Written and Directed by Joss Whedon
At the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Baron von Strucker said, “It’s not a world of spies anymore, not even a world of heroes. This is the age of miracles…”. The villain couldn’t be more right. Joss Whedon achieved a miracle by recapturing the lightning in a bottle that he did with Marvel’s The Avengers. The prologue of the film, where the team breaks into a Hydra base, alone shows how Whedon and his creative collaborators have grown since the first film; it will instantly make any moviegoer full of glee and display a big, cheesy grin. Ironically enough, evolution/growth is a key theme in the picture.
As anyone can guess from the subtitle of the film, the main antagonist is the robotic beast Ultron (James Spader). Designed by Tony Stark(Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) to bring about universal peace and protect the world, the artificially intelligent being with a daddy complex comes to his own conclusions on how to accomplish these goals…without the Avengers or humanity. This is obviously different from his comic book origins, but it works in the context of this cinematic universe. Hollywood’s mightiest heroes must once again band together to correct the mistakes of Stark and Banner’s hubris, but a pair of mysterious twins, Wanda and Pietro Maximoff a.k.a. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver (Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson respectively) as they are more commonly known, appear and force the team to take a good, hard look at themselves and each other.
One of Whedon’s self-imposed mandates was to delve further into the characters and not retread what he accomplished. For the most part, he stayed true to this. The core structure of the story is practically the same as its predecessor, but Joss makes the plot and characters so engrossing that audiences won’t care. The Winter Soldier showed that Marvel Studios can produce films that aren’t just feel-good popcorn movies and much to my enjoyment, Age of Ultron follows in the same vein. This is a very different picture from the first one, but in a good way. Yes, the massive, beautiful spectacles we expect from an Avengers film are present (Iron Man in the Veronica armor facing off against the Hulk is one of the more memorable moments), but what makes this movie so strong is the character exploration of every Avenger and the philosophical/ideological implications of their missions.
It appears as if Joss wanted to make up for making little use of such a talented actor as Jeremy Renner in the first film because Hawkeye is front and center for the majority of the film, which will make fans beg for a solo film. Even at a slightly shorter run time than Avengers, viewers learn so much more about the heroes. New relationships are explored and, as odd as some are, they surprisingly work and enrich the story. James Spader and Paul Bettany are revelations in their non-human roles, they bring such complexity and ethos to them. Whedon’s take on the two iconic characters and their performances are worth the price of admission alone. Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson are a breath of fresh air as the new blood in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel Studios continues to make wise casting decisions, even for the smallest roles.
Brian Tyler and Danny Elfman handle the score this time around, which makes what could be considered the dark, emotional nature of the picture, but it is still such a treat to hear Alan Silvestri’s Avengers theme play periodically. The cinematography and choreography are as strong as ever. There are so many well-executed, eye-opening moments, but it’s the attention to and editing of the quiet scenes that allow this sequel to surpass the first movie. The visual effects have evolved as well, Hulk looks more realistic in each of his appearances and more CG motion-captured characters appear. The comfort level and the skill to bring these extraordinary creatures to life is mind-boggling sometimes. The 3D is once again a typical poor post-conversion, so there is no need to see it that format. The best way of course is in IMAX, pictures of this magnitude deserve this treatment.
Marvel’s The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier caused major paradigm shifts in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Avengers: Age of Ultron does the same in more ways than one, which is at it should be. Even if this isn’t the end of Phase Two (Ant-Man is still to come in July), this is the culmination of the established storylines and the aftermath and/or consequences need to reflect the scale of the events that have taken place. Joss clearly understands this and also knows how to please fans and general audiences alike. Of course, there is a ton of fan-service throughout, so many characters big and small appear and even more groundwork is laid for Avengers: Infinity War Part I & Part II. Overall, despite some flaws, this film lives up to the hype and expectations. It’s a wonderful swan song for Joss Whedon’s work at Marvel Studios. His voice will be missed in this universe. This needs to be seen in a theater and make sure to stay for the mid-credits sequence!