Remember that shot in the action finale of The Avengers? The one where it’s made to look like one contiuous take, flowing between the heroes as they fight off Loki’s army? Well, the very first action shot of Age of Ultron, two minutes into the film, is a shot like that, only more dynamic and crazier. So yeah, there’s some one-upsmanship going on here. Age of Ultron is definitely bigger and more badass, but is it better?
Avengers: Age of Ultron is a globetrotting, blockbuster action adventure that’s not afraid to have fun. Long story short, Tony Stark desperatly wants a deterent to protect to world and brashly uses alien tech to suppliment his defense program, Ultron. The program has other ideas and sets about to destroy the Avengers and humanity, the biggest threat to the world in his eyes. From there the Avengers have to try and stop him before its too late, all the while fostering some deep distrust for Stark who has brought this damnation upon them.
The Avengers was smaller, more contained and tighter, while this is bigger, bolder and perhaps a bit more loose. Joss Whedon juggles a whole lot here, more than on his first go-around, and while he doesn’t drop any of those balls, it’s clearly a difficult task. Some of the seams definitely show, as Thor’s second act storyline seems to have been cut down significantly and some elements of the Twins’ plot are kind of just dropped instead of resolved and while not entirely convincing, the Natasha-Banner romance still gives us a handful of great moments. As a trade-off though, pretty much everything Thor does or says is solid gold, Hemsworth once again being impossibly charming. One could read the film as one big appology from Whedon to Jeremy Renner over how Hawkeye was treated in the first film, that is to say entierly unlike Renner thought when he signed on. Here though, Hawkeye completely gets his due, in largely wholly unexpected ways. So there’s heart to this action romp.
James Spader’s Ultron is a supremely fun villain, a Frankenstein melding of Tony Stark and a humanity hating, psycho toddler. He’s actually really funny, spouting some of the films best lines and while his A.I. form does challenge the notion of presence (he’s all of those robots, not just one) his actual physical presence feels weighty and impactful. Ultron isn’t simply a calculating machine, he doesn’t arrive at his extinction-level conclussion in the same manner as, say, Skynet. Instead he sort of logics it out in his own crazy way from the perimeters given by Stark, his father of sorts. Oh, Stark, you cavalier, charming asshole. He has good intentions but doesn’t always, if ever, think before he acts. Once again, Downey’s interplay with everyone is delightful, Ruffalo’s Banner in particular, the two of them get a handful of opporunities to be science bros, which is fan service of utmost quality.
Without spoiling too much, The Vision is absolutely awesome, he has two of the films best moments, the first of which left the entire audience gasping in disbelief. It’s a small and very underplayed bit, but it feels absolutely huge and crazy in the most delightful way. And that’s not knocking the other new additions, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver (who has great back-and-forth with Hawkeye), who both have great stuff that sets them apart. He’s fast, and not just a retread of the Days of Future Past version, and she’s weird, her introduction has a very horror vibe to it and she’s immensely powerful, bringing the Avengers to their knees with her abilites. So, all around great additions, that Whedon does well to endear to the audience.
One thing it gets so right is the Avengers looking out for civilians, trying to keep the people safe. Heck, the final battle revolves more about getting the happless bystanders to safety than betting the shit out of Ultron. It almost feels like a, well deserved, jab at Man of Steel. It’s good that they look out for the people because holy hell is there a lot of destruction in this film, because the action set pieces are plentiful, evenly split between ones taking place in population clusters and more remote locations. Once again though, we’ve been a bit spoiled by The Winter Soldier, Whedon simply isn’t as strong of an action director as the Russos, and while the action is better and more dynamic than in the first film, it does sometimes come perioulesly close to being incoherent. Then again, it does kind of make up for it with some downright ridicioulsly awesome hero shots. There’s also a berth of new ideas, which play into the notion that the Avengers have been working together longer, some very comic booky team-up moves.
The film is shot in 2.35:1, versus The Avengers’ more TV-like aspect ratio, which makes every thing look and feel grander. Design-wise, the game is upped as well. The Avengers tower, both interior and exterior look great, the new Iron Man suit is awesome, Vision is just amazing, Hawkeye’s new duds are really cool and Ultron looks fantastic.
The Avengers will always have the benefit of coming first, that freshness of novelty, and while Age of Ultron does certainly surpass it in several ways, it doesn’t feel like quite as momentus an occasion. So no, it’s not better, but it’s goddamn great. There’s some energy that you just can’t help but be swept up in when you get all these characters together in a room. This set of actors, with the lines that are written for them, are so charimatic, charming and so fun to watch and be around that most rough edges are simply sanded-off. Age of Ultron is confident, brash and unashamed of what it is: A comic-book movie. Several of the compositions feel like they belong on the page and it’s unfraid to get a little silly along with the seriousness, but it still treats the source material with a great deal of respect (looking at you again, Man of Steel). There’s a sense of handing things over to new people in this film, both within the film as well as outside it. The MCU is in a place right now where it makes sense to bring in new heroes, but Earth’s Mightiest are still around to make damn sure they’ll Avenge. To the future. Thanks, Joss.
The Hope: That the MCU will be fine without Joss, and I believe that it will.
The Fear: Brian Tyler’s score feels rather anonymous next to his Dark World and Iron Man 3 work; 3D still doesn’t add anything and often detracts, dulling the colors and darkening the image.
The Vision: Born yesterday.