Review: Avengers Age of Ultron
By Floyd Rock
Avengers Age of Ultron is the latest link in the chain of Marvel Studio’s large scale super hero interconnected film franchise and one of the biggest movies of the year. The studio has separated their franchise into ‘phases’ that consist of a series of single hero movies, though sometimes accompanied by or introducing a secondary hero, that lead up to an Avengers team based movie, making for a useful marketing strategy which provides plenty of anticipation for upcoming joint ventures like Age of Ultron. However, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the only entry in phase two Marvel pictures that has any considerable impact leading into the plot for Age of Ultron with director Joss Whedon trying to primarily focus on this newest Avengers movie as a sequel to the group’s first team up. The movie opens with the team storming an enemy base in the Eastern European country of Sokovia led by Baron Strucker, a Hydra officer using Loki’s staff, from the previous Avengers, for superhuman experimentation. Though the team is able to apprehend Strucker and retrieve the staff it isn’t until after an encounter with two super powered individuals, twins Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Pietro Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), one with telekinetic and mind manipulation powers and the other with super human speed, that leaves Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) injured and Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) mentally shaken. Back at Avengers Tower Stark and Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) discover the mapping of a sort of artificial intelligence within the strange gem that ornaments the staff, which is discovered to be another Infinity Stone, extremely powerful gems as explained in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Together they attempt to use this new found discovery to complete a global defense program conceived by Stark called Ultron. However Ultron (Voiced by James Spader) unexpectedly comes online by itself and plans mankind’s extinction. To protect the Earth it needs to eliminate the people that live on the planet.
Avengers Age of Ultron is a lot of movie which can be an indulgent treat when it works and a hindrance when it doesn’t. This isn’t entirely due to the movie’s length but rather its collage of content, both character and narrative. Though it allows for providing a variety of elements to appreciate individually it makes it difficult for these elements to blend cohesively as the narrative unfolds which makes Age of Ultron sporadically enjoyable but inconsistent. Not that there aren’t things to enjoy for fans of Marvel’s movie franchise like funny banter, big spectacle action sequences, interconnecting storylines, and moments of fan service but it all comes together as a compromise rather than a marriage. Action sequences are top loaded into the beginning, finale, and used to break up scenes of exposition instead of integrated with them more effectively and moments of sequel building dampen what could be a more urgent and fulfilling stand alone picture. Marvel’s prior announcement of their third and fourth Avengers movies along with the heavy focus on Infinity Stone side plotting contribute to making Age of Ultron feel at times more like a second act than its own feature.
That said the picture still has some notable things to offer. The team’s cast of non-solo movie regulars in particular get their chance to shine. Perhaps due to getting shortchanged in the first Avengers Hawkeye gets a lot more screen and story focus this time giving him a bundle of enjoyable one-liners and more importantly using him as an emotional anchor for the team. Though he may not be the most powerful Avenger he serves as the team’s mother hen and the one team member able to ground this band of misfits to the rest of humanity. Also, in the opening, right after their raid on a Hydra base, the movie alludes to a blossoming intimacy between Banner and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). Though the pairing of the two seems out of place at first once it begins exploring their relation as a destructive force and a conditioned weapon the bonds they develop for each other make perfect sense. Last but not least there’s Vision (Paul Bettany), another artificial construct not entirely unlike Ultron and his creation is one of the highlights of the movie. While the briefest fight in the picture the conflict between fractured members of the team is one of the most effective because of the clear definition of each person’s motives. It isn’t a fight for the sake of having an action sequence to spice things up but a conflict with a purpose. The scene that follows is also one of the movie’s top character defining moments with a revelation delivered by action rather than exposition.
As an entire package Avengers Age of Ultron is like an over packed suitcase, bringing along too much for its overstuffed 141 minute runtime. While planning for an enjoyable outing it isn’t all necessary. In fact the movie runs smoothest when it’s exploring its characters, their vulnerabilities and past, and when it’s able to wind down a bit and function as just a hangout movie with its super powered team before its own unwieldy plot gets in the way again. Perhaps they just brought along too much this time with too many characters, too many side plots, and too little focus on a unified goal. For dedicated fans of Marvel’s interconnected franchise it offers its share of spectacle, humor, and fan service but as its own entry the movie comes off as more of a pit stop in a road trip than its own getaway.