Avengers: Age of Ultron
Wondering when the wheels would come off the Marvel movie machine? When they’d finally put out a bad film? Yeah? Yeah, well it’s not with this one buddy, this one was fantastic.
The opening set piece sets the mood for the whole movie. Frenetically paced but incredibly well balanced, it manages to both establish the fact that the Avengers have clearly been busy since Hydra’s reemergence at the end of Winter Soldier (raiding Hydra bases in search of Loki’s staff and generally kicking ass along the way); as well as providing the trigger for Stark’s single minded pursuit of the Ultron project. It does all this while also introducing us to two new players in the twins Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. (“He’s fast, she’s weird” as described by Maria Hill to the Cap)
Obviously things don’t go quite to Stark’s plan, and Ultron ends up turning out to be a “murderbot” intent on establishing peace on Earth via the extinction of the human race. What follows on from there is a non-stop rollercoaster ride that builds to a conclusion of comic book proportions.
There’s some new faces for people to get acquainted with. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, the twins, are “enhanced humans” (read: mutants/Inhumans), who initially ally with Ultron as they seek revenge on Stark. Scarlet Witch’s mind control power is used to great narrative effect, providing much of the character development in the film by showing us the backgrounds and fears of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Taylor-Johnson’s Quicksilver is less cocky and arrogant than the version Days of Future Past showed us, and the relationship between him and his sister is a caring one that leads to some memorable moments. Both he and Elizabeth Olsen display a, thankfully, more improved onscreen chemistry than we saw in Godzilla last year. Loved them both.
Vision is another new character for people to get used to. While some of the details have changed, his origin story is essentially the same as in the comics. Created by Ultron as his vision of his own evolution beyond a mere machine. Vision, once brought to life, quickly joins the Avengers, and there are indicators that his comic book romance and marriage to Scarlet Witch is a story line that could be played out in the MCU. Which would be cool.
Then there’s Ultron. Wow! James Spader is just perfectly cast.
For all the focus on Gods, Superheroes and “enhanced’s”, this film has a solid core of humanity. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call this the Black Widow and Hawkeye show, two characters in deserved need of more screen time and character development. Black Widow becomes an even stronger character, and not merely in an ass kicking “emulation of masculine ideas of strength” kind of way. She is the only one who can calm the Hulk, through a tenderness of interaction that speaks to a nurturing maternal strength; an observation made more poignant by a later conversation between Natasha and Bruce. There’s enough in this relationship to keep Film Students in essay material for years.
Hawkeye, after spending most of the first movie as an enemy of the team, becomes the heart and soul of the Avengers in Age of Ultron. Clint is very much the audience surrogate, and his reaction to what is actually occurring during the epic final 20-30 minutes perfectly summed up my reaction. (There’s not been any hints as to scale of what happens in any of the trailers, so you’re all in for a hell of a ride. A comic book movie is probably the only genre in which the scenario could ever play out. Enjoy it)
His character also gets developments that I won’t spoil, but they provide a grounded counter to the fantasy of superheroes that helps anchor the film. It adds an edge of reality to proceedings in a much subtler way than the gritty, super grim-dark approach of the DC Universe.
All of this is presented with the same feel that we’ve come to expect from the MCU, and the film is just brilliantly and beautifully shot. The pacing is fantastic, and every scene feels deliberately picked to serve a purpose, some just haven’t been revealed. The challenge to lift Thor’s Hammer, for example, could have just been a moment of brevity and humour before the onslaught from Ultron, but it gets a wonderful pay off later in the movie.
“Hey, Bren, I just jumped straight to the star rating, if you loved it so much how come you didn’t give it the full 10/10?” Good question. Firstly, the only movie I’ve given a full 10/10 to in recent years was Guardians of the Galaxy, and as good as Age of Ultron is, it isn’t quite that good. Nor is it as good as the first Avengers movie, but that’s going to be a judgement call for people to make themselves.
Secondly, it feels like there were some key scenes missing, especially from Thor’s story. That being said, editing this down to a run time 141 minutes can’t have been an easy task, so I’ll wait for the Blu-ray and just enjoy the deleted scenes.
Finally, at times this felt a little like a place holder movie. With origin stories for new characters, and foreshadowing for both Civil War and Ragnarok; there were times when this felt a little like a prologue for Phase 3. Fortunately the rest of the story is engaging enough that these few moments are absorbed into the overall narrative; but this is the sort of thing that could cause a lesser franchise to suffer.
These minor issues aside, this really is a fantastic film. The action is relentless, the blend of humour and sincerity is perfect, and the final act confrontation is a thing of such wonderful absurdity that it feels like the makers have had a lot of fun playing with these characters; their absolute joy permeates the movie. Go watch it as soon as you can, and experience that joy first hand.