The city is flying, we’re fighting an army of robots and I have a bow and arrow. None of this makes sense, but I’m going back out there because it’s my job. And I can’t do my job and babysit. It doesn’t matter what you did or who you were… If you step out that door, you are an Avenger.
I want you to take a moment to appreciate how far we’ve come. Three years ago, the mere concept of an Avengers movie was completely preposterous. Six different heroes stuffed together in the same picture with a little over two hours to tell the story? Yeah, right, that will never work.
Flash forward to May 2015 and not only has Marvel proven that it does work, but now shared-universe films are all the rage in Hollywood. DC is fast-tracking its own cinematic universe by throwing Batman and Superman together in a live-action movie for the first time and hoping for the best. Disney believes it can recreate Marvel’s magic with Star Wars and already a new trilogy and numerous spinoffs are in the works. What was once groundbreaking and innovative has become standard operating procedure at every major film studio, and while the novelty of an Avengers movie may not have the shine that it did three years ago, there’s no denying that seeing our heroes band together on the big screen remains an outrageously good time.
So be sure to soak it all in and remember how fortunate we all are to see such a healthy marriage between different mediums. And while Avengers: Age of Ultron may not exceed its own lofty expectations, it wasn’t for a lack of trying. I mean holy cow, they threw everything but the kitchen sink to try and raise that bar again.
Picking up not too far from where Captain America: The Winter Soldier left off, we join The Avengers as they raid the final and most prominent HYDRA base, where Baron Von Strucker is using Loki’s scepter to perform experiments on talented but troubled individuals. The raid is successful, but twins Pietro and Wanda Maximoff (better known as Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch) escape and Tony Stark finds something mysterious in the gem of Loki’s scepter. He keeps his discovery from everyone except Bruce Banner and J.A.R.V.I.S, revealing to them that he’s found a workable artificial intelligence to complete his Ultron program. Tony was the only one to go through the wormhole in The Avengers. He’s seen what’s coming from the other realms of space and knows that he needs to do something to protect the Earth in its vulnerable state. Ultron is Tony’s solution to the issue of galactic security.
There’s just one problem. Ultron (James Spader) doesn’t like Tony Stark. He hates the Avengers. Most importantly, he calculates that the biggest universal threat to humanity is… drum roll please… humanity itself! Don’t you just love it when a good plan goes awry? Able to replicate himself at a frighteningly rapid pace, Ultron soon advances far beyond Tony’s control and enlists the help of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch to decimate the Avengers from within and exterminate all life on Earth. It’s up to the world’s mightiest heroes to put aside their differences and stop Ultron before mankind goes the way of the dinosaurs. It all sounds pretty awesome, right? For the most part, it is, though Age of Ultron isn’t without a few hiccups that prevents it from achieving true greatness.
We may as well get the negative mumbo jumbo out of the way first. In case I wasn’t being transparent enough before, I prefer the first Avengers movie to this one. I don’t think Age of Ultron was even the strongest entry in Phase 2 of the MCU, as I found both The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy to be more satisfying and well-rounded films. A big reason for that is the overcrowded narrative, which not only has to remain focused on the central conflict between the Avengers and Ultron, but also has to compensate for numerous subplots in this movie and ones to come in Phase 3. I could literally hear Joss Whedon burning himself out as he attempted to maintain order and incorporate as many of his ideas as possible. Let me try and lay it out for you as spoiler-free as I can muster: Banner and Black Widow form a connection and find themselves as more than just teammates, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are brand new characters with fairly expansive roles, Hawkeye receives more development and dialogue than he ever has before, Tony has to come to grips with his guilt over Ultron’s creation while simultaneously clashing with Captain America’s concrete idealsim and Thor ventures off on his own to create buildup towards his next solo outing, Thor: Ragnarok.
Are you exhausted yet? So am I.
The film spends so much time trying to cover all its bases that it begins to feel like a delicious all you can eat buffet. By the end you’re so bloated that you’re not sure if it was wise to eat all of that food, but it all tasted so damn good. Age of Ultron does its best to save room for seconds and thirds, albeit at the expense of character development for Quicksilver and allowing Ultron to be the best villain he can be. Spader has a good time with the role and Ultron certainly has his moments, but I don’t feel that he was as menacing or unstoppable as he should have been. Another gripe I have is that the movie relies a bit too much on what worked the first time around, particularly the inclusion of an insane amount of Ultron drones for the Avengers to battle towards the end. But hey, I loved that the first time around. Maybe I’m just becoming a jaded, nitpicky old man. Who knows?
Minor criticisms aside, the majority of this film is one raging nerdgasm after another and really it just gives you more of what you want. More of the Avengers joining forces in battle. More of Whedon’s trademark humor. More banter between our heroes to keep things light-hearted even during the most intense moments. More, more, more. Every character gets their moment in the sun and there just seems to be a lot more action this time around. There’s one scene in particular with Hulk and Iron Man that is so destructive and hilarious, it more or less steals the show. I also thoroughly enjoyed the evolution of the Avengers as a team in this movie. The chemistry from the first film is on point, but the teamwork has jumped light-years ahead since then and it just never gets old watching them come up with different tactics and combos to take down the bad guys.
And despite my complaints about there being too many subplots, for the most part I thought they were well done. Hawkeye benefits significantly from his increased screen time, becoming more of a notable and relatable character than he ever was in the first film. What surprised me was his dry wit and resourcefulness that he put on display and I think it was the first time we actually got to see why Hawkeye is a valuable member of the team. I also may have had my misgivings about Ultron, but overall he was a memorable villain who pushed the Avengers to the brink. It’s Spader though that leaves the lasting impression on you, as he combines philosophical musings with deadpan humor, and all of it is just classic Spader through and through. As an audience, I don’t know that we ever get to a point where we understand why Ultron is doing what he’s doing, but we at least buy the fact that he believes that what he’s doing is for the best.
While it is important to reflect on how far the MCU has come since the first Iron Man movie, I think it’s also necessary to wonder if there could possibly be too much of a good thing. Age of Ultron has everything you could ever want in a comic book blockbuster: tons of action, lots of humor and great sequences and dialogue with characters that we love. This movie was completely full to the brim, and yet somehow they are only going to keep expanding as we move into Phase 3. I’m skeptical that you could possibly have even more characters in the next Avengers sequel and still have an engaging, fully functional action movie.
But now is not the time to doubt Marvel. Now is the time to see Age of Ultron, let it soak in for a day or two and then go see it again. Hey, maybe one day I’ll look back on this review and feel really silly for being as critical as I was. For now, I’ll happily admit that I had a blast with the Avengers sophomore outing, but I think Whedon just tried a little too hard to surpass the ridiculously high expectations that awaited him. I also think it’s pretty amazing that he almost pulled it off.
Jesse’s Rating: B+