Avengers: Age Of Ultron Review (2nd Opinion)
No Spoilers in this review, I do give some bits away about the set-up of the movie but it doesn’t give anything away.
In 2008 Marvel studios put out an entertaining little flick from one of their top-tier comic characters, Iron Man. What seemed like just another comic-book movie was actually the starting point for an inter-connected series of films that would become the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It was a pretty big gamble as there was no guarantee Iron Man would hit off like it did and even if it did the MCU itself could still fall apart at any minute. Well now, 7 years and 11 movies later, Marvel have proved themselves a juggernaut of entertainment and while there have been a couple missteps, they’ve found their footing and have created some of the best comic-book movies around. Age Of Ultron brings itself out as one of the best the studio has, creating a much darker and more personal slice of hell that The Avengers have to face off against.
Following the disbandment of SHIELD, The Avengers have been taking out rouge HYDRA facilities in the hopes of finding Loki’s Spectre which has been missing since the Battle of New York. They find the Sceptre in Sovokia, being held by Baron Von Strucker who has used the powers within for illegal human experiments, the only two survivors being twins Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, both of whom have a hatred for Stark from his weapon dealing days. With the Sceptre back in safe hands, Tony looks into the physicality of it and realises a possibly artificial intelligence lurking within the Sceptre’s Gemstone, with help from a reluctant Banner, Tony uses his discoveries to jump-start The Ultron Programme, a robotic guardian that would protect Earth from outside invaders, thus allowing The Avengers to give up the fight and go home.
However that very quickly turns out to be more trouble than they realise, Ultron’s artificial intelligence has him come to the conclusion that in order to protect the Earth, he has to destroy The Avengers, seeing them as a threat to the planet’s safety. While Ultron’s first body is dealt with quickly, his consciousness is uploaded onto the internet, allowing him to exist continuously so long as there’s a body for him to upload himself into, enlisting the help of The Maximoff twins, Ultron begins putting his grand scheme into action to destroy The Avengers from the inside out, however it very quickly becomes apparent that his master-plan doesn’t just stop with the destruction of the team, Ultron has a much bigger and more dangerous plan to save humanity from itself.
Obviously I won’t go into details about Ultron’s plan but suffice to say it’s pretty damn original and very much in keeping with the film’s major themes of playing God and the necessity to evolve. The whole film has this thematic undercurrent about the why’s and why not’s of messing with what shouldn’t be messed with, might not sound like much and it is a story told time and time again but never in this capacity, Ultron’s creation isn’t just a big misstep for The Avengers it’s another cracking point for the team as their forced to question each other and the secrets they keep in order to survive.
To put it simply, the first Avengers was about bringing this team together, this film shows us how they might just tear themselves apart.
The highlight of the film was the characters, as great as the action is it’s at its best when it allows itself time for its main characters to develop and grow. There’s plenty of nice smaller roles from the supporting cast of the MCU – including a couple that caught me by surprise but played nicely into the film’s end-game – as well as some interesting new players, one I won’t spoil adds a great deal to one of the main members of the group. Amongst them is Vision – this isn’t a spoiler, he’s in the goddamn trailer – who comes into play late in the game but stands out as an intriguing new member to the team, his soft-spoken manner and philosophical mind-set bring a different style of class that The Avengers haven’t seen yet.
Plus he has some nice moments with Thor, I hope to see more of them together in the future.
Sticking with the new for the moment, the Maximoff twins are both great additions to the franchise, played by Aaron Taylor Johnson and Elizabeth Olson respectively, Pietro and Wanda are both a couple of kids who are young and reckless, having lost their parents during one of Sovokia’s apparently many wars to Stark’s missiles, the two of them have grown a hatred for the man, with nothing left to lose but each other they volunteered for Strucker’s experiments and now have been gifted with great powers, Pietro has been given an speed increase, everything from his running to his metabolism (i.e. healing) is now much, much faster while Wanda has psychological manipulation and telekinesis. I enjoyed both but Olson stands out in a big way, Johnson’s a lot of fun in the role, his loyalty to his sister and his tendency to have fun while fighting is a nice change of pace – just watch what happens when he tries to grab Thor’s hammer in mid-flight – but out of the two of them Olson makes the biggest impact, her psychological angle adds a whole new ballgame that The Avengers have never thought possible before and it makes for a surprisingly dark turn, especially when Wanda starts sending them all to a place of nightmares and apocalypse. Wanda had some great scenes and Olson owned the character, especially in the latter parts.
