Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON | 141 min | PG-13
Director: Joss Whedonv
Writer: Joss Whedon (screenplay), Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (comic book)
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader and Samuel L. Jackson
This originally ran on VeryAware.com
Way back in 2012, THE AVENGERS debuted to much critical and commercial acclaim. Raking in billions at the box office, it’s the most successful franchise in Marvel’s history. Director Joss Whedon knew precisely how to cut directly to the core of the fan base and still make it accessible to newcomers. Now our beloved gang has reassembled to give audiences something equally as exceptional, innovative and uncompromising with AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON. It’s a marked, necessary evolution in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that still manages to retain its insanely fun qualities. It’s as deeply philosophical as it is entertaining. It’s all-around unadulterated joy over this bigger, badder, bolder juggernaut.
“Good deeds don’t go unpunished,” or so says the cliché – although it’s true. By now, nobody should know this better than our dear hero, billionaire inventor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). When he creates Ultron (perfectly voiced by the always shifty James Spader) as a force for good, he figures he’s saved the world from any further alien invasions. Eh – not so fast, Tony baby. Ultron turns evil, usurps Jarvis’ (voiced by Paul Bettany, who experiences his own character evolutionary next phase) power, and his 180 has dire consequences. It’s up to Tony and his team – which includes Natasha Romanoff/ Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Bruce Banner/ The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Clint Barton/ Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Steve Rogers/ Captain America (Chris Evans) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) – to save the world once again. Together they must defeat Tony’s creation and two very powerful new kids on the super-block – Pietro Maximoff/ Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who’s super fast, and Wanda Maximoff/ Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), who’s “weird.”
Marvel’s post-AVENGERS legacy has been like a soap opera for nerds – only with less hair-pulling and more melodramatic rebirths. Blessedly, phase 2 is almost at the end. Praise Jeebus as we need something new to chew on. There’s always a MacGuffin (in this case, Loki’s scepter), and there’s always a resurrection (in this case, it’s more of a kick-ass “thing” than it is a “who”). Thankfully, Whedon has heard our cries and put a lot of the Marvel-y shenanigans – i.e. the frequently recycled, generic plot outlines – on the back-burner. Whedon’s cookin’ with gas now and those flames are burnin’ hot! Death finally, finally means something again. Collateral damage is also dealt with in a much more humane, realistic manner. Granted, we don’t go to fantasy films seeking realism, but it shouldn’t be that big of a stretch of the imagination to feel some real-world stakes.
Though we don’t get the Black Widow movie some of us were hoping for (and were assured we’d get), it’s good to see Hawkeye step into the spotlight. Renner is great and its lovely to see his strengths used. Balance between the characters is attained – a true feat, given how many show up for their moments. Bettany, pulling off somewhat of a dual role, is sheer perfection – as is Spader, whose subtle mannerisms are nailed by the special effects wizards. Bleaker, highly-stylized set pieces stand out from the battles to add pathos and gravitas without being weighty. They augment a grittier undertone coursing through this brand’s veins – the visuals tie in thematically. Plus, Whedon innately finds the divine comedy within the cacophonous mayhem; his sassy stingers shine amidst his characters’ decimation.
However, we aren’t totally blinded by this new machine’s sheen. Though Whedon layers in details effortlessly, the screenplay and ensuing shoe-horning of a multitude of characters (some new, most not-so-new), can lead to a dizzying, distracting effect. By the end, it’s a little difficult to keep track of all the moving parts. Its kitchen sink approach is admirable as he gets it all to function ingeniously, but its “too much” factor can be a turn-off. The safe house sequence provides a quiet respite from the shoot ‘em up, spectacular stunts and explosive finery, but this is where energy dips, putting the brakes on the narrative’s momentum.
But overall, this is a film that works on multiple levels. Ultron’s echoes of PINOCCHIO’s “I’ve got no strings” point to his desire to be a “real boy,” more like the very humans he seeks to eradicate. And in the same way, the heroes of the story yearn for simpler lives – as evidenced by Hawkeye’s secrets, Cap’s musing over the road not taken, and Natasha and Banner’s flirtation with running away from it all. It’s those identifiable desires that enable these characters – amidst their repulsor rays, telekinetic powers, vibranium alloys, and spontaneous weight gain – to resonate with all of us normal humans.
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON is available on Blu-ray and DVD on Friday, October 2.