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Cinematic Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron
Marvel rules the world right now... wait a minute, I said that already. I said that recently as a matter of fact in my review for Daredevil. The first Avengers film came out... technically in 2008 with Iron Man. But the first film to feature all of the heroes together came out in 2012. Since then, Captain America, Iron Man and Thor have had their own solo sequels with mixed results. But Marvel hasn't only been releasing Avengers films, but also putting out other projects including X-Men: Days of Future Past (Good), the aforementioned Daredevil series (Good again), Guardians of the Galaxy (Also really good) and The Amazing Spider-man 2 (Well, you can't win 'em all...). Suffice to say, in only three years, the stakes have been raised.
The core of the plot is that Tony Stark has created Ulton, an intended AI unit. Unfortunately, Ultron becomes self-aware, gains a body and decides the only way to achieve world peace is to eradicate the Avengers because he believes they create more problems than they solve. He is joined by two new threats - Quicksilver (remember him from Days of Future Past) and Scarlet Witch. Meanwhile, Black Widow and The Incredible Hulk are taking part of a blossoming romance. This stems from Black Widow developing a lullaby that can tame the beast. The plot of this film may not seem too complicated but when that plot is factored between the in-fighting and personalities of the lead characters, plus the twists and turns in the plot. Age of Ultron doesn't quite venture into Spider-man 3 or Batman Returns territory, but this film does feel like there are too many cooks in the kitchen.
The good news is this film does improve on its big brother in one way. As good as the First Avengers film was, it did feel a little set-up heavy. In this film, we see the Avengers from literally the first shot. Even with so many characters in this film, there is some balance and each character receives their share of time and story. Even Hawkeye who, up to this point, has felt like he was relegated to "and the rest" status gets some serious character development. The banter between the characters is back. Some of it is funny ("If you get hurt, hurt back. If you die, walk it off.") Some of it feels like it was written for a laugh track. But humor is completely subjective so mileage may vary, but I laughed more than I groaned.
The story arc between Hulk and Black Widow sounds absurd but actually plays out well. What makes it work is that these are two broken people who are just trying to find a place, and the two do have a unique chemistry. The only snag with their relationship is that it does kind of come out of nowhere with no buildup, but it does work. Also, it is kind of irksome in the later part of the movie when Black Widow is kidnapped. But unless this starts happening in every movie going forward, I'll give Joss Whedon a free pass... this time.
Speaking of how this film ups the ante from the first film, as much as I like Loki, I never thought of him as much of a threat against the Avengers by himself. Think of it this way: Thor already beat Loki on his own in his own film. So picture if Superman and Batman teamed up to fight just Bane. Yeah, he gave the hero a run for his money, but when that hero is part of a team, one expects a little more.
As a villain, Ultron does not break too much new ground. His scheme is interesting, but not the most original in the film universe. The bad guy in The Fifth Element had a similar scheme, and at the end of the day, Skynet had a similar plan in the Terminator films. Scheme aside, Ultron is a cool villain. James Spader plays the part, and he just owns it. It would be hard to imagine any other actor - even good actors doing this part justice. According to IMDB Joss Whedon cast him in the role because of his unique voice, which definitely works in the character's favor. Instead of a booming, James Earl Jones voice, Spader has this droll, hypnotic quality to his voice and brings just enough snark to make him stand out. He's no Kingpin, but he's still pretty cool. (Oh, why did this movie have to come out while I'm still on the high of how awesome Kingpin was?)
Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch join - and later fight - Ultron. These characters are a mixed bag. They do have pretty cool powers. Quicksilver has ludicrous speed (but never goes to plaid) while Scarlett Witch uses mental powers to control the characters - often by exploiting their weaknesses and causing them to hallucinate. This is why these villains are step up: We actually see Ultron and company bring these heroes to their knees. Ultron can tap into information that allows him to know more about the Avengers than they do. However, the problem with Quicksilver and Scarlett Witch is that they do not have the most developed personalities. Remember how cool Quicksilver was in Days of Future Past? He was one of the most exciting parts of that film! Now, I would not even know how to describe his personality.
It practically goes without saying that the big action set pieces are a big draw in these films... And Age of Ulton De. Liv. Ers. The first scene in the movie features all of the characters in action, there is an exciting motorcycle chase in the films second act. The climax is an exciting closer that does not overstay its welcome. Personally, the highlight was a slugfest between Hulk and Iron Man. Every hit these two trade feels like it has impact and this is the first action scene in a while that could be described as jaw dropping.
The special effects are also top notch. Any time, Black Widow touches the Hulk in this film, it looks like Black Widow is interacting with something really there. One issue with CGI is that it is often used to create things that could be created with practical effects. Things like the Incredible Hulk and Ultron's army might be a touch difficult with practical effects, but the effects team makes these things look real. I bring this up because the effects team on these films deserve more respect.
Age of Ultron may be a great film, but it does show cracks in the armor of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For starters, with the ante raised this high, how much more can they raise it? The film also takes very few risks. With a third film on the way, it should be no surprise that all of the main Avengers make it out of this film alive. As a matter of fact, MORE Avengers are added to the team by the end of this film. They are cool characters, but if this film felt a tad overstuffed, will there be room for everyone in the next film? Even with Hawkeye getting some needed character development, the rest of the Avengers have not grown much at all. The birth of Ultron is ostensibly Tony Stark's fault, but once again, he seems to not learn from his mistakes. I kind of like how he justifies this, but considering the first film was all about the man's redemption, watching his inability to grow is getting a bit frustrating.
Even with a few nitpicks Age of Ultron is still a fantastic movie. In fact, I'm willing to call it my favorite Avengers movie. It is everything fans will want from a Marvel movie, and everything a summer movie needs to be. Yeah, it looks like the bubble may be bursting sooner rather than later, but let's enjoy the ride until that happens.
Favorite Avengers Film (So far)?
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