Action Adventure

'Avengers: Age of Ultron' Film Review: Reassembled and ready for action

April 27, 2015Ben Mk


"Everyone creates the thing they dread. Men of peace create engines of war. Invaders create avengers."


   

When it comes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it's all about synergy. 2012's The Avengers was a prime example — the culmination of five films spanning three years, four directors and four superhero franchises. Now, with the hotly-anticipated Avengers: Age of Ultron, director Joss Whedon is back for round two, bringing Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark/Iron Man, Chris Evans' Steve Rogers/Captain America, Chris Hemsworth's Thor, Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner/Hulk, Scarlett Johansson's Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow and Jeremy Renner's Clint Barton/Hawkeye to the big screen once more. This time, the stakes aren't quite as high — we already know the formula works. The question is, can this super-powered sequel surpass its predecessor?

When we last left Earth's mightiest heroes, they had gone their separate ways in the wake of the Battle of New York; Loki and the Chitauri invasion force had been dealt a staggering blow; yet an even greater threat — Thanos — still loomed on the horizon. Needless to say, a lot has happened in the three years since. With four more Marvel movies having come and gone, not to mention three new television series, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is expanding, and expanding rapidly. Think of it as the big bang, and Age of Ultron is the universe's latest galactic crown jewel.

The story begins in the fictitious country of Sokovia, with an all-out Avengers assault on the Eastern European Hydra base of Baron Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann, last seen in the mid-credits scene for Captain America: The Winter Soldier). In this action-packed prologue, the team attempts to breach Strucker's castle stronghold, where he's been conducting terrifying human experiments using Loki's mind-controlling scepter. Little do they know that Strucker has a couple of secret weapons — twins Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) Maximoff, aka Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver — whose telepathic powers and lightning-fast agility threaten to give the Avengers a run for their money.

It's a thrilling way to bring moviegoers back into the fold, and when the dust has cleared, the Avengers find themselves on their way back to New York, the scepter in hand. All is not well, however, for as Tony soon learns, Strucker was also using the scepter's Infinity Stone to bring forth an advanced artificial intelligence. And when he attempts to harness Strucker's research to put the finishing touches on his own "Ultron Peacekeeping Program," the outcome isn't at all what he anticipated. Instead of a benevolent A.I. like Tony's trusty sidekick, J.A.R.V.I.S. (voiced by Paul Bettany), Ultron (James Spader) is jaded and misguided. Firmly entrenched in his beliefs that the only path to peace is through mankind's destruction, Ultron sets out to do just that, recruiting Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver to serve his cause, and leaving the Avengers scrambling to try and stop him.

What follows is something of a globetrotting adventure that takes viewers to a variety of locales. Among them, the fictitious African country of Wakanda — home to another future Marvel hero, Black Panther — where Ultron tries to get his grubby, mechanical hands on a secret cache of ultra-rare vibranium, and where Iron Man must don his Hulkbuster armor to subdue an out-of-control Hulk; Seoul, South Korea, where scientist Helen Cho (Claudia Kim) is coerced into helping Ultron build himself a new synthetic body, a plan that backfires, leading to the birth of the Vision (Bettany, in the flesh, or should we say, spandex); and then back to Sokovia, where the Avengers engage in a climactic battle with Ultron and his army of Ultron-bots.

That's a lot to cram into one movie, and we haven't even mentioned the appearances by Don Cheadle, Anthony Mackie, Hayley Atwell, Cobie Smulders, Idris Elba, Stellan SkarsgÄrd and Samuel L. Jackson, all of whom reprise their roles from previous Marvel movies. Still, don't take this to mean that Whedon, who also wrote the screenplay, has failed to make room for smaller character moments. Age of Ultron manages to weave in subplots involving a romantic connection between Natasha and Bruce, as well as some strife between Tony and Steve that foreshadows the events of Captain America: Civil War. Viewers are also treated to some insight into Black Widow's backstory as a Russian assassin (with a bonus Julie Delphy cameo); and we learn that Hawkeye has a secret family, when he brings the team to his country farmhouse to meet his wife (Linda Cardellini) and two young kids.

The movie isn't perfect, though. Spader's chilling voice-work aside, Ultron is far too one-dimensional to make an impact as a truly fearsome villain, coming across as something halfway between The Matrix's Agent Smith and Star Wars' General Grievous. And though the CG effects are genuinely gob-smacking, there's an air of been-there-done-that, which goes double for the film's climax, as similar to the Battle of New York as it is. Otherwise, Age of Ultron is quite simply another solid effort from Marvel. Not only does it have the unenviable job of following two of the studio's most impressive films, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, but it also has to set up multiple future entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, by planting the seeds of future conflicts and introducing characters who will play larger roles in films to come.

All things considered, Whedon has done a remarkable job of keeping all those balls in the air. On the whole, Age of Ultron has heart, it has humor — in fact, it's funnier than one might expect, especially given the advance buzz that the film was darker than the original — and it has tons and tons of action. Some of the sheen may have worn off the franchise, as it's no longer the novelty it once was seeing all these heroes sharing the screen together; but there's no doubt that this sequel accomplishes what it sets out to do. Not only that, it leaves moviegoers hungry for more.


Avengers: Age of Ultron releases May 1st, 2015 from Walt Disney Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction, and for some suggestive comments. Its runtime is 2 Hrs. 21 Mins.






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