Avengers: Age of Ultron

★★

Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron needs no explaining.

Easily one of the year's most anticipated movies - and already a smash hit at the box office - Age of Ultron once again joins the forces of Earth's mightiest heroes into one huge movie in scale, size, and scope.

With the sheer amount of hype going into this movie – along with the power of the Marvel brand – Age of Ultron cuts right to the chase by dropping us into the middle of a battle to open the film. The ensemble of Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, and Samuel L. Jackson also pushes the movie forward with pure, raw star power.

All that permits the plot to be very cut-and-dry: Dr. Bruce Banner / Hulk (Ruffalo) and Tony Stark / Iron Man (Downey Jr.) toil to create cutting-edge artificial intelligence named Ultron, kept in secret from the other Avengers. When the A.I. awakens, Ultron – excellently voiced by James Spader – quickly concludes that to the save the world, it must be cleansed of humans. Going rogue, Ultron fends off the Avengers, creates his own robot body, and carries out his scheme to assemble a robot army and destroy all life on Earth.

Ultron’s evil plan is nothing exceptional. So Age of Ultron relies on character development and conflict between the Avengers themselves to add psychological and emotional depth to the story. Stark and Steve Rogers / Captain America (Evans)  argue more than once, and they soon reach a boiling point. Natasha Romanoff/Black Window (Johansson) grows closer with Banner as he grapples with his inner beast. Clint Barton / Hawkeye (Renner) reconnects with family. Adding to the drama are two new heroes, twins Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), known respectively as Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch.  

Marvel Studios

Marvel Studios

Similarly to how 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Solider dazzled audiences by combining the superhero and spy/espionage genres (and remains one of Marvel’s finest outings to date), Age of Ultron succeeds in keeping the superhero movie fresh with an increased emphasis on character development.

The internal struggles are amplified with the Scarlet Witch using her powers to give the Avengers visions, leading them to behave and act differently in the real world. Along with debates and musings on the true meaning of peace – Ultron more than once raises the issue of God – Age of Ultron brings a psychological element to the superhero movie, making this one more cerebral than most.

Marvel Studios

Marvel Studios

But this is a Marvel movie, and not one to take itself too seriously. Ultron, although a radical character, has quite the sense of humor in the film's cornucopia of jokes. Not one misses its mark, especially when S.H.I.E.L.D. leader Nick Fury (Jackson) quips how Ultron’s robot army is “multiplying faster than a Catholic rabbit.”

The team's strengths and powers provide all of the raw entertainment we could ever ask for, but that leaves the possibility of too-much-action-and-not-enough-story syndrome (I’m talking to you, Michael Bay’s Transformers). Thankfully, director Joss Whedon skirts the issue by slowly developing the plot and increasing the stakes as the fight rages on – even inserting additional drama by having the Avengers save the lives of innocents (!) before leveling an entire city. It’s a rarely-seen plot device of superhero films, and its appearance here is absolutely welcome. Age of Ultron, with its display of humanity from gods among men, proves to be the antithesis to Man of Steel.

Marvel Studios

Marvel Studios

But where interest falters in Ultron’s plot, the movie teases future films. Remember Iron Man and Captain America butting heads? It happens a lot, only to tease the upcoming Captain America: Civil War, where the conflict between the two heroes is the focal point of the story. The Infinity Stones – first seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe from Guardians of the Galaxy – come into play once again, and a key vision teases Avengers: Infinity War Parts I and II. In some ways, Age of Ultron appears to have been made merely to serve as the setup for future Marvel movies, without a plot compelling enough to stand on its own.

In that sense, Age of Ultron, although satisfying, doesn’t quite live up to the entirety of its hype and potential, leaving the upcoming movies to pick up the slack. It’s the slightly awkward phase between the Avengers' big beginning and their assuredly bigger ending in Infinity War. And although it might not be everything we had hoped for, Marvel couldn't have done it better than anyone else.

Written and directed by Joss Whedon.

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, and Samuel L. Jackson.

© 2015 Rex J. Lindeman.   All rights reserved.   |   (760) 274-5948   |   rexlindeman@gmail.com

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