I didn’t grow up with comic books, so my interest in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is on less sturdy footing than, say, my interest in the Star Wars universe, of which I have been a part since infancy. I missed the first Iron Man in theaters as well as The Incredible Hulk. My first introduction to the series was when friends dragged me out to see Iron Man 2, a movie that looked fun, but didn’t make me feel like I had to move mountains to go see it. The teaser at the end of that movie was for Thor, and it was then that I realized that this wasn’t just a sequel to a successful action movie, it was a part of a much larger and more interesting experiment: a web of superhero movies (and TV shows) all connected with one another. I was hooked. The first culmination of this experiment was The Avengers, a chaotic movie that just barely managed to keep all its plates spinning to wonderful effect.
Since then, we’ve gotten a third Iron Man, a second Thor, a second Captain America, and the goofy side trip that is Guardians of the Galaxy, all leading up to Avengers: Age of Ultron.
If you were a fan of the first Avengers movie, you’ll probably like this one because it’s basically the same movie with different accessories. An army of baddies, internal strife in the team, lots of one-liners, and a villain who completely steals the show.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), who seems to have un-retired since Iron Man 3, gets an idea from a recent Avengers mission that leads him, with the help of Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) to bring an old project, Ultron, out of mothballs. If it works, this peacekeeping AI will make the Avengers obsolete. Unfortunately, something goes awry and Ultron (voiced by James Spader) attains a particularly malevolent brand of sentience, prompting the Avengers, led by Captain America (Chris Evans) to come together once again to stop him, despite the internal strife caused by Stark’s rash mistake that started this whole thing. Added to the mix are a set of genetically modified twins (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen) with spectacular powers who are certainly not in any way related to a pair of mutants who happen to be the children of a certain fellow from another universe with a magnetic personality. Any similarity to these characters, real or implied, is entirely coincidental.
The movie is definitely enjoyable as it has the exact same personality and feel of the first one. The same types of one-liners, the same big action sequences featuring a CG army of easily defeatable bad guys, the same sources of tension (especially between Cap and Iron Man), and the same emotional moments. Joss Whedon has said that he wanted this one to be different from the first and have a darker feel a la The Empire Strikes Back, but I don’t really see that at all. When one compares Captain America: The First Avenger to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the contrast is beautiful. The character has matured, and the entire tone feels different. The first is a glossy origin story and the second is a tense spy thriller. With the Avengers, both movies hit all the same beats and Ultron feels like a comfortable sweater we know and love. It’s fun, but it’s certainly not blazing any new trails.
And, since Marvel released the titles of all the upcoming MCU films earlier, we know that everyone survives because they still have more movies to appear in. Cap and Iron Man are going to be back for Civil War, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) still has to deal with Ragnarok, and the Hulk has to have uncontrollable rage issues which the group learns to control over the course of another Avengers movie (though, in his defense, the rage incident in this film isn’t really his fault). There’s not a lot at stake, since we’re going to have three more years of MCU films, and this one can’t wreak too much havoc on the main characters since we still need them. There was talk of a major character dying in this one, but that seems to have been meant to drive hype. Stuff happens that is sort of tragic, but nothing that will affect fans of the series as a whole very much.
But for all its cookie-cutter predictability, Avengers: Age of Ultron is a fun movie, primarily because of Ultron himself. He’s only really threatening for his first ten minutes, but James Spader’s voice acting is so marvelous that the character is never dull. Who knew the lovable dweeb from Stargate could play evil so well? I know Spader’s done other villainous roles in his career, but I will always see him as Daniel Jackson, so Evil Robot Daniel Jackson is a nice change. Also, there was one new character who is introduced toward the end of the film (identity withheld for spoiler reasons) that will definitely be important later on, so I’m curious to see how they will develop in later entries.
Newcomers Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are fun, though they aren’t given much room to develop. Overall, and I know this is blasphemy, but I much prefer the X-Men version of Quicksilver to this one. Taylor-Johnson makes the character light and fun, but we don’t really get to actually meet him as he rarely has a conversation with another character that lasts for more than 10 seconds. Olsen’s Scarlet Witch is delightful and I wish we’d had a lot more of her, because she seems to have a lot of untapped potential. I’m not sure how many more characters this franchise can hold without exploding, but I’m a fan of the newbies, anyways.
As for the other characters, we get some good moments here and there. I liked the expansion of Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, and Scarlet Johansson’s Black Widow is excellent as always (it’s a shame she’ll never get her own movie because she’s one of my favorite characters). Some online reviewers have pointed out that Tony Stark is especially unlikable in this, and I don’t see that as a bad thing, really, especially since he’s basically going to be the “villain” in the next Captain America movie. Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner seems to have taken a step backward from where he was at the end of the first Avengers movie, still terrified of his alter ego and only able to control himself occasionally, but Ruffalo is so likable in the role, that it works. Also, this does serve to fuel a romantic subplot that, while shoehorned in, was very well handled. The one character I felt was really sidelined was Thor. In this particular plot, he doesn’t have a lot to do except for a rather confusing moment of realization partway through the movie that has some big ramifications for the endgame. I’ll definitely need to rewatch it to figure out what actually happened there… I suspect it will make more sense as the MCU progresses.
I find myself wondering how this movie would have worked if it had actually gone into dark territory like Whedon had promised. With so many characters and so much set up for future plot lines, I think a truly dark and tragic storyline would have felt too oppressive. So, maybe it’s a good thing Whedon kept things light. It was the safe thing to do, but it allows for the characters to deal with more complex emotions in their solo films. So I reserve judgment for now. The audience in the theater had a lot of fun and the laughter was genuine and explosive. It is definitely worth seeing on the big screen.
I’m looking forward to Ant-Man, the next entry in the franchise, but I’m not crazy nerd giddy about it; however I am super excited for Captain America: Civil War, so let’s see where this wild nerd train takes us.
Until next week!