The Avengers: Age of Ultron (spoiler free review)

Okay, before we get into the actual movie let’s talk about The Ball. As in, “When are Marvel going to drop the ball?” We are now on the eleventh film set in the shared Marvel Cinematic Universe and the studio has yet to release a flick that was worse than the perfectly acceptable Incredible Hulk or the shaggy-but-still-fun Iron Man 2. And Marvel fans are starting to get paranoid. Sooner or later Marvel’s going to drop the ball, law of averages. One of these movies will eventually flop, and when it does, all we can do is hope that it doesn’t flop so badly that it puts the whole MCU project in jeopardy. And with a movie like Age of Ultron, the stakes are even higher. If Ant-Man tanks, Marvel will walk it off.

If Age of Ultron flops, or even performs below expectations, it could bring the whole thing crashing down. So, as a huge fan of these movies, I was more than a little nervous sitting down to last night’s screening and I knew I was not alone. Looking in the eyes of my fellow Marvel cinephiles I saw the same fear that would take the heart of me. Because one day, Marvel will release a colossal turd.

 bUT IT IS NOT THIS DAY   

 

I don’t know if Age of Ultron is the best movie yet in the MCU. You’d probably have to lock it in a room with Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy and see who emerges victorious but I do know that it is far, far superior to The Avengers. 

Goes without saying, really.

Not that one. Although, now that I see it, Uma Thurman does look like she’s playing the Black Widow.

2012’s The Avengers is an absolute blast but it’s not really a movie I’d watch over and over again. It’s more like a triumphant third act finale to all the movies that went before it than a film in its own right. By comparison, Age of Ultron feels more like a complete story with a beginning, middle and end.

Whereas Avengers 1 ended with the Avengers going their separate ways but promising to re-team if the world needs them, Avengers 2 instead shows the team already re-assembled and having been working closely together for the last few years. After an assault on an Eastern European fortress to resolve some dangling plot threads from Avengers 1 and Winter Soldier, Iron Man (Robert Downey Junior) is shown a vision of a terrible future of the future by new villain the Scarlet Witch (Elizabath Olson) that leads him to create a new Artificial Intelligence called Ultron to protect the world. Because Tony Stark is one of those guys smart enough to create super-intelligent AI but not smart enough to realise why that’s a horrible, horrible idea.  I wish I could say that’s unrealistic.

The movie’s main strength is this; both the Avengers as characters and the actors playing them are now a team, all working together and at the very top of their game. Sequels are usually bigger and louder but in many ways this is a far quieter film than the first one. Scriptwriter/director Joss Whedon seems a lot more confident this time around. One of the very best scenes in the whole movie is just four minutes at a party where the Avengers are just hanging out, cracking jokes and having a good time together. I can’t imagine a scene like this in the first movie, where half the team spent half the movie beating up the other half (it was a movie of three halfs). Here, Whedon is relaxed enough to just let his characters enjoy each other’s company and some of the finest stuff here are the little personal moments which I’m not going to spoil. Importantly though, this group feels like a bunch of friends who genuinely love each other. There’s one line where Tony asks how they can defeat the latest threat that’s risen against them and Steve (with that wonderfully innocent conviction that Chris Evans does so well) says “Together”. That’s pretty much the whole premise of the movie. When these guys stand together, there is nothing the universe can throw at them that they can’t throw right back.

That said, when it is time for action, the movie brings spectacle that makes the first movie’s Battle of New York look downright cheap. The final epic show-down is as big and comic-booky a spectacle as I can remember seeing. Also cool? These superheroes save people. Like, all the time. A significant portion of the run time is given over to our heroes flying through the air and doing everything they can to protect the people down below. It’s a rare superhero film where protecting the innocent matters more than punishing the guilty.

Speaking of Ultron, James Spader gives a very interesting, very human performance of a villain who in the comics is usually portrayed as a Dalek with legs. Far from being emotionless, the Avenger’s machine adversary, if anything, feels too much. He’s by far the most dangerous adversary any of the Avengers have faced, but Spader gives him surprising moments of vulnerability and even tenderness.

Age of Ultron is a thrilling, gorgeous looking, funny as hell and often surprisingly sweet superhero epic. The Ball remains very much airborne.

37 comments

  1. I’ll watch it in two days and can’t wait. Great that someone in whose opinion I trust has a high opinion on it. (You know, I really look forward to you tackling the Marvel movies…when did you want to start with that again?).

    One question: In which year is the movie set? 2015?

  2. So excited to see this – loved the first one, so hearing this one is even better is so exciting! I’m going to force my Mom to the theatres with me to see it 😄

    Also, isn’t Scarlet Witch played by Emily Olsen? Am I mixing up all of their names?

  3. Well, you’ve made me even more excited for this film and yeah I was nervous too, that this movie probably wouldn’t live up to expectations, but this review clamed my nerves.

    And, would you consider Iron Man 3 to be a flop? Not in the box office sense, but in the general consensus, cause it seems like EVERYONE hates it everywhere I go on the internet and I actually like the movie and thought it was a good character study of Tony Stark.

