Avengers: Age of Ultron Director: Joss Whedon
Screenwriter: Joss Whedon
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, James Spader, Samuel L. Jackson Walt Disney Pictures | Marvel Studios
Rated PG-13 | 141 Minutes
Release Date: May 1, 2015
“And there came a day, a day unlike any other, when Earth’s mightiest heroes were united against a common threat! On that day The Avengers were born “” to fight foes no single hero could withstand!”
Written and directed by Joss Whedon, Avengers: Age of Ultron is the latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As the fifth entry in Marvel’s second phase of films, Ultron follows the events of Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: Winter Soldier, and Guardians of the Galaxy. Our heroes have changed since the first time they assembled; S.H.I.E.L.D. is no more, Hydra has possession of Loki’s scepter, and the universe hangs in the balance as Thanos hunts down the Infinity Stones.
Age of Ultron begins with a raid on a Hydra outpost. After recovering some Chitauri technology from the base, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) jumpstarts ULTRON, a global defense program that will act as “a suit of armor around the world.” Things go terribly wrong, of course, and The Avengers – Iron Man, Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) – must reassemble to save the planet from the villainous Ultron (James Spader).
Joining Ultron in his quest to eradicate The Avengers are two of Baron Wolfgang von Strucker’s (Thomas Kretschmann) Hydra experiments – twins Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who has superhuman speed, and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), who can manipulate minds. Or as Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) puts it, “He’s fast and she’s weird.”
There’s a lot to process in Whedon’s follow-up. Because this universe has been established over 10 previous Marvel movies, Whedon jumps right into the action with minimal hand-holding. From the get-go we’re playing catch-up as these beloved characters interact in new and exciting ways. The script is very much written like a Giant-Size issue in a long-running comic series – it assumes you’ve been reading since day one and trusts you to carry the baggage and backstory of these characters on your shoulders while Whedon delivers on big action, disarming humor, and amazing character moments. These films aren’t about plots, after all – they’re about character – and Whedon understands these characters (and how they connect) better than anybody.
After successfully retrieving Loki’s scepter from Hydra, Stark throws a big victory bash at Avengers Tower in midtown Manhattan. What’s so great about this sequence is that it develops characters and relationships more than any plot device could. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great seeing Hulk and Black Widow kick Hydra’s ass, but it’s much more satisfying to watch Natasha Romanoff and Bruce Banner flirt over martinis during Stark’s party. That’s why we love these characters – we get to see them exist between the battles. Some of the film’s best moments come from scenes where our heroes are enjoying some downtime, figuring out their next step. We see them joke, flirt, argue – and all of these moments inform their actions as a team when the action kicks into gear.
Part of making a great character is a great performance, and after multiple appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the veterans already know their characters inside-out. One veteran cast member is playing a new character, however. Paul Bettany, who provides the voice for Tony Stark’s J.A.R.V.I.S., becomes The Vision – an android worthy of challenging Ultron. It’s bewildering and beyond exciting to see one of my favorite characters brought to life on screen, and Bettany’s performance is pitch-perfect.
Then there’s Ultron. After becoming self-aware, Ultron decides that the only way to save humanity is to force it to evolve to the next stage – with an extinction level event. Spader’s take on the character is interesting but underdeveloped. As a creation of Tony Stark, Ultron retains a few his father’s traits, notably his penchant for being an arrogant smart-ass. Ultron is certainly an intimidating – and entertaining – foil, but I wish more of the film’s runtime was devoted to the villain and his connection to Stark instead of revisiting the first film’s save-the-world plot.
Ultron is a philosophical, somewhat sophisticated villain, not unlike Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, but while he commands an army of robots and enough Vibranium to destroy the planet, the conflict between him and Stark lacks the internal struggle that makes Loki and Thor’s relationship so interesting. Still, I like what Spader brings to the character – his sarcastic, poetic way of criticizing The Avengers is refreshing, even if his evil plan is rather generic.
Overall, Whedon’s film is an overstuffed, overwhelming sequel that somehow manages to out-joy the joy-explosion that was 2012’s The Avengers. At 141 minutes, Age Of Ultron is like reading an entire graphic novel from cover-to-cover in one sitting, which will be great for some but may prove too much for others.
Avengers: Age of Ultron is a sprawling epic jam-packed with endless characters and locations, big-budget special effects, and over-the-top action. What sticks with me the most, however, is how much heart Whedon has put into this film. It’s an incredible accomplishment by Whedon to juggle all of these characters and storylines and still make a “Joss Whedon movie” while planting seeds for future films like Captain America: Civil War, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, and Avengers: Infinity War.
I wrote this in my review of The Avengers, and it still stands for the sequel:
For 142 minutes, I didn’t need a time machine to visit my six-year-old self. I became a little kid again, in awe at the flickering images on the screen, captivated by childhood fantasies fulfilled on celluloid. For a comic book kid turned movie geek, The Avengers made me misty-eyed for a time when my only responsibilities were playing and dreaming.