Avengers: Age of Ultron, directed by Joss Whedon, is the latest entry on the big screen for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). This is the second Avengers film, following the team of Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Wanting to create a world where their team is no longer necessary, Iron Man aka Tony Stark creates Ultron (James Spader), an artificial intelligence with the capacity to protect the world from another alien invasion (as seen in the first Avengers film). Ultron becomes too advanced too quickly, however, and only sees destruction as a viable option for “peace in our time.”
Although I’m a fan of the MCU, I’m always a little more wary of films like this. Unlike movies that focus on one particular character, we are presented with an ensemble cast that all have to fit cohesively in a film that is roughly the same running time. The movie needs to be written in such a way that characters get enough screen time to do them justice, all the while telling a coherent enough story. Team-based superhero films have had a mixed range of success with this in the past, so it always feels like a gamble to me.
What I’ve personally lauded the MCU for, however, is how the stand-alone films help to supplement more grandiose, team-up stories. Each hero’s individual films help to further their development, leaving room for more attention to team dynamics and plot when they come together. I found this to be the case for the first film, and it worked well for me with Age of Ultron as well. The only characters that do have noticeable arcs in the film are those that don’t — or no longer — have solo films of their own, which I appreciate, all things considered. These movies are more to drive the universe forward.
This model of cinematic storytelling is a little double-edged, however, since Age of Ultron technically has three films and a series as prerequisite material, and that’s assuming you’ve watched the first Avengers and all the films that came before that. It turns going to the cinema into a commitment greater than we’ve ever seen before, which can hurt the film when considered as an individual work. This is not something I personally have a problem with, being invested in this series of films — along with many others — but I wouldn’t blame someone from being turned off by it either.
The characters, if you know them enough already, are pretty much as they should be. Like I’ve said, the movie doesn’t really push the development of many of the key characters, so they are more or less who I expected them to be. The exceptions in this case are Black Widow, Hawkeye, and the Hulk, who no longer/don’t have solo movies. There are some interesting developments with these three that seemed a little hurriedly established, but didn’t interfere with the flow of the story too significantly. They’re given a lot less attention than the other Avengers in the grand scheme, so it was good to see some time given to them, even if some elements we just had to accept without much establishment prior.
Ultron is fantastically played by James Spader, who does a good job of sounding menacingly human, yet very disconnected from humanity at the same time. He is young — having only been created at the beginning of the film — and this is reflected in his tendency for outbursts and even immaturity. Despite this he is also unfathomably intelligent and cunning, not to mention powerful. The adversary makes or breaks a story like this, and Ultron was compelling in this role. The Romanov twins — Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch — were worthy additions to the universe as well, though they didn’t particularly wow me as characters. I look forward to seeing more done with them.
The actions sequences were also very well put together. It may seem odd to say, but I was happy to find that none of them came across as forced and needless. I was a little concerned that the Iron Man vs. Hulk fight, which littered promotion for the film, would be needlessly shoehorned in for the sake of seeing the Hulk take on the Hulkbuster armour. I was happy to find this not to be the case.
Avengers: Age of Ultron was a very good superhero team film, which I feel is superior to the original thanks to the origin being out of the way. The hype for the original Avengers was a lot greater for me, but the story felt generic. Had it been an Avengers comic book story arc, like I had been reading at the time, I would have found it a lot more boring. The novelty and excitement was in seeing it on the big screen. Age of Ultron wasn’t ground breaking, but offered something a little deeper and more interesting to me. You probably already know if you’re going to see it, but I would recommend it to most people regardless. The movie continues a level of quality from Marvel that I hope to see in future releases.