Friday, May 1, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron Review

Avengers: Age of Ultron
Director: Joss Whedon
Cast Headliners: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr, Scarlet Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo
Original Release Date: May 1st, 2015

When reviewing the Marvel Cinematic universe, where can one possibly begin?  There’s been so many years and installments in this meta-tale that to even judge its value is a colossal task that only grows with each new entry in this epic of epics.  Avengers: Age of Ultron has some of the highest stakes in blockbuster history by having to be number two to the amazing reality breaking crossover excellence that was 2012’s film. Joss Whedon and the folks at Marvel Studios give it their best, and oh my what a crazy ride that turns out to be.            
 One knows that said crazy ride is coming by the sheer amount of spectacle that occurs before even the title name pops up on screen. In a perfect breakneck lead-in from Captain America 2, the intro finds the core Avengers team of Steve Rogers/“Captain America” (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Tony Stark/”Iron Man” (Robert Downey Jr), Bruce Banner/”Hulk” (Mark Ruffalo), Clint Barton/ “Hawkeye” (Jeremy Renner), and Natasha Romanoff “Black Widow” (Scarlet Johansson) on a mission to take down Hydra once and for all (?!?) at mountain fortress of Baron Von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann in a role that is basically a spec of a  blip on the massive radar that is this film). Explosions pop off the screen and there’s superheroic team up moves that will blow one’s mind. There’s hilarious quips intense stakes, and deep mysteries. This is an event that sort of rivals the finale of the last film in scale and it’s merely just the appetizer round.
There’s several aspects that give this film a slightly different identity to the first film and that great aspect can be found in its additional characters. Fringe-morality siblings Wanda Maximoff/”Scarlet Witch” (Elizabeth Olsen) and Pietro Maximoff/”Quicksilver (Aaron-Taylor Johnson) are dually interesting whether they are henchmen or conflicted rookie heroes. Their powers are quite a fresh sight to behold as well; with SW’s magic and illusions and QS’s faster-than-visible superspeed giving a whole new angle to action scenes.  To get into his specifics would be a major spoiler, but mention has to be made of   Vision (Paul Bettany) as well who steals the scenes he’s in whether it is through minor action, deep words, or mind-blowingly great powers….
The Avengers wouldn’t have to come together without a ultimate threat and this time there’s something incredibly chilling. Tony’s usual experimentation shenanigans with Loki’s old scepter and his drone suits lead to Ultron (James Spader), a fast learning and utterly evil robotic overlord.   Spader performed the voice and motion capture for Ultron and it’s excellent from visual to performance. No matter what “stage of sentience” he’s in there’s always a deep  nuance to how this robot is characterized. Even though he’s a vicious killer who has a plan that makes Loki seem tame; he’s far from cold. Spader delivers lines that make one laugh, make one afraid, and even at times make one feel a slight bit of empathetic understanding. He’s a thrilling villain who is more than a worthy match for the Avengers totally deserving of the title. It makes sense he’s a dark spawn of Iron Man; the heroic charismatic dynamo driving these films.  
While these and other (Andy Serkis as other, other humorous villain Ulysses Klaue in a small bit foreshadowing 2018’s Black Panther!!!!) additions get large chunks of the spotlight there is great improvements to the veterans as well.  Captain America and Iron Man have some of the best dramatic moments as their relationship is tenuously tested which may have future ramifications in addition to the chaos seen here. Black Widow has more insight into her past shown, and a surprisingly natural romance with Hulk. Chilling hallucinations courtesy of the Scarlet Witch are some of the best scenes for those and aid to the film’s darker tone than most in the MCU.  Of course, Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), Maria Hill (Cobie  Smulders), and James Rhodes/”War Machine” (Don Cheadle) all show up and do their usual support actions. Yes, it’s a a bit of a lot to handle as all the appearances mentioned so far isn’t even absolutely everything!
The one veteran who has been given his big shot in this is Hawkeye. This was an amazing choice to have been made for prior to this he existed only as a cameo or a brainwashed villain for the majority of its predecessors.  Renner has a lot of hidden talent that is shown in this movie. He’s funny, he’s got moral lessons to rival Captain America’s, he’s got mindblowing awesome archery skills. Between his much larger( near main-protagonist reaching) levels of focus, some of the best jokes in a movie filled with millions of them, and insights into his past Clint Barton is a wonderfully memorable part of the experience.
A good effort is made to differentiate this film from its previous incarnation through its focus on new characters and dramatic elements. However, it is still a Avengers film through and through.  Asides from the intricate tone the main directorial response from Joss Whedon comes through as “more.”   Instead of basically one extended epic action chunk of the film, there’s over three or four. Things tend to be “extremely crazy” instead of “really crazy.”  The humor comes nearly every line but luckily the writing and pace of it makes it blend seamlessly into the action as is to be expected.   Despite it’s insane ride of awesome, it loses some slight points because there’s the occasional feeling of “been there.” Hulk gets angry again and has to fight his teammates. Nick Fury defends the SHIELD helicarrier control room again.  Team members get into fights that involve more than just words again. There’s scenes of them arguing in a small room again.  While the word “formulaic” is inappropriate considering the excellent blockbuster spectacle that is most of the film it can be said that this is “more of the same.”  
And that trait will end up deciding its spot on the overarching tier of Marvel film quality in the long run. That’s a totally fine thing, as how could one complain about the comics-to-life masterpieces that are this and Whedon’s otherwork. But while it raises the stakes, scale, roster count, and visual quality it just 1% shys from perfection because it isn’t that first time again.  Overall, thank you Whedon for making Marvel dreams come true, and I think new hands will give a fresh perspective as the scales go further on even higher levels. We’re looking at a world beyond just a bickering adventuring family, and I’m so ready.  Make it even fresher.  9.4 out of 10

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