(Review) Avengers: Age of Ultron

To say that I was excited for this sequel to Joss Whedon’s 2012 behemoth Marvel’s The Avengers would be an understatement. I have followed these films from the first time Iron Man graced the screen, and I’ve seen every last Marvel film in cinemas. I am a fanboy, I guess you could say, and I’m not ashamed of it. These characters have connected with me over the course of the past seven years, and I hope they are here to stay. But, as Black Widow says, “Nothing lasts forever.”

This film starts off at a sprint and doesn’t let up until much later in the movie, giving the audience a welcome chance to breathe. Somehow all the Avengers have assembled between The Winter Soldier and now, and they are taking down the last Hydra/Shield outpost where they retrieve Loki’s scepter, which has been missing since the end of the original Avengers. There are big things planned, and this film lets you know it every chance it gets.

For those unfamiliar, walking into this film will feel like watching Serenity if you’ve never seen an episode of Firefly. Joss is given full freedom to wander wherever he wants, and it’s when he lets the characters relax and be themselves that I took the most pleasure in watching this masterful group of actors embody the gods of the comic universe. Jeremy Renner is given a lot more story this time around as Hawkeye, and there were more than a few times where I was laughing with glee at his one-liners, harking back to his short time of lucidity in Avengers. Here he is allowed to let loose, and I had a blast getting to know his character more fully.

The rest of the screen time is suitably given to four characters: Iron Man, Captain America (my favorite), Black Widow, and Hulk (aka Bruce Banner). Thor gets the short end of the stick this time around, but he is still always present even if he’s not on screen.

I won’t spoil the full story for you, but you will get the gist if you’ve seen the trailers. Tony Stark has teamed up with a reluctant Banner to create Ultron, a peace-keeping artificial intelligence that is hinted at in the very first scene of the film. Stark wants world peace, but he doesn’t want to work for it himself. He wants machines to do it for him. Therein lies the great fall from grace, and thus Ultron breaks free and decides to take matters into his own cold, steely hands. He wants to exterminate life from the planet and thus create peace.

Now, a hero is only as good as his or her villain, and I thought that, though hokey at times, James Spader did a great job of making me long for Ultron’s demise. The animation on the face took a little bit to get used to. Like I said, some of it felt cheesy, but what comic book doesn’t have its own cheesiness?

Age of Ultron, genuinely felt like reading a sequel arc to Avengers, except without the little blurb at the beginning getting you up to speed. I would have liked to see how Black Widow, resigned to setting out on her own and “disappearing” to discover who she really wanted to be, ended up coming back to the team. That was my first gripe.

My second gripe with the film was that it spent too much time on new characters that I didn’t care much about. True, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are prominent in all the marketing campaigns (Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson), but by the time the finale came around, I didn’t feel I knew them enough to really care about their fates the same way I cared about Cap, Hulk, and Widow. The dance card in this film was pushing it very thin. Even Stark felt like he was being pushed aside to showcase these two newcomers, and it was with relief when I saw our original team reappear to save the day as they always must.

But, this time there are genuine consequences to the destruction, which is welcome in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. How many times can mankind patch up the rubble in the wake of a Hulk attack, or an alien invasion? People are going to have to hold someone accountable, and that’s a plot thread that will be explored in future films. Captain America: Civil War is next on the agenda, and I am anxious to see what unfolds.

This film gets a solid 7 out of 10 from me, mainly because the finale didn’t pack a punch like the first one. Whereas the first phase of the MCU was leading to The Avengers, this time it felt like Age of Ultron was the placeholder for bigger stories that are yet to come. I didn’t mind so much. It is the nature of the beast at this point, and I still enjoyed myself immensely. But, I wanted more. Rumor has it the Joss Whedon’s original cut of the film was 3.5 hours. That means there is about an hour of material that was left on the cutting room floor for the wide release. I’d love to see what else there was and if it fixed any of the problems I had with the story.

All in all, you could feel Whedon framing everything clearly in the three-act structure. The beats were all there – and the reversals, don’t even get me started! But, the finale lacked a ticking clock as effective as the nuclear bomb in the first film, and because of that, it ends with a whimper instead of a war cry.

Still, if you are a fan of any of this, you must see this movie. It is worth the admission price of a regular ticket. Don’t worry about the 3D or the IMAX (unless you absolutely must). This film is loud enough and big enough to be enjoyed wherever you see it. After all, it’s not every day that the Avengers assemble. And it might not be long before things are shaken up in a huge way.

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