Avengers: Age of Ultron - Spoiler-free Review
May 04, 2015
| Rica Wiersema
It’s no secret that the Marvel franchise has become one of the millennium’s ultimate powerhouses in the movie industry. It all started in 2008 with the unexpected blockbuster, Iron Man, which was then followed by The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger and several sequels. In 2012, Marvel combined multiple superheroes on the same screen when they released The Avengers to rave reviews. Now, the throngs are back to see Avengers: Age of Ultron in the hopes that it will be just as marvelous (pun intended) of an experience. And, according to Box Office Mojo, we showed up. Avengers: Age of Ultron dominated the box office in its opening weekend with $187.7 million, the second-biggest debut ever, second only to Marvel’s The Avengers ($207.4 million).
I was uncharacteristically giddy myself when I pranced off to the theatre this time, because I knew that I would still have fun even if the film itself wasn’t up to the standards of its fans. Marvel has set a new bar for quality in the action-adventure genre, and so, a bad Marvel movie is still usually a decent and enjoyable movie, in general. And on top of that, director Joss Whedon (who also stood at the helm of the first Avengers film) has become a household name in “geek” culture for his witty dialogue, deep human characters, and gut-wrenching plot twists.
Age of Ultron begins with an immediate bang, throwing viewers headlong into a battle where the Avengers have already assembled and are working as a team to retrieve Loki’s lost scepter. I’ll admit that the sudden start surprised me. After all, the first Avengers film was almost over before the heroes finally managed to get along. But then, I realized that I was at fault for going into Ultron and expecting it to feel like its predecessor. The Avengers had delighted audiences (myself included) because it let us savor conflicts and first encounters between our beloved heroes. Age of Ultron takes a team that’s already united and begins to mold and break it.
In the first film, the Avengers had an army of agents and resources at their disposal. In Ultron, they are stripped of nearly everything and forced to rebuild themselves and go to war without the rest of the world’s help. The stakes have been raised because now the Avengers aren’t facing an external threat – they’re facing a danger that comes upon them from the inside. In their study of Loki’s mind-controlling weapon, Tony Stark discovers an incredible power that has lain dormant inside the scepter and he attempts to tap into it. This, of course, unleashes an unforeseen danger upon the planet that only the Avengers can stop.
I’ll admit in all honesty, as sci-fi storylines go, it was somewhat par for the course. There were mad scientists tampering with nature, destructive doomsday inventions, artificial-intelligence programs becoming self-aware, clear distinctions made between “good guys” and “bad guys," and a maniacal plot involving an army of robots threatening to destroy the world.
But this movie’s grand-scale battles and wanton destruction aren’t the reason why some (I might boldly ascertain, most) fans buy their tickets. Theatres are filled because Marvel Studios knows that growing characters and good laughs are even more important than explosions. And sure enough, Avengers: Age of Ultron is a vibrant mix of guffaws, intrigue, and action right from the moment the titles roll. We get to watch our favorite heroes team up not just on the battlefield, but also on road trips and wild parties. Their diverse personalities and secret pasts create an ever-changing mix of conflict and chemistry that keeps a smile on every viewer’s face.
There was really only one thing that got under my skin – and that was director Joss Whedon’s occasional use of religious quotes and symbolism in the villain’s dialogue. Ultron, a computer program that has gained sentience, is a self-proclaimed harbinger of judgment and quotes the Bible about building his own “church.” He plans to wipe out the human race like the flood in the days of Noah, and gloats, “whenever the earth starts to settle, God throws a stone at it.” And not only that, but upon gaining new-found powers and life, a superhero looks around and announces, “I am.” Twisting religion isn’t always an out-of-the-ordinary theme for a science-fiction adventure (especially one hinging around artificial intelligence), but Marvel usually chooses not to address individual beliefs: Whedon, on the other hand, doesn’t mind meddling with them occasionally.
Still, it was the only minor taint on an otherwise delightful film. Some of his more exciting contributions were long continuous shots that circled through the battles, often so long that I was afraid to blink for fear of missing something. But there were still things that I missed, because I was laughing so hard. And, I was not alone. Whether my fellow movie-goers and I were giggling, cheering, or even booing on occasion, there were plenty of incredible stunts and plot twists that went by almost too fast to comprehend in a single viewing experience.
So much is packed into Ultron that seeing it once simply isn’t enough. Each character has his or her own personal journey to embark upon, which makes the adventure all the richer… and more and more characters are emerging in the Marvel cinematic universe for us to enjoy. By the end of the film, there is the bittersweet notion that the Avengers team is not only growing, but also fluid and changing. There may not always be the same six leading characters for us to rely on as the studio keeps churning out more Avengers films, but their loss will not ache as badly because there are new super-humans to learn about, each with their own past and their own heartaches that will drive the story forward.
In fact, Age of Ultron seems more of a means to more Marvel films than an end in and of itself. A perfect example of this was in the movie’s sudden addition of a new superhero who appeared with little-to-no backstory or warning. Even fans who watch ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for clues about future films may be somewhat blindsided by the abrupt cameo. While Ultron is no less enjoyable for it, the sudden origin of a new hero feels almost cheap because of how quickly it occurs, in comparison to Marvel’s usual “slow-cooker” method for creating most of its characters.
Still, that’s not going to stop me from going back to watch Avengers: Age of Ultron again and again. Marvel has done their job well, and there’s nothing I like better than a good old Friday-night blockbuster with all the trimmings… and a magic hammer or two.