Of course the big new addition to the MCU is Ultron himself, played by James Spader, and trust me the guy makes his mark, you won’t be forgetting Ultron in a hurry, from his hulking form to his distinctive vocals, Ultron is the villain that changes things for the Avengers. While physically he’s very impressive – he reaches heights of 8 feet and his powers include flight, lasers and some form of telekinesis – he can still be beaten, where he differs is in his Net based consciousness, for as long as he’s synced he can never be stopped and it creates an interesting dilemma that the team have to face up against, a very earth-based villain but one that is much more aligned with modern technology than most of them, you can say he got that from his father. What makes Ultron really special is his mentality, whenever Spader is allowed to give Ultron a speech – or a humorously human outburst as he has on a few occasions – his voice drips like honeyed oil, bad for you but impossible not to listen to and listen you damn well should. Ultron has a very biblical take on the world, in his short time he’s developed a skewed vision and sees humanity as God’s mistake, a virus that needs to evolve or die, his questioning of God and his desire to force humanity towards a new, better form of themselves allows for a much different villain, one that isn’t going for domination, but complete and utter annihilation.
The Avengers themselves have come a long way, from PTSD to family loss to everything they fought for being a lie they’ve all suffered in this fight one way or another and it’s clear that the strain might be getting to them. Tony and Steve especially are butting heads quite often, Tony’s trying to end the fight while Cap believes that preventing war is just as dangerous as war itself, having seen firsthand the dangers of such with HYDRA’s algorithm plan. There’s definitely a degree of animosity between them that only builds as the film goes on, surprisingly for Cap being the soldier of a war that’s seemingly never ended it’s actually Tony that’s had enough of the battles, he wants to go home and not worry about having to fly into space to save an entire city again, Downey still has some great one-liners but this is the most personal he’s allowed Stark to be since Iron Man 3, it’s Stark’s fear of losing everything that puts him into overdrive and his inability to stop himself before thinking puts his at odds with more than just Cap. Steve’s one of the few who understands that war is inevitable and he’s willing to do anything he can to protect his country, as Ultron points out he’s probably a little too comfortable with war, not really being able to fit in with the civilian lifestyle and you can definitely see that, Cap isn’t so much struggling with adapting to modern life as not giving himself a chance, between taking down HYDRA and searching for Bucky he’s not even trying to give himself anything resembling the normal life, it’s something I never really expected – with Stark being the warmongering weapon dealer and Cap being the traumatised soldier – but I liked it.
Another pair that I never expected to work as well as they do is Bruce and Natasha, from the first battle sequence we see there’s some form of connection between them with Natasha being the only one able to calm Hulk down back into Banner form. As the film goes on, it quickly shows that that connection runs a lot deeper and there may be something there between them that neither of them are willing to admit just yet. Banner especially, he’s a very nervous guy, both in the comedic sense and the dramatic, both of which Ruffalo nails in his tortured nerdy way, and his fear over hurting Natasha, or anyone for that matter, puts him at odds at starting any kind of relationship, more so than his disbelief that he could land someone that hot. Natasha conversely is a little more open towards a relationship with Banner, her fear over hurting him or someone else is just as prevalent, with her assassination training she sees herself as a monster at times and is the only one that can connect to Hulk and Banner on that level, being someone of two minds and the struggle to understand which of them is in control. Johansson’s been pretty bad-ass as Black Widow and continues to be so here but her role as Natasha bring a whole new level to the character and allows for a small chink in her armour that gives the audience a better look at who she is and who she was.
