Movie Review: Avengers Age of Ultron

Age of Ultron is the long awaited sequel to the first summer blockbuster hit, simply called “The Avengers.”  It brings back our favorite team, gives some well deserved cameos to some incredible friends and allies, which gives a nice follow up.  Overall, we have a good mix of old and new, to further expand the Avengers cinematic universe.  Our main cast is scene in whole new lights, for better or worse on their part.  While facing a new enemy, they must come to terms with their own faults or risk losing everything.  The sequel answers some questions, poses new ones, and goes off in plenty of other directions while we’re at it.  So, does the sequel do the cinematic series justice?  Find out for more!

This film picks up after recent events, where the team is currently trying to infiltrate and shut down a sinister Hydra base in the eastern-European country of Sokovia (Papers, please?)  After blasting their way through, Iron Man discovers a disturbing lab containing Loki’s staff.  Meanwhile, the rest of the team encounter the Maximoff twins (Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver), who were used for Hydra experiments.  Back at the tower, Stark uses the staff to complete an artificial intelligence for his defense program; this program is known as Ultron.  J.A.R.V.I.S. tries to aid the newly formed Ultron.  However, this fails as Ultron’s newfound knowledge of Earth’s problems sends him into nihilistic frenzy.  Sadly, Ultron destroys J.A.R.V.I.S. before attacking Stark’s tower.  With the scepter of Loki in hand, Ultron returns to the Sokovian base to assemble an army for his global destruction plan.

At the base, Ultron also recruit the Maximoffs to his cause, upon learning that Stark is responsible for their lives being miserable.  All of them travel to meet Klawe, in hopes of obtaining vibranium to set his plans into action.  As the Avengers crash the location, the plan is thrust into chaos.  However, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch both pose as the distraction needed for the three of them to get away.  Scarlet Witch’s powers in particular send The Hulk into a rampage in a nearby city, forcing Iron Man to stop him by any means necessary; this includes buying a construction yard in rapid speed so he can smash the Hulk into it.  After the resulting criticism and backlash towards the Avengers, Hawkeye offers his private safehouse for the team.  They only discover it’s his actual home, including a family.  Hulk/Banner and Black Widow plan to leave the team after this is over, as Thor visits an old friend to try to figure out whose been manipulating things from home.  (Well, Loki, obviously.)  Nick Fury arrives to help the team create a plan.

Meanwhile in Seoul, Korea, Ultron uses the scepter to control one the teams’ old friends.  His aim to build the perfect new body out of vibranium, synthetic tissues, and the gem from the scepter.  Feeling unnerved by Ultron, Scarlet Witch reads his mind to see apocalyptic visions and human extinction.  Terrified, she warns Quicksilver as they both try to escape.  Cap, Hawkeye, and Black Widow catch up to Ultron, only to captures Black Widow.  However, they manage to get away with the body container  The remaining team bicker among themselves over what to do with the artificial body, as Iron Man secretly uploads the surviving data of J.A.R.V.I.S. into the chamber.  Thor returns to inform that the gem was part of the vision Scarlet Witch gave to him.  The gem is used, in conjunction with Thor’s power, to turn the body in the chamber into The Vision.

The Maximoffs and Vision team up with the Avengers to return to Sokovia after Ultron’s plans are revealed.  They arrive in the capital city to witness Ultron using the remaining vibranium to lift it off the entire city ground.  The stakes raise as they find out he wants to plummet the city from such a height that it would cause an apocalyptic cataclysm.  Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. agents show up to request civilians via the helicraft, as the rest of the team fights off waves of goons.  Other friends and allies join the fight (such as Cap’s friend, Falcon), before Quicksilver sacrifices himself to ensure Cap evacuates the remaining civilians.  Upon seeing her brother get killed, Scarlet Witch lunges after Ultron and destroys his physical body.  This action and drama packed scene really took advantage of the sweet visuals   However, several drones take his place and switch the vibranium machine into full gear.  As the city falls, Iron Man and Thor team up to destroy the machine; the city falls part, preventing the apocalyptic collision with Earth.  Despite prior engagements with Black Widow, Hulk retreats in an aircraft.  Later, both Iron Man and Hawkeye try to go back to their lives as Thor wants to solve the mystery of his bleak Asgard vision.  Thus, Cap and Black Widow assemble a new team to fight evil (Vision, Scarlet Witch, War Machine, Falcon).

