Movie review: You’re going to see Avengers: Age of Ultron, and you’re going to like it

Douglas Markowitz


If reviews are meant to tell people whether or not they should see a movie, then this one is pointless. You’re going to see Age of Ultron.  Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but eventually, you will. How can you not?

It’s been three years since the first film confirmed Marvel’s wild aspirations of creating a series of interconnected blockbusters that lead into one mega-blockbuster featuring all the heroes from the other movies. It did this by making an absurd amount of money. Just last year, Guardians of the Galaxy, despite being based upon a comic almost nobody knew about, also made an absurd amount of money because Marvel had built its brand enough to the point that it can release anything with its name on it and it will make millions of dollars. Money talks, and for the last two years, it’s been screaming about Marvel. People love Marvel. They are a cultural juggernaut. They can do whatever they want, and thankfully, they have yet to lose touch.

The Age of Ultron begins with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) attempting to end the age of the Avengers. Still shaken from the first film’s final battle, he uses Loki’s scepter, recovered in a mission against the villainous Hydra, to create Ultron, an AI designed to defend against all threats to Earth. Tony wants to never have to put on his Iron Man suit again, to have “peace for our time,” as he continuously says. And like the man who first said that, Stark unleashes a genocidal maniac upon the world.

Age of Ultron successfully follows up the first Avengers film.Photo courtesy Facebook
Age of Ultron successfully follows up the first Avengers film.
Photo courtesy Facebook

Ultron (James Spader) immediately goes the Skynet “kill all humans” route and attempts to reconfigure Earth’s population as he sees fit. He is joined at first by the Maximoff twins, super-fast Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), who uses her mind-altering powers to weaken the Avengers. Her visions, which let us know the characters’ fears and inadequacies, make Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) recall a past trauma, remind Captain America (Chris Evans) of the life he could have had in his own time and give Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Tony their own deadly premonitions. The twins, who once swore vengeance on Stark for orphaning them, soon discover Ultron’s mania, and switch sides as the Avengers fracture from within.

Director Joss Whedon, a god among nerds even without the Avengers, claims the pressure of helming the follow-up to his first, enormous film nearly did him in.  After this one, he refuses to return for more, or even watch the new film until he detoxes. He need not worry, because Age of Ultron is much more than its predecessor. In fact, it improves upon the first film by doing just that: much more.

The movie delivers more action, with climactic set pieces straight out of comic nerds’ dreams. It delivers more weirdness, matching the tone of the source material in a way it can’t reverse and sets up future films in Marvel’s characteristically meticulous fashion. It also delivers more character development, with the team and other questioning their motives. Jeremy Renner might be a sexist jerk in real life, but his Hawkeye emerges as the team’s rock, and the “mad scientist” partnership of Tony and Bruce “Incredible Hulk” Banner (Mark Ruffalo) goes toe-to-toe with Banner’s budding romance with Black Widow for cutest couple. I wish Ruffalo was in more of Marvel’s films, because he’s its most valuable player, perfectly capturing Banner’s fear of losing control and hurting those he loves.

This is also the darkest Marvel movie yet, mostly thanks to James Spader’s Ultron providing ample menace while making his motivations cloudy. The heroes know why they have to stop him. He knows he wants to kill all humans, but he’s not quite sure why. He’s confused, at war with himself, and much like the wooden puppet he compares himself to in the film’s trailer, his lack of humanity gives him a profound sense of inadequacy.

Truly, the Age of Ultron is one of grays and darker grays, although unlike DC’s comic book movie protagonists, the Avengers make every effort to save lives, rather than hitting each other with buildings full of people. This idealism, a kind of courage under fire and faith in teamwork, reaffirms the film’s place as the crown jewel in Marvel’s gauntlet (speaking of which, stay after the credits).

Whedon contrasts the darker tone with his characteristically witty script. There are no moments quite on par with “That’s my secret, Captain” from the first film, but for my money, I enjoyed it more. The director may be finished with Marvel, but thankfully, we aren’t.

Many have predicted comic book movies are in for a “bubble burst,” that there will soon be so many and people will be so sick of them that there won’t be enough money to go around, causing the entire genre to go belly up. We may be in for that soon, but it won’t be due to Marvel. Age of Ultron proves that even when indulging in its weirdest, wildest tendencies, they can still pull off tremendous entertainment. As Marvel’s Phase Three approaches, we’re in for much more weird and wild, and I, for one, am ready to take the ride.

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