Rounding out the cast was Thor and Clint, both of whom are stand-outs of humour and charisma. This is the first film Thor doesn’t share with Loki and you barely notice the missing brother, Thor on his own presents a much more level headed character, with his focus entirely on Earth he’s found a home on the planet but is always wary of dangers. When Ultron sets out to attack Thor sees the bigger picture long before anyone else does and tries his hardest to prevent that from happening. Out of all the team Thor’s role is much more setting up for his future adventures than anyone else but thankfully Hemsworth’s charisma and relaxed attitude of the character is always fun to watch. Now Clint, again played by Jeremy Renner and no longer under mind-control – listen out for a nice reference to his time in the first film – damn near steals the film, this is the Hawkeye we should’ve gotten in the first film but considering how things went down I actually like the change in character we have here, certain developments only work because of who we thought Hawkeye was and how he’s presented here. Renner’s given some great lines – including what has to be the best line in the film when he considers killing one of his annoying teammates – but Hawkeye’s best change is how he’s slowly finding his place in the group and being more open with them about elements of himself no-one else (except Natasha and Fury) knows about.
Geek God Joss Whedon returns to write and direct and while his signature humour is here he also delves into a much darker portion of Avengers history. His only flaw is that compared to the first film there’s not – for lack of a better word – a Wow factor, aside from the opening scene which has a one-take Hero Shot that betters the similar style one from the last movie there’s not a huge sense of amazement. That’s not to say the film is small – trust me when I say the final act is bigger than anything the MCU has thrown at you before – but it doesn’t have the same feeling of childish wonder that you got from watching all these character converge in a battle royale but that doesn’t take away from the film, if anything I found it actually enhanced it, if you go in expecting more of the same you’ll probably have a decent time but not be as enjoyed by it as the first film, if you go in wanting something more then you get that, there’s a greater emphasis on character building, the film wants to show the weakness of the Avengers and have their slow disintegration become a major issue for them. It catches you off-guard with exactly how well the film and Ultron are able to do just that.
To elaborate more on the darker nature of this film, the Avengers are forced into much more personal space than they expect, partly to do with Wanda’s psyche manipulation, it adds a different layer than what’s to be expected and the visions the team are plagued with reveal the fear that all of them have about their pasts and their futures. But more than that, just Ultron’s existence presents the team with a villain who isn’t after riches or power or glory, he is absolutely and unquestionably about extinction and his methods for achieving that goal bring forth a level of fear and desperation, the likes of which the MCU haven’t touched upon before now, there are plenty of moments, especially in the final act, where you have to wonder exactly how the hell they’re gonna get out of it, more than any other Marvel film to date this one actively has you fearing that the best and worst case scenarios might depend on how many people are killed against how few of them are.
It isn’t until you look back that you see that fear and desperation has been a constant throughout the film, particularly in the aftermath of action set-pieces. Don’t worry there are plenty of kick-ass moments, the majority of the characters get a stand-out scene, from Thor using Cap’s shield as a frisbee to Wanda bad-ass ‘Bout to f*ck shit up’ walk-out near the end and the aforementioned Hero Shot is easily one of the best ways to open a Marvel movie, in fact the entire opening scene is a treasure of set-pieces and joking camaraderie, Cap tells Stark off for swearing, Tony gets excited by a secret door and the whole team is caught by surprise against Pietro’s speed, however that joking manner slowly fades away (not completely, there’s still some good jokes throughout the film) to make way for a much more distressing feeling of action. Hulk’s rampage through South Africa, while massively destructive is tinged slightly by the understanding that it forced Banner and Stark into a position neither of them wanted to be in and the aftermath sets up nicely for things to come, both in the film itself and the MCU as a whole. A car chase through South Korea takes a dark turn as Ultron shows just how far he’s willing to go in order to achieve his goals and as mentioned earlier the final action sequence, while not as awe-inspiring as The Battle Of New York, delivers a huge dose of terror through destruction, death and an uniquely terrifying manner of which Ultron chooses to fight his enemies.
I see Age of Ultron being the Godfather 2 of the MCU, people will debate if this is better than the first or not but to my mind this is the superior film. It does the sequel thing right, it delivers a film that’s larger, darker and deeper than what’s came before, building itself naturally as a series while still delivering one hell of a film, I see this placing very high on my end of year list. It’s story takes an interesting concept and brings it into a thematically engaging and explosively entertaining world, each and every one of the main characters has a new chapter of their story to be told with Hawkeye finally getting the screen time he deserves and newcomers to the franchise, Spader and Olson easily making their mark on the series and Whedon – if this is indeed his final outing for the MCU – has an incredible swansong, bringing solid humour and fear inflicted action together into one great, great movie. This isn’t the best Marvel movie to date but it’s up there.