Another great piece of superhero entertainment from Joss WhedonMovie Review Thursday, April 30th, 2015
The Avengers: Age of Ultron
It should come as no surprise to my readers that I have a thing for superheroes. I’ve reviewed nearly every superhero movie released in the last five years, and in “DVR This” I’ve written about just about all of the TV series, from Arrow to Daredevil. Some are better than others, but by and large they’ve been pretty good, with the films based in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) by far the best made, with the richest stories and best character development.
When Marvel started making films for the MCU seven years ago, first with Iron Man, then Thor, then Captain America, the goal was to culminate in a series of movies about the superhero team the Avengers. It was a brilliant business move, because when they did, The Avengers became the second highest grossing film in history. But it wasn’t just the triumph of marketing; The Avengers is a great movie, too. This was in no small part because Joss Whedon, the immensely talented creator of the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, was hired to write and direct. For the film’s sequel, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Whedon has produced another greatly enjoyable piece of popcorn entertainment, one of the best episodes in the increasingly populated and complicated MCU storyline.
Age of Ultron picks up shortly after the heroes of the TV series Agents of SHIELD discover the location of the secret base of a team of evil Hydra scientists. The film begins with the Avengers attacking the base, encountering little resistance aside from super-powered twins Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olson), and regaining the scepter of Loki, the villain of the previous Avengers film. Back in their high-rise base, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), also known as armored and weaponized Iron Man, uses the scepter to power his research on artificial intelligence. He wants to create a corps of robots that can replace the Avengers. He persuades Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), who becomes the giant green Hulk when he’s angry, to help him and to keep it from Captain America (Chris Evans), the cautious do-gooder who would be against tinkering with an alien power source like the scepter. It turns out the Captain would have been right to worry: they accidentally create Ultron (brilliantly voiced by James Spader), a wildly powerful AI-powered robot that beats the crap out of the Avengers before setting off to destroy humanity. He’s programmed to save the world, and its worst enemy is homo sapiens. The Avengers regroup to stop the misguided machine, and we get lots of action, a special effects bonanza, a bunch of good one-liners and hints of future film plots.
As he showed with Buffy and Firefly, Whedon is particularly adept at ensemble action, juggling characterization of multiple figures with battles and explosions. There are very few lines that don’t do important work, either to deepen our understanding of someone, propel the plot, or elicit laughs, and often all at the same time. Ultron, a nearly omniscient megalomaniac, gets the most fun stuff, and Spader has a great time drolly saying things like “I’m going to show you something beautiful: people, screaming for mercy!”
Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), who was under-utilized in the previous film, gets a family and an interior life, while the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) flirts with Banner and tames the Hulk, giving both of them more complex personas. Iron Man, Captain America and Thor are actually the least interesting figures in the film, probably because they have been so thoroughly developed previously, but they figure greatly in the action.
Unlike MCU’s previous film Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which was a thinly veiled critique of the NSA’s surveillance system while also being a thrilling action film, Age of Ultron does little beyond depict superheroes being super and heroic. Ultron represents the ultimate danger of technology and the hubris of men like Tony Stark, but this theme has been so thoroughly mined – from Metropolis to Blade Runner to Terminator to Ex Machina – that even Whedon can’t pull out anything golden. He was hampered by the need for Age of Ultron to be a chapter in a much longer novel written by many other people in multiple board rooms. That might make for great business, but not necessarily for great art.
The Avengers: Age of Ultron
Written and directed by Joss Whedon
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson and James Spader
At your local mulitplex
No reason to see the 3-D version
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