Avengers Reassemble to Take On Ultron
Having chased down the last of Hydra’s forces, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), otherwise known as The Avengers, have finally recovered Loki’s staff and achieved what they believe to be a victory against the forces of evil. But thanks to the gentle psychokinetic nudging of the mysterious Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), Stark is given a glimpse into the future, and what he sees there terrifies him.
With Banner’s aid, believing he’s doing the right thing for humanity, the former weapons developer and the man known to most as Iron Man attempts to utilize the secrets buried in the staff to develop an artificially intelligent robot he thinks will both protect the Earth as well as make The Avengers themselves obsolete. Problem is, this mechanical being, dubbed Ultron (James Spader), isn’t so warm and fuzzy, and immediately looks at Tony, Steve, Thor and the rest of the team as a threat that must be obliterated. With Wanda and her twin brother Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) as allies, this creature looks to destroy the team from within, and in doing so hopes to create a new world order where human selfishness and weakness is no longer an issue.
The good news as far as Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron is concerned is that he doesn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel. On top of that, he’s not trying to outdo anything he accomplished with The Avengers, not going the typical sequel route of assuming bigger is always better and that more is the key in order to successfully please a hungry audience. No. He keeps the story grounded, the action centered and the characters everyone loves and cherishes right in the middle at all times, understanding less is oftentimes the more other filmmakers frequently take for granted.
The bad news is that, once you get past all the super-powered daring-do, once all the sound and fury begins to subside and fade from memory, the simple truth of the matter is that not a lot of substance is going on. If anything, the film is a rather obnoxious rehash of themes and ideas science fiction has trafficked in for ages (most recently in the far superior Ex Machina) only gussied up in comic book theatrical clothing. The film strains to come up with reasons to warrant its 141 minute running time, and much like recent hit Furious 7 its overly convoluted for no other reason other than it wants to be.
Still, also much like that sequel this second chapter in the Avengers saga can be a heck of a lot of fun when taken on its own merits. Whedon has a gift for showcasing characters whom otherwise never get a chance to shine, and much like he did for Banner/Hulk in the previous epic he does exactly the same for Romanoff/Black Widow and Barton/Hawkeye here. He gives all of them, especially Renner’s Hawkeye, wonderfully complex, intriguingly fascinating side stories, allowing them to come alive and matter in ways they seldom do when they’ve appeared in other entries of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (MCU). He also has a gift for dialogue and banter, and while the snark gets a tad annoying the humor seldom gets in the way feeling oddly organic as far as each character’s interactions with the others is concerned.
As for the action sequences, Whedon shows he’s on the path to becoming a master on that front, his graduation from the television realm of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly” made concrete with the visual stylistics and idiosyncratic flair that’s vibrantly on display. The opening, while utter nonsense, in a snowy forest stronghold on the other side of the globe is gleefully vigorous, while the team’s first encounter with Ultron is sinisterly unsettling. The best bit involves the Maximoff twins (who, notably, are never referred to by their nicknames of Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver as Fox’s X-Men films have dibs on those particular monikers), Captain America and the titular baddie facing off on a runaway train, the exhilarating hostility driving things gloriously palpable.
In the end, though, the Marvel MCU template rules the day, the film culminating in another battle with various items floating skyward (in this case an entire city) while our heroes battle a seemingly endless onslaught of robotic adversaries coming at them from every conceivable angle. There’s no real human connection to the madness and mayhem, and other than one superb moment between Wanda Maximoff and Hawkeye, as well as a stunning outburst of emotion from a central character after someone close to them makes the ultimate sacrifice, it’s all just a lot of razzle-dazzle hiding the fact there’s not a lot substantive taking place.
There’s a lot more, new characters being introduced while secondary sidekicks from previous MCU entries are given a shout-out hinting that they’re going to get utilized in major ways in upcoming motion pictures. But even if this story does come to a resolution, the fact it’s only building to something bigger (in this case the triple-whammy of next year’s Captain America: Civil War and the double-feature Avengers: Infinity War – Part I and Avengers: Infinity War – Part II starting in 2018) is apparent from the start lessening the tension as one knows going in little can happen to any of the key characters otherwise those adventures could not take place.
Still, I appreciate the fact that Whedon keeps things relatively grounded, that he allows the characters and their internal dynamics to shine through the chaos even if the villain pulling all the strings is a bit of a wet noodle. While nothing rises to the same heights as Hulk being asked to smash by Captain America or Iron Man heading into an unimaginable void carrying a nuclear warhead, the filmmaker still knows how to create a sense of magic and fun that’s undeniable. Avengers: Age of Ultron isn’t anything more than it what it initially appears to be, and for most viewers I imagine that’s going to be, not just fine, but positively super.
Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 2 ½ (out of 4)