagine most movie-goers will make this point after seeing it, but the film has many moments where the screen or the story feels a little too hectic or overwhelming at times. The first Avengers film missed those feelings since it didn't have the burden to spend its screen time introducing the characters to the audiences. All except Cobie Smulders's Maria Hill character were coming from their own respective solo film franchises or were supporting characters from those films. So the only first-time introductions that needed to be made were character to character, not to the audience. This time around Whedon not only had to introduce major characters for the first-time on screen but give origin stories to its main villain Ultron (James Spader), the two villains turned heroes Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) & Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), and the new hero Vision (Paul Bettany).
If those four massive characters weren't enough to add to an already full roster/cast, Whedon and producer Kevin Feige intentionally shift part of the film's story to the fictional African nation of Wakanda for the first time in the MCU to help lay the ground work for upcoming films such as Captain America: Civil War and the obvious Black Panther film. There Andy Serkis's character, Ulysses Klaue, is introduced here in a few quick scenes that will no doubt help bridge the gap between those upcoming films. Essentially there is so much going on here with story and new and/or expanding characters here that at some moments the scenes feel rushed or cut short. Even at it's running time of 2 hours and 21 minutes Age of Ultron feels slightly rushed and I don't think audiences would have minded an extra 10 or 20 minutes to smooth some of the transitions.
I'd be remised if I didn't touch upon the titled villain, Ultron. As comic reader growing up Ultron was always one of the best foes to read about in the Marvel universe. Because the character of Ultron is ultimately a program and not physical being, the character is able to be destroyed only to come back in a more menacing form. At first I thought Spader's irreverent take on Ultron was straying too much from cold and precise villain in the comics. In the books Ultron is a more serious, cold and calculated killing machine who leaves the exchanges of witty banter to the more colourful villains; not so much here in this film. Yes it's a change from the books, but this version of Ultron has Downey Jr's Stark as his creator (or father if you will) and not the ultra-serious character of Hank Pym who is the scientist who actually creates him in comic canon. This comic fan enjoyed the slight change as it gave Spader an opportunity to have Ultron chew the scenery at times; which I never thought I'd love to watch, but did immensely.
Age of Ultron doesn't have that same magic and sense of wonder that the first Avengers had but that seldom ever happens in a sequel. Even and unconventional one, with four movies and three TV series of story in between, such as this one. The film is still a worthy successor to the original and one hell of a fun ride at the movies. Age of Ultron up the action from the last Avengers, keeps the humour going, and teases at the goosebumps comic geeks and audiences will soon have in future installments in the MCU.
Even though Marvel's upcoming Ant-Man this July is their last of the Phase Two films, the events and aftermath here in Age of Ultron are going to be the moments that shape the 'Vision' of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the films to come. (bad joke, sorry)
Andrew Burns loves film and comics, and can be found writing about when those worlds converge. You can follow him on Twitter at @myAndrewBurns.