May 16, 2016
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
That’s all I can say: sweet.
Really. I’m literally just back from this movie. I’ve had time to process it and go through all my thoughts and emotions and what-not, but the one word that keeps coming to mind is: sweet. Sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet.
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This is a sweet movie, with sweet acting and sweet dialogue and sweet action and drama and comedy and thrills. The kind of movie that should have been a classic summer blockbuster except that, for financial reasons, we got it in the spring. This makes for a strong climax to Marvel’s Phase 2, except Ant-Man is technically still part of it, so I guess that movie will be the post-climactic climax of Phase 2.
But this is a good way to finish things up, and set up the next one. If you enjoyed the other Phase 2 movies, you won’t be surprised to hear that you’ll probably like this one. Avengers: Age of Ultron might not have the political edge of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, nor is it a laid-back funfest like Guardians of the Galaxy, but it lives up to the quality standard set by those movies. Marvel is on a roll right now, and it shows no signs of letting up.
Speaking of climaxes, this one arguably has the strongest, most epic third act of any Marvel movie to date. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it’s definitely on a different level from anything Marvel has done so far. It’s closer to the scale and scope and level of destruction of something like The Dark Knight Rises or Man of Steel (it technically surpasses both of them in terms of collateral damage), but isn’t nearly as grimdark as either.
I also enjoyed the much teased Hulk vs. Hulkbuster fight the trailers have played up, and it was handled well, both in terms of choreography (it’s nice to get a proper, destructive, citywide superhero battle once in a while) and in terms of how both characters are treated and how the story justifies this battle. Well done, movie; well done.
This is a Joss Whedon film, so as you’d expect, there’s a certain amount of substance eclipsed by a slightly greater amount of snark and comedy. The audience I was with seemed to be enjoying themselves, with three or four big laugh-out-loud moments, but in terms of intelligence, this film lies somewhere between the first Avengers and The Winter Soldier.
It’s more concerned with character dynamics and dramedy and action than it is with bringing up anything too political or doing anything especially philosophical or dark. And frankly, while I don’t want these movies to start copying Christopher Nolan or anything, it probably could have erred just a little more in that direction. These elements exist in the movie, but mostly to inform the characters and their motivations rather than to be discussed, and given the direction Marvel plans to head in with its cinematic universe—Civil War in particular comes to mind—it probably could have used at least a little more darkness and weightiness.
This film isn’t shallow, but nor is it especially deep, and as this franchise continues, it should begin to introduce more depth or risk going stale. I know a few reviewers and at least one civilian who thought it was “more of the same”, though I’d still say it was better overall than the previous Avengers movie and trumps it on most levels.
I’d also say that while new characters Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, AKA Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are welcome additions and are handled well, this film focuses much more on its central cast, and thus they feel more like they exist only for the sake of the plot and to expand the roster, and they don’t really come into their own in this movie.
HYDRA’s Baron von Strucker, who first appeared in a teaser during the Winter Soldier credits, is pretty much a throwaway character here, and while this is more of a nitpick, I don’t particularly like it when sequels take a hook from a previous entry and proceed to do almost nothing with it. It feels like potential is being squandered and possible future story directions wasted, all for the sake of a few funny lines and a slightly “safer” and more predictable story.
It’s almost like Marvel is aware that it has too many characters and plotlines to play with and is overly concerned with losing control of them, so anything that’s too “serious” or “interesting” is ruthlessly cut out, and few risks are taken. I also feel that, even though this film is almost two and a half hours long, that there was still a fair bit left on the cutting room floor (or didn’t make it to the script when it should have), as certain things like “backstory” or “the villains are doing X” or “this is how people are reacting to Y” are told to us rather than shown. It makes the film feel a bit smaller, and a little less dramatic than it should have been.
But these are mostly just nitpicks; Age of Ultron is still a strong and enjoyable movie. The pacing is excellent, and the film doesn’t waste any time before jumping into the action or setting up character arcs or introducing its villain. And while the film lacks a certain amount of tension and is more exciting in some places than others, there’s not much in the way of padding. If anything, I wish more was added in, although the film does manage to set up more of the Marvel movie universe than previous entries: the upcoming Black Panther gets a namedrop of the country of Wakanda, and arch-villain Ulysses Klaw (played by Andy Serkis) makes a small but welcome appearance.
The movie also has real and genuine warmth. Whedon is interested in the lives and relationships of his characters, and they feel like real people who like each other, occasionally fall out and even fight, but who can all work and play together as a team and as a family. Every single cast member is perfect and has grown into their roles like comfortable clothes, and they all have great chemistry with each other. It’s clear that everyone working on this film likes and respects each other as well as the source material, and that comes across to the audience.
I haven’t mentioned the title character yet, but Ultron is great, and arguably the most menacing and dangerous villain the movies have featured to date. James Spader is perfectly cast as this super-intelligent and psychotic artificial lifeform, who’s delusional and even childlike at times, but always several steps ahead of the heroes and more than capable of engaging them in hand-to-hand and snark-to-Stark combat. While his motivations and plans aren’t quite fully fleshed out, he’s still driven, powerful, and ruthless enough to serve as a more than worthy foe of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and I enjoyed every second he was onscreen.
So if you liked the previous Marvel movies, I can safely say that you’ll enjoy this film. If you didn’t… you probably won’t. It’s a lot of what you’ve seen before, only done better and on a bigger scale, and with a fairly natural feel. I did and I do though, and while this movie isn’t exactly Shakespeare or anything, it’s still Marvel, and it’s still pretty sweet, and it’s a movie I could watch again and again. Bring on Ant-Man.