Written and Directed by Joss Whedon.
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Cobie Smulders, Paul Bettany with Samuel L. Jackson and James Spader as Ultron.
Rated PG-13, 141 minutes.
The first Avengers movie was the successful consummation of a major gamble. Bringing various superheroes, previously engaged in independent solo adventures into one movie was a novel concept and many people didn’t know what to expect going in. It turned out to be an incredibly satisfying experience, perhaps inherently more so than this sequel, which plays less like the culmination of something than a bridge towards somewhere else.
Even so, Age of Ultron is a fantastic time at the movies. It has everything one could ever want in a summer popcorn film and more.
The plot can be boiled down to Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) compelling Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) into helping him resume work on a defense program named Ultron. When that proves successful, the resulting bit of machinery (voiced by James Spader) goes rogue, hell bent on saving the planet by eradicating humanity.
Just like the previous Avengers, the best thing about this movie is the chemistry between the leads. It’s a major testament to the writing and acting that the interplay between these characters is stronger than ever and we rarely, if ever, lose focus on each character’s goal and/or motivation. Even in a movie that runs almost two and a half hours, I’m amazed at how much quality material they packed in without losing sight of what makes these movies enjoyable to begin with. Whether it’s the burgeoning romance between Banner and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), the continuing spar of ideals between Tony Stark and Captain America (Chris Evans), or simply discovering more about Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), the man who’s secretly holding the team together by being the only “normal guy” of the bunch, never does it feel like the characters or their relationships with one another have been overburdened by the barrage of action sequences, of which there are many.
Based on the trailers, I had some doubts about whether Ultron could be a truly compelling villain. I was wrong. Not content to be the menacing lug we saw before, there’s a certain old, Star Trek-like charm about having this all-powerful robot act like a smarmy, over-privileged fourteen-year-old. This makes sense, considering he’s essentially taking on the characteristics of Tony Stark, as certain characters point out in the film.
I’ve already hinted at some of the issues I have with the film, and they mainly have to do with setting up future sequels. I’ve been saying this a lot while watching all of these movies, but it takes me out of the movie when we get a plot detour that takes one of our heroes out of the film for a good twenty minutes only to have him come back and quickly dump exposition on our heads. It’s handled about as well as it could have been, giving credit where it’s due, but I think the movie would’ve been better off for it if that bit were massaged out.
More than a little convoluted where it’s predecessor was deceptively simple, Age of Ultron may not play as well with general audiences. It feels messier, a movie made by committee that thunders along with the confidence of a singular vision at the helm. This discord sometimes results in a disjointed narrative, sure, but you can still feel the passion that went into this at the same time. I daresay this movie carries itself pretty intelligently, too, with the usual self-awareness we’ve come to expect from Joss Whedon. The movie comments on the world we live in at large, where structures in place to protect us (the Avengers themselves) are arguably causing more harm than good, and even tackles disappointments over certain elements of previous superhero movies with great perspicacity.
Actually, when we get down to it, I like this one more than The Avengers. That had the novelty factor in its favor, but Age of Ultron has neater little surprises at its core that, despite having some unsavory elements gumming up patches of its runtime, will yield more interesting facets on a subsequent viewing.
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