As we get closer to the end of Marvel’s Phase Two of their Cinematic Universe, we’re seeing if the planned 11 year film series is retaining steam and public interest. Considering that the each of the character’s individual films are making hundreds of millions and the Cinematic Universe has spawned two mainstream television shows and a Defenders universe on Netflix, it’s safe to say that the Marvel craze is in full swing. Age of Ultron brings our favorite heroes together for another bout of world saving, but can it live up to the acclaim and enormous success of the first film?
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has been working on a way to let the Avengers to hang up their hoods and still keep the world safe by creating his ultimate project: Ultron. Ultron (voiced by James Spader) would be an artificial intelligence planted inside an Iron Man-esque super suit; a hero that could remain ever vigilant, never rest, and always be there to protect the planet. Recruiting Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) to help him engineer the AI, the duo experience failure after failure. Setting J.A.R.V.I.S. (Paul Bettany) to continue attempting to merge their AI to a machine and heading out for some revelry with the rest of the Avengers team and their super friends, the party is ruined when the AI is successfully merged. What wakes up isn’t the Ultron that Stark and Banner had hoped, instead he is a completely sentient AI with no allegiance to his creators. Ultron wants to save the world by extinguishing humanity from it, allowing the evolution of whatever dominant race comes next. Ultron persuades Pietro and Wanda Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olson), with the abilities of super-speed and mental manipulation, to help him destroy the Avengers.
Unlike the first film, where the heroes are clashing and egos are grinding, Age of Ultron has everyone in their established roles. While it’s nice seeing the team in action, these established roles also take a lot of the personality out of the characters. They’re all out on the field whooping large amounts of ass, but most of the charm is drowned out by the cacophony of action. Out of all the main cast, the only characters who displayed much depth were Renner as Hawkeye and Ruffalo as Banner/Hulk. That’s not to say the rest of the main cast didn’t perform their roles well: Downey is still able to pull off the lovable smartass, Chris Evans continues to be the best version of Captain America that we’ve seen in media, and Hemsworth brings his Asgardian swagger to the screen. Spader succeeds in bringing the character of Ultron to life, giving him a strikingly intelligent and frighteningly ruthless personality. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are both welcome additions to the MCU, surprisingly becoming two of my favorite characters to see. With such a huge ensemble cast, it’s not surprising to find that the characters become a little thin, but it’s still disappointing to watch. The dialogue is still in keeping with Whedon’s style, quips being fired at will and running jokes throughout the two and a half hour runtime. There is a touch of cheesiness to about 30% of the dialogue, but not enough to ruin any of the charm.
The plot of Age of Ultron holds up well against the original, replacing an alien invasion with an army of robotic killers. Thankfully, New York can breathe a sigh of relief as the movie changes scenery to a focus on Eastern Europe. Excluding a slow stretch in the middle of the film, Age of Ultron is able to balance the plot and the action quite well. Despite the quick globe-hopping story, the plot is able to unfold and change without becoming too muddled or confusing. The inclusion of an Infinity Stone ties the overall story of the MCU together nicely and creates plenty of room for the planned 2-part sequel to Age of Ultron. If there’s one thing director Joss Whedon can do, it’s tease an audience and deliver what they’re wanting to see. Whether it’s Iron Man’s “Hulkbuster” suit, all of the heroes having a drink and trying to lift Mjolnir, or Ultron singing “No Strings On Me”, Age of Ultron is certainly a crowd pleaser. The films walks that thin line between using the source material to its fullest and pandering, but I enjoyed every bit of it.
Age of Ultron still boasts top-notch action cinematography, making the Avengers look as badass as they deserve. The inclusion of Quicksilver’s super-speed gave the opportunity of slowing the action down, creating freeze-frames of intense action scenes. While the concept of slowing down times to convey a sense of speed isn’t anything new to film, Age of Ultron executes it well and uses it as a welcome break from the frantic speed of the other fight scenes. What really bothered me was the hit and miss visual effects featured in the film. Impressive visual effects are damn near a trademark of the MCU films, which made it all the more surprising when Ultron looked anything but realistic. The opening scene featured some of the more rough looking effects, but the quality seemed to improve towards the midpoint of the film. On the other hand, the effects in the climactic final battle were impressive and Vision came out looking sharp and believable. I’m not sure what caused the strange dips in quality of animation and effects, but it momentarily brings you out of the film.
When you have a movie that has been building anticipation and hype for three years there’s going to be some unavoidable disappointment. While The Avengers pulled it off without a hitch, Age of Ultron just barely misses the mark. It may not have the same level of chemistry and fun that the first film featured, but it still stands on its own as a solid entry into the MCU. Bringing many new interesting characters to the table, Age of Ultron continues to push the overarching plot towards the final goal of the Infinity War. The middle film in a trilogy always seems to struggle, but Age of Ultron‘s excellent villain, exciting plot, and host of new players defies that conception.
Age of Ultron
PSA: There is a mid-credits scene, but no stinger after the credits finish.