AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON takes super hero cinema to new heights
Joss Whedon’s long awaited, highly anticipated follow up to his benchmark box office smashing hit explodes onto the screen with a fervor. The Avengers, now a fully fledged, independent counter-terrorism task force are re-introduced to us as they attack the last known HYDRA base in the frigid European countryside of fictional Sokovia. It’s clear from the outset, which mixes bombastic brawling and comedic one liners, that they have grown closer as friends and know each others tics and personalities as family does.
The all out action is marvelously filmed featuring Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Captain America (Chris Evans), The Mighty Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) bashing and blasting their way through to the fortified castle where HYDRA’s chieftain Baron Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) is overseeing a new experimental program using several leftover stolen artifacts from The Battle of New York. These include Chitauri alien weaponry/armor and the most prized possession: the magical multi-powered scepter previously wielded by Loki. It doesn’t take long before The Avengers dispatch the shady thugs with precision and steal back the scepter for inspection before Thor takes it to Asgard. During the fray they are introduced to The Maximoff Twins, Pietro (Aaron Taylor Johnson) and his sister Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen). These young orphaned gypsies are the only surviving volunteers in HYDRA’s experiments who have received enhanced superhuman powers. Pietro can run super fast while Wanda can read minds, project visions and shoot blasts of energy from her hands. Her witchy touch causes some very strange and disturbing side effects that puts things in motion. They have their own reasons for a vendetta against Earth’s Mighty Heroes.
With HYDRA’s last base taken care of, Tony Stark wants to give his pals a break from policing the globe. His latest plan is to finish work on a program he calls ULTRON which will act as “a suit of armor around the world”. Essentially it will be a legion of Iron Men drones run by the main A.I.. Along with his Science Bro/confidant Bruce Banner, Tony secretly moves ahead with the cutting edge peacekeeping force. Accidentally, ULTRON takes on a life of his own and decides that the only way to truly protect the world is to eliminate its main problem: humanity. When the rogue sentient brainchild finally breaks free from his puppet-like strings, he immediately wants to remove The Avengers from his goal of global peace through extermination.
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON is undoubtedly a different super powered animal to its more frugal, lighter predescessor. Writer-Director-Uber Geek Joss Whedon had wanted to do something more mature and cinematically extravagant while still delivering the big spectacle fans love to see. By digging deeper into his colorful characters and expanding his visual palette and the interaction/relationships he was able to reveal something that is often overlooked in movies such as these. Sure, the set pieces are all there and do their job effectively but most importantly we get to see inside the hearts and minds of The Avengers.
Fans will be pleased to witness the cast expand with several new faces in this latest installment. One of the most important parts of the whole is the character Clint Barton aka Hawkeye who was sidelined in the first film by being Loki’s assassin. Joss Whedon expands the role in a very heartwarming and grounded way which brings a whole new perspective to what he is all about. Another major addition to the emotional components within is the growing romance between the two most unlikely lovers you could pick: Bruce Banner and Natasha Romanoff. Their conflicted, tragic relationship brings so much depth and heartbreak to this fantastic tale.
ULTRON (played brilliantly by James Spader) is a complicated fellow teeming with anger, humor, confusion and skewed, biblical views of the world. In many ways he seems to have a pure heart but a maniacal mind. His disturbed, overloaded computerized brain brings out so many emotions and outbursts, often in a single scene, that we don’t usually get with sci-fi movies of this kind. ULTRON isn’t a sneering diabolical villain, nor is he HAL 9000, he is kind of an unfiltered, child like conscience and higher voice that brings about many existential questions that are worth asking.
At its center, Age of Ultron is very much about power and how/why it’s wielded. While The Avengers see peace one way and ULTRON yet another, As The Vision (an inspired Paul Bettany) the synthetic humanoid designed by ULTRON as the next evolution of super being states, the world actually needs the opposing yin and yang of peace and chaos to create balance. Humanities path to peace is simply not as cut and dry as Tony or ULTRON want it to be.
A comparison to the first Avengers is bound to happen if you’re a fan of the MCU. Age of Ultron plays much like a Shakespearean drama that happens to revolve around super heroes in a heightened universe. Everything on the screen seems bigger, bolder, sharper, more intriguing, more human and goes further into expanding the Marvel Cinema Universe mythos.
If Age of Ultron has any real notable flaws, it would be in its final act which at times is overwhelmed by the dizzying, mega destruction that we’ve seen in a good many of these tentpole movies lately. Where it differs from a film like Man of Steel, is it takes time to acknowledge the peripheral, collateral damage that a major disaster would do to innocent people. Still, none of that takes away from the essential emotion based smorgasbord of dynamic delights served up for the hungry Marvelites.
Writer-Director Joss Whedon has again, with even more impact than before, successfully injected his personal ideas, humor, wit and concerns into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with an unparalelled artistry, intelligence and elegance. I think when all the dust settles what people will love most about this swansong is his unbridled love of these characters and how he presented them as regular folks with weaknesses that also happen to possess super abilities. The real triumph of bringing these comic book heroes to life has always been about Joss’ unique, endearing view of humanity that makes all his popular works in TV and film so satisfying and special.