The steamrolling new cinematic world of Marvel movies continues with round two of the Avengers storyline, Avengers: Age of Ultron. With Joss Whedon once again behind the camera and behind the pen, the bar was set pretty high, but he met expectations in more ways than one.
Avengers: Age of Ultron deals with the central fear of Tony Stark, who has seen through the looking glass into the universe beyond and knows what’s out there. No known power on Earth can stop what’s coming, even his new team of superheroes, so Stark decides to build an artificial weapon strong enough to defend the planet for them. Not the most unique of ideas, but anytime someone builds artificial intelligence, it inevitably turns against them.
The Avengers must come together quickly to fix Stark’s mistake, while dealing with the introduction of two new mutants, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, who have a deep seated hatred for Stark and his history of weapons manufacturing.
Going into this film, it is impossible to truly measure the cultural and economic weight it was under. The first film grossed over $1.5 billion dollars, which because of other massive tentpole successes, $1 billion dollars is slowly becoming the threshold to pass in order to be called a “huge win” for the studio.
On top of that, The Avengers created the new algorithm for bringing a number of unique comic book hero movies together into one grand franchise. This is already being repeated by other studios (especially Warner Brothers and DC Comics) and it will continue to be the pattern for the foreseeable future. Marvel figured out the key and it unlocked the movie universe for decades to come.
The performances in Age of Ultron were mostly up to my expectations. Robert Downey Jr. continues to bring depth and failings to Iron Man, while Mark Ruffalo rages forward as the best actor to ever play the Hulk (sorry, Bill Bixby.) Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans hold up their end of the bargain as Thor and Captain America, respectively. No one falls behind, even with the cameos of Don Cheadle as War Machine, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, and Anthony Mackie as The Falcon.
Yet, to me the standouts in relation to the returning cast have to go to Scarlett Johansson (as Black Widow) and Jeremy Renner (as Hawkeye.) Johansson continues to peel back the layers of Black Widow’s early childhood trauma and the effects of her brutal training as one of the world’s best assassins. Renner stands alone in this movie as the emotional glue, the magnet that holds together the theme in this chapter, which is family.
Newcomers Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen move far beyond their brief cameo in Captain America: Winter Soldier as the dangerous Russian twins, Quicksilver and Scarlett Witch. Taylor-Johnson gets to play both the smoldering anger of a child who’s seen too much horror and the protective older brother who would do anything to protect surviving member of his family. Olsen also has similar traits, but her power burns much stronger and with it also comes her frailty in how to use and control it. She’s not yet a soldier when the film begins, but the events that unfold force her to make that choice.
James Spader provides the sinister voice and machine madness of Ultron. Once again a massively popular household name, Spader brings much of the same arrogance of his lead character in the hit TV show, The Blacklist, but here it’s as if that character loses his cool. Insanely brilliant, insanely powerful, and just plain insane.
Balancing him out is the final character premier in the film, Vision, played beautifully by Paul Bettany. I was worried because Vision is a hard character to make emotionally compelling since he is almost purely logical and they could have easily fallen into the same trap as The Watchmen and the character of Dr. Manhattan. Yet, Bettany showed once again why he is one of the best in his generation and why Marvel does not skimp on effort or money to get the most talented people for the part. He overlays his logic with love, his power with purpose, and his intensity with intelligence. This is a character I am going to really enjoy watching grow in the coming films.
Another impressively well written, structured and acted film from the Marvel universe, Avengers: Age of Ultron will not disappoint new or old fans or go down in film history as “the weak part of the franchise.”[amazon template=iframe image&asin=078515566X]