Avengers: Age of Ultron–Joyous, Entertaining Spectacle

avengers_age_of_ultron_posterSubscribing to the philosophy that bigger is better, over the past decade or so, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has been billing itself as the creator of meg-blockbusters.

If memory serves, there have been 10 interrelated films.  The individual chapters (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and their various sequels) have done the prep work for the two big collective adventures.

In 2012, the hugely successful The Avengers became the third-biggest grossing film of all time, with a global take of $1.5 million (occupying its place behind Avatar and Titanic, both directed by James Cameron).  Commercially, but not artistically, The Avengers set the bar impossibly high for every Marvel film to follow.

 

 

avengers_age_of_ultron_11_evans_hemsworthAnd now, three years later, comes The Avengers: Age of Ultron, in which the individual heroes reassemble to track down Loki’s sceptre, a left-over MacGuffin (to borrow from Hitchcock) from their first team-up.  Tom Hiddleston’s fratricidal Loki and his witty line-delivery are absent from the new picture, but overall, this sequel is sleeker, funnier, and more entertaining.

As the 11th film in the mega-franchise, The Avengers: Age Of Ultron is an action-packed rollercoaster, defined by some engaging characters, cool banter, and a great villain.

Avengers_2_age_of_ultron_2_evans_hemsworthThe tale begins in the wintry region of Sokovia, where Captain America (Chris Evans) and the gang raid a mountaintop Hydra base to retrieve Loki’s troublesome scepter from Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann).   The team encounters there two genetically enhanced foes, the twins of Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, blessed with blinding speed, and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen, endowed with psychic powers, including the ability to infect human beings with waking dreams grounded in their deepest fears and anxieties.

 

avengers_age_of_ultron_10_hemsworth_downey_jr_evansIn essence, the plot centers on how Iron Man (Downey Jr.), longing for a time when he doesn’t have to strap on his battle armor, sets about with Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) using the staff to create a super-smart super-suit to protect the entire world from intergalactic threats.  The result is Ultron, the titular robot that sees the world’s biggest threat as coming not from space, but from humanity itself.  With his delicious delivery, James Spader renders a remarkable performance as a man-made enemy that’s much more dangerous than any alien life form–call it an android with attitude.

avengers_age_of_ultron_8_downey_jrReturning writer-diector Joss Whedon proves to be the right helmer for this big-budget spectacle, a well-balanced mix of levity and gravity. While never forgetting that this is, after all, a comic strip picture, he also knows that, ultimately, it’s the characters and their smart talk that would keep the viewers involved for the duration of a movie that runs two and a half hours.

The film may suffer from boasting such a large cast of characters and stars.  If The Avengers juggled six figures, the new film has at least ten of them.  The filmmakers seem to have been under pressure to give each character a big enough role to register, while asking the viewers to keep track of them when they split up for the final battle.

Avengers_2_age_of_ultron_1_downey_jr._ruffaloAs a character, Ultron raises some general issues about religion, evolution, science vs. spirituality, largely familiar from other Hollywood sci-fi features.  One can complain that Whedon has thrown into the mix “alien technology” and “computer magic,” without sufficient elaboration of their specific elements and of their function in the overall scheme.

In general, this is a movie in which individual parts are stronger than the whole.  The single-take opening shot is impressive as is the Hulk vs. Iron Man showdown. One of the notable and entertaining scenes is the one in which the Avengers just hang out, playing a party game of “Try to Lift Thor’s Hammer.”

Avengers_2_age_of_ultron_3_johanssonWhedon also made a good decision by working for the first time with British cinematographer Ben Davis, who shot Guardians of the Galaxy, and does an even more impressive work here, manifest in lengthy tracking shots and providing the savvy editors with a series of jaw-dropping action sequences.

While composers Brian Tyler and Danny Elfman offer some reliable action music, the film benefits from using some recycled tunes of Alan Silvestri’s Avengers score.

 

Avengers_2_age_of_ultron_5Representing the official beginning of the summer movie season–the movie opens in the U.S. May 1, but is already playing in Europe–The Avengers: Age of Ultron delivers the expected goods. Commercially, it remains to be seen whether the new picture can match or even surpass the global popularity of the 2012 movie.

End Note:

Ultron begins life in the Stark Industries as an artificially intelligent “global peacekeeping initiative,” designed to serve as a suit of armor around the world.  It’s worth noting that, when Ultron first appeared in the Avengers comics in 1968, the character was the Frankenstein-like creation not of Tony Stark but of Ant-Man’s Hank Pym.  But Whedon has made him over into a power-seeking creature that needs no help to assemble a makeshift suit of Stark Industries armor and raise a whole drone army in his own image.