Cole Clay // Film Critic
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON| 144 min | Rated PG-13
Director: Joss Whedon
Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen and Samuel L. Jackson
The carefully calibrated phase two of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) has come to an obvious crescendo right from the first frame of AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON. It’s got the gusto to give 2015 a much needed kick in the cinematic arse. Let’s not pretend AGE OF ULTRON is going to exceed the expectations of the first Avengers’ film, but dammit, it will be one a hell of a carnival ride.
There is a whole lot going on this go round, but here are the nuts and bolts of what you need to know: the team is fully united with the acerbic wit of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.); the physical specimen that is Thor (Chris Hemsworth); everybody’s favorite boy scout, Captain America (Chris Evans), now referred to as “Cap”; the big, green, marshmallow Hulk (Mark Ruffalo); the cold-hearted assassin looking for love, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson); and finally the everyman with some unexpected emotional chops, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).
After celebrating a victory against Hydra in Eastern Europe, Stark and Banner discover the elusive scepter once held by Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is fully equipped with an artificial intelligence entity that Stark believes will keep the universe at peace. Stark has always been the maverick, but this time he really screws over his team– much to the chagrin of a pissed off Cap. This throws the group of super humans and demi-gods out of the frying pan and into the fire when the sentient robot Ultron (motion captured and voiced by James Spader) emerges from the intangible wasteland that is the internet. And after about 60 seconds of life, Ultron is fully equipped with a plan to cleanse the Earth from all its problems (it’s a lingo/spoiler heavy beat that brings in words like teraflop and continuum trans-functioner. Don’t bother to keep up– just accept it).
Ultron enlists the help of the Maximoff twins, Quiksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), who in their own right become formidable foes. But there’s no denying the dirty, presidential politics of Ultron, who will lauded as one of the finer villains the MCU has brought to life. Spader inhabits a sardonic persona that exudes the qualities of a reality based power hungry leader (he’s that convincing).
The problem that most MCU films have had is being too eager to set up their next entry, and, at times, forgetting to rest upon the laurels of what has made this series a particularly special brand of escapism. In AGE OF ULTRON, we subtly see the relationship between Cap and Stark become tattered in the lead up to CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. They have verbal spars about how to implement the status quo. Cap thinks that should follow order without question; while Stark is still petrified from the alien attack on NYC, he wants to stop the war before it even starts. Without a doubt, the verbal spars will turn into earth-shattering haymakers come May 2016.
In a film chocked full of plot, AGE OF ULTRON doesn’t feel overstuffed and none of the characters get relegated to the sidelines. Whedon knows when to let the film breathe and when to charge it up. He indulges in an interlude where the gang take refuge at Clint Barton’s (Hawkeye) house. As unlikely relationships build, boring exposition is tossed aside like Ed Norton as Hulk for some special character moments (a cue AGE OF ULTRON took from GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY).
Take for example: Bruce Banner (Hulk) and Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), who forge an unlikely bond that allows the actors to put those chops to good use and open the the film’s emotional core (this tone calls back to a tone struck between Angel and Buffy).
It’s a magnificent B-plot that will have MCU fans salivating for another Hulk film. Ruffalo scales back the disheveled Banner by integrating his independent roots with his Oscar caliber bravado into a mesh that this role calls for.
AGE OF ULTRON is a bumpier film that has more faults than its predecessor. However, Whedon is at the top of a short list of directors who know how to pivot out of narrative quibbles with agility. Whedon keeps it simple, by focusing on everyday parts of life, including teamwork, emotional baggage ideals and the obligations of just doing your job well. Whedon crafts AGE OF ULTRON in a manner that doesn’t necessarily try to surpass the original. It’s a drag that many are tackling the faults of this film, rather than basking in a rigidly structured universe that continues to take on many shapes with each and every entry.
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON is playing on every corner of the world– kind of like Starbucks.