GENRE: Sci-Fi / Action / Fantasy
DIRECTOR: Josh Whedon
CAST: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany and James Spader.
DISTRIBUTOR Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Ireland
RELEASE DATE: 23rd April 2015
DURATION: 141 minutes
I shall begin with a short-but-sweet stroll down memory lane…
It’s quite amazing to look at the rapid rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) – a shared fictional universe where plots, settings, actors, and characters commonly crossover. MCU first burst onto the silver screen in 2008 with release of Jon Faverau’s pleasingly polished, Iron Man. This began the Phase One wave of summer blockbusters that culminated in 2012 with Joss Whedon’s superpower slam, Marvel Avengers Assemble.
Pair that amazement with the staggering trajectory so far set by Phase Two entries since 2013, including the Russo brothers’ edge-of-your-seat political thriller, Captain America: The Winter Soldier as well as James Gunn’s fun-filled sci-fi adventure, Guardians of the Galaxy, and you’ve got every reason to be excited about Whedon’s superhero re-assembly, Avengers: Age of Ultron.
With S.H.I.E.L.D. destroyed and the Avengers on hiatus from warding off threats, Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) kick-starts a dormant peacekeeping program called Ultron (James Spader) – a self-aware, self-learning, artificial intelligence. However, his plan backfires when Ultron decides that humans are the main enemy and sets out to eradicate them, leaving it up to the Avengers – Iron Man, Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) – to stop him. Along the way, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes encounter the powerful twins, Pietro aka Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff aka Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) as well as a new super entity, the Vision (Paul Bettany).
In true Whedon fashion, Age of Ultron blends dosed with comedy and drama, ample action, and even a little love for good measure. Indeed, this expected box office hit provides lots of fun and excitement throughout. Back in 2012, Whedon stated that he wanted the sequel to be “more personal”, “more painful” and bring the characters forward. That being said, he mostly manages to achieve that. But not without a few key bugs along the way.
From the get-go, Age of Ultron plunges you back into the Marvel Universe, and as expected, something suspect is afoot. The character of Ultron evolves quickly throughout the movie. But what you don’t get from the trailer is just how much like the actor he actually is. Spader’s mannerisms shine through the motion capture, with a particular emphasis on his mouth movements. Spader gives a delightfully charismatic performance as the antagonist that doesn’t get lost in the CGI.
In that antagonist, the movie brings the narrative and thematic meat. Ultron’s is the brainchild of Tony Stark and so the two characters come to represent the film’s ideas. In the blue corner, there’s Tony – imperfect creation, but is out to save the world. And in the red corner, there’s Ultron – perfect creation, but is out to destroy the world. Does the world deserve to be saved? What does “saving” the world even mean? These are among the richest themes laced through the film.
Iron Man, Captain America and Thor have their moments. As expected, Downey Jr., Evans and Hemsworth stay true to form. Over the last few years, I’ve gladly watched these three make worthy strides in their respective Marvel flicks. But this time Whedon really amps up the rest of the once overlooked Avengers. This film sees a budding relationship between Bruce Banner and Black Widow, making for both playful and meaningful scenes between Ruffalo and Johansson. However, the real standout is Hawkeye. More like a billed extra before, The true star of Age of Ultron, Renner’s character is given a significant backstory, great dialogue and lots of memorable and funny moments.
Like Black Widow in the first film, Age of Ultron brings some important new characters to the MCU. But when it comes to screen time, they simply don’t get their full dues. For instance, the motives for Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are reduced to a brief monologue which isn’t sufficient with the depth of their backstory. Watching this, I didn’t get a chance to like and understand these characters.
The score, on the other hand, doesn’t disappoint. Composed mainly by Brian Tyler with stylistic contributions from Danny Elfman, Tyler said that the score pays homage to John Williams’ scores for Star Wars, Superman, and Raiders of the Lost Ark as well as reference the scores for the Iron Man, Thor and Captain America films to further tie in the MCU movies to one another.
As for the mid-credit scene: It’s short and simple. All I’ll say is if you’ve paid attention to the Age of Ultron plot and you’ve seen Guardians of the Galaxy before, then you’ll spot a familiar face and gain a modest inkling as to what is in store for the Avengers.
Age of Ultron fails to exceed its predecessor. Even though superior sequels are usually the exception rather than the rule, there’s a general consensus that they should be wiser the second time around. Still, it is important to remember we’re only at the mid-section of this blockbuster trilogy. (In fact, Avengers: Infinity War will be brought to us in two parts. So, a quadrilogy?!) So alas, there is an ever-so slight air of anti-climax to this instalment since we’re not yet at the end of this Avengers story.
Although not a classic, Age of Ultron is still very much a crowd-pleaser.