In terms of pacing and mood, this is where the movie begins to collapse into a bit of a delightful mess.  Now, does this detract from the overall film?  Sort of.  For example, the intro build up to the dark depths of the Hydra base (as well as the Maximoffs doing… something) felt really slow and choppy.  And after Hydra’s station was compromised, I wasn’t engaged yet.  The only thing that grabbed me was finding out what happened to Loki’s staff in the first film.  As they say, if you can’t grab the audience within the first couple of minutes, we gotta problem.  Plus, I feel like I need a wider knowledge of current Marvel multimedia to really grasp the intro.  That said, I haven’t missed the cinematic universe, so I guess I have enough of “what I need.”  Also, the intro bit felt more like a red herring used to introduce the Maximoffs more than anything.  And even then, they’re used for a Joss Whedon trope of killing off a beloved character at an opportune moment.  Plus, one thing really irks me, why didn’t Ultron get more screen time?  He was certainly one of my favorite things about the movie.  Sure, his sarcastic moments were funny, but he was a fantastic antagonist in general.  Even some more scenes of him spouting misanthropic vitriol would have been appreciated, by me at least.  To wrap this up, I feel that an extra 30 minutes would have done this film proper justice, allowing the flow of the film to feel more natural.  The supposed deleted scenes probably would have allowed the film to feel more alive, rather than just a movie driven by sequences.

In terms of thematic elements, the end results ranged from generally interesting to under developed and chaotic.  The arc that contrasts Iron Man as a father (to Ultron) versus the scenes of Hawkeye’s fatherhood lent itself to an interesting concept.  Iron Man doesn’t like to show too much compassion unless it benefits him.  His pursuits can be destructive as a result.  In a sense, Ultron has a point in which he’s the image of his father.  That said, there should have been more elaboration and expansion on this.  Conversely, Hawkeye was a normal family man outside of his duty with the Avengers.  While Iron Man’s crudeness and self centered mentality resulted in creating a disaster, Hawkeye has a wonderful family from his empathy and desire to help however.  The other theme was facing your past to face the future.  When Scarlet Witch dug into their minds, her powers lead them to confront the failures of their past (except for that weird “everyone dies, because Infinity Gems” thing we saw earlier on.)  Black Widow in particular was forced to confront her past, but in the end decided she was more than a super modified assassin who responds to cruel intent with much of the same.  Instead, she decides to leave her past in hopes of building herself up as a team player and leader.

However, character is where this film really shines.  Despite introducing so many new faces and reusing a lot of old ones, everyone still feels pretty real.  The plight of the Maximoffs is sympathetic and heart-wrenching, until they decide that fighting Ultron rather than getting revenge brings the greater good.  This arc, while not getting much time, felt pretty complete.  Also, we had more exploration of Thor.  While editing and execution meddling (including the removal of a much needed Loki scene) muddled things up a bit, we saw more into his personality.  Despite being a “Cosmic Fratboy” of sorts, there was genuine distress at the thought of his homeland falling to great danger (or “Hel” as vision-Heimdall says).  Not to mention, we see that overly cocky side at a party while they relax.  When everyone attempts to take Thor’s hammer, he remains smug as they fail.  However, Captain America almost comes close as Thor looks with certain anguish as he’s the ONLY ONE worthy of the hammer (though, recent comics apparently beg to disagree…  but who cares about that storyline?)  Needless to say, Cap too fails as that terrified expression returns to smugness.

Now, if you talk about a super hero movie, you gotta talk about action!  While the first couple scenes (including the Hydra raid) felt very slow, things truly picked up after Ultron attacks the team and takes the scepter.  However, it wasn’t till the end when we got solid scenes of action against the constructed drones throughout the crumbling remains of the Sokovian capital.  Upon Scarlet Witch rampaging upon an Ultron who can do little to stop her, the drone setting things into “overdrive” really sets up an awesome tag team between Iron Man and Thor to put an end to the meteor-like doomsday plot (even if it borders on absurd and insane…  maybe even a prog-rock album cover.)  Not to mention, the final showdown between Ultron’s final unit and Vision was just plain awesome in its own right.  The high stakes mixed with the onslaught of Ultron’s forces made for a well paced and thrilling scene.  I would consider this the most thrilling portion of the movie itself.

All in all, the film has a fun sense of enthusiasm, almost child-like at that.  But like a child whose never learned about the work behind the art, it’s kind of all over the place from its somewhat free spirited approach.  It gave us enough of what we wanted, but we were still wanting so much more.  Considering several interviews and news outlets indicated the film was going to have so much more, one can only hope we’ll see the complete version when the DVDs come out.  In the meantime, we’re left with a fun blockbuster that frankly feels unfinished.  Speed and pacing bounces around between thrilling and breather scenes without enough transition as some scenes run way too long, while others aren’t dealt justice.  All in all, there’s parts that blow the first movie away, while others that are strongly lacking.  It’s still worth watching once, but I doubt this picture will get the attention it deserves, until Director’s Cut is released!  Avengers: Age of Ultron receives 7 creepy flying drones out of 10.

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