      1. I actually really love Iron Man 3. I thought the twist with the Mandarin was brilliant. All the fanboys are just pouty because they got their hopes up about seeing one villain and instead we got another. And people who argue “Iron Man is barely in it!” because Tony isn’t in the suit for a good chunk of the film missed the point of the story, and really, 40-odd Iron Man suits flying around in the finale isn’t enough?

    1. I can think of a few people who liked it. Even the ones who didn’t, the complaints amounted to “It was like watching halfway thru a football game that suddenly decides to up and play baseball.”

  4. I can’t wait to see it! Though, I’ve heard (from the people who saw it “early” over here) that the general consensus over here in the United States is that: Age of Ultron is good, but not as good as the first. Maybe it was a bit too overhyped over here? I haven’t seen it yet (it doesn’t come out here for another week.), so I can’t say for myself yet.

    1. I agree with the “it’s good but not as good as the first”.

      I think you can say on a technical level, the movie is very good. But I didn’t really enjoy it. The end battle is completely amazing; dare I say, mind-blowing; it’s the best part of the movie no contest. But everything else leading up to it I either really didn’t like (like the out-of-left-field new romance with no build up, or the backstory for the twins), or had no real emotional reaction to, or was confused by (like what happened to JARVIS). A lot of the movie is, well, DREARY, and not even in a really dramatic, interesting way. The color palate is drab, and there are almost no laughs from the main cast. It wasn’t fun and engaging the way Avengers was fun and engaging :\

  5. That’s two good reviews I’ve heard of Age of Ultron so far, so consider my fear of dropping the ball stayed. For now. Still kinda nervous about how good Ant Man will be, it seemed to have some production problems and that can effect a film badly.

      1. It has a chance to be one of the best Marvel movies if the whole movie is as creative as that train fight they showed in the trailer. Very long shot for that to happen, but it’s possible

      2. Speaking of which, someone made a pretty solid fan-trailer for Phantom Menace with the template to the new Force Awakens:

  6. Personally I’m in the “great, but not as great as the first one” camp. It’s definitely worth seeing and maintains the excellent track record Marvel has, but personally I thought The Avengers was better. Perhaps it had novelty on its side, or perhaps it was just a matter of personal taste. Especially in humour, because I didn’t laugh as often this time around. Plus some of the plot elements came kind of nowhere.

    Nevertheless, do go see it, people, if you’ve liked the movies so far.

  7. “James Spader gives a very interesting, very human performance of a villain who in the comics is usually portrayed as a Dalek with legs.”

    Major props to articulating the comics iteration so simply yet brilliantly. From day one I’ve been trying to wrap my head around how they would pull this character off, and for the longest time, even a little bit after that first trailer, I was anticipating Ultron to be more of a threat than a character, which would at the very least give the Avengers themselves more development time. I recently came across a small clip on YouTube however, and it appears that this version of Ultron has inherited some of his “father’s” signature snark (“I think you’re confusing peace with quiet”).

    The reviews do seem a bit polarizing so far; there are those that feel the expectations make the spectacle seem over-bloated. For me, the marketing for this movie won me over ages ago. I’m already planning on heading out straight from work this Friday to check it out; the last time I did that was with Man of Steel, which…is a whole other can of worms I wish not to open right now. The camaraderie among the cast does seem to be undeniable to all who have seen it so far, and that’s all the investment I need.

    Hey Mouse, on a related note, have you had the free time to check out the Daredevil series?

      1. Yes and no. They were both hugely influenced by Frank Millar so there’s a lot of overlap but also some stark contrasts. Bruce Wayne was born into huge wealth, Matt Murdock is a working class Irish Catholic who pulled himself up by his bootstraps. Batman uses gadgets while Daredevil has enhanced senses. But they both have the “grim avenger of the night who strikes terror in the heart of criminals” thing going. Honestly, I think Daredevil is the better conceived character. Criminals aren’t scared of bats. But they’re scared of the devil.

  8. I agree that this movie is great. I don’t know if I’d say it’s better than The Avengers, but another watch in the future might change that. The Avengers is one of my favorite movies of all time, so it would be hard to top either way.

    I really enjoyed how Ultron was portrayed. Last year I watched The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and once I got to be more familiar with Ultron, I started to wonder how Spader would play the part. He does seem a lot more human, and I think that’s a good thing.

    1. I think that it is more ambitious than The Avengers. If you look past the action scenes and concentrate on the dialogues, you have a lot to think about. But the Avengers pulls off the simple story nearly perfectly, while Age of Ultron often struggles to maintain balance.

      If not for the romance I would have said Age of Ultron is better, but this one element drags it down enough that The Avengers gets the edge.

      1. I actually wrote a detailed explanation why I see a problem with it. There is some really bad writing connected to it, it really hits every cliché in the book and not in a good way.

  9. I really liked this. It’s absolutely impossible to compare this to its predecessor as they are two completely different beasts.

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