A film review by Craig J. Koban May 5, 2015


2015, PG-13, 141 mins.


Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark / Iron Man  /  Chris Evans as Steve Rogers / Captain America  /  Chris Hemsworth as Thor  /  Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner / The Hulk  /  Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow  /  Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton / Hawkeye  /  James Spader as Ultron (voice)  /  Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch  /  Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Pietro Maximoff / Quicksilver  /  Paul Bettany as J.A.R.V.I.S. (voice) / The Vision  /  Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury  /  Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill  /  Don Cheadle as Colonel James "Rhodey" Rhodes / War Machine  /  Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson / Falcon  /  Stellan Skarsgård as Erik Selvig  /  Thomas Kretschmann as Baron Wolfgang von Strucker  /  Andy Serkis as Ulysses Klaue  /  Linda Cardellini as Laura Barton


Written and directed by Joss Whedon


There’s a wonderfully droll party scene part way through AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON that takes place at the lavish penthouse home of Tony Stark’s Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.).  

Now, it’s pretty common knowledge that only a being “mighty” and “worthy” enough can pick up and wield Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) hammer "Mjolnir"…but the rest of his pals still don’t buy it.  Thor humorously begs them to take the challenge, so in various states of intoxication, all of the male Avenger members attempt to hoist his hammer off of a coffee table.  Most of them fail miserably.  When Steve “Captain America” Rogers (Chris Evans) gives it a go, though, the hammer momentarily wiggles, leaving Thor befuddled.  When the WWII-era soldier realizes the futility of this endeavor, he gives up.  Thor then cracks a big “told ya so” smile. 

It’s sly moments like these that separate Joss Whedon’s AVENGERS films far apart from so many other super hero genre efforts, team-up or solo.  Unlike recent examples – heavy on bombastic action and eye-gasmic spectacle (which, to be fair, the AVENGERS films have in abundance) –  Whedon’s efforts revel in sharp character dynamics and devilishly humorous and self-aware dialogue exchanges.  All of the characters that populate the Avengers – mortal and not-so-mortal – have distinct personalities, which goes a long way in making them all so endearingly relatable, despite their otherworldly abilities.  Yet, one of the major problems that befalls AVENGERS; AGE OF ULTRON is that – more so than what was apparent in the 2012 entry – it feels more like a dutiful product and obligation on the makers’ part than it does feel like a worthy continuation of its predecessor.  That is not to say that Whedon doesn’t deliver on the requisite larger-than-life comic book inspired thrills, but AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON is overly padded with too many characters and too many redundant subplots all vying for attention for its own good. 

More of everything, in this sequel’s case, is not necessarily an improvement. 

Of course, this sequel takes place shortly after the events of the first AVENGERS film, during which time Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) saved humanity from a massive alien invasion, leaving most of New York left in ruins (the sequel never once deals with any logical possibility and/or consequences of public backlash by citizens of The Big Apple resenting the heroes for nearly destroying the entire city in the process of defending it...but never mind).  AGE OF ULTRON opens with a fairly sensationally staged sequence (with a bit too much swirling camera moves and obvious CGI tinkering) involving the team utilizing all of their unique gifts while storming through a snowy Eastern European forest to lay waste to what’s left of a Hydra sleeper cell.  Fans that ravenously lust to see the Avengers beat down on enemy soldiers with relative ease while exchanging quips will certainly get their money’s worth here. 



The lair that the team was infiltrating was defended by Hydra leader Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann), who discovered two particularly gifted super beings in twin brother and sister Quicksilver (Aaron-Taylor Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) that both wish to make Stark pay for how his past war profiteering ruined their lives.  After the Avengers claim victory in their assault of Strucker’s compound – and appear to have a relative moment of peace and well-earned R and R – a new maniacal villain emerges in the form of a giant, artificially intelligent robot named Ultron, which was the unintentionally byproduct of Stark’s and Banner’s own research into creating sentient beings that could police the world and allow for the Avengers to retire.  Ultron (voiced with sinister aplomb by James Spader) is predictably resentful of everything his “maker” and humanity represents, so he thusly recruits Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver and embarks on a mission of eradicating the Avengers altogether, not to mention destroying mankind as a whole in the process. 

Ultron is, quite frankly, a strange and problematic creation here.  He’s a nine-foot-tall metalized being that, like most machines made self-aware in movies, becomes a homicidal maniac.  He also often speaks with the sarcastic jest of a petulant fratboy when he's not matter-of-factly pointing out the foibles of the heroes.  His hatred of Tony Stark seems palpable (the number of people developing a deep hatred of the narcissistic billionaire tech genius seems to grow exponentially with each new film), but facets of his plan don’t seem to make logical sense.  Part of his master scheme that is sound involves using Scarlet Witch’s mind-manipulation powers to pollute each Avengers’ psyches and expose their deepest hidden anxieties, which leads to some fantastic dream sequences involving each member subconsciously confronting what they secretly fear the most.  This also leads to an absolutely astounding moment featuring a mind-altered Hulk being let loose in a heavily populated city, leaving the sound-minded Stark having to suit-up in a ultra-beefed up version of his Iron Man garb to defend the citizens and try to calm down his green-skinned ally. 

Part of Ultron’s plan that is pure nonsensical silliness involves him – as far as I can gather – breaking off a large chunk of a city using a vibrainium infused machine to lift it up into the atmosphere and then dropping it to the ground, thereby causing a global extinction event.  Now, why a being as omnipresent as Ultron – having access to seemingly everything via the Internet – would not just launch every nuclear warhead on the planet instantly upon being born is something that Whedon’s script never really rationalizes.  Ultron's preposterous plan, of course, is supposed to build to a rousing and climatic third act featuring all the Avengers in tow laying yet another city to waste while battling Ultron’s robotic minions in attempts to turn off his doomsday machine.  If this finale reeks of overt familiarity to the first film (robots replacing aliens) then you’re not alone. A sense of overwhelming deja vu permeates the final 30 minutes of AGE OF ULTRON, much to its detriment.

That, and Ultron never really feels like much of a tangible threat to the Avengers the same way that, for instance, Tom Hiddleston’s deliciously mischievous Loki was in the first film.  There’s rarely a moment to be had in AGE OF ULTRON – sans the series of sequences involving the team members being brain washed – when there is any semblance of tension.  Ultron is a fierce and beyond fanatical being with aspirations of world domination, but even when he unleashes the full power of his mechanical army…are any viewers truly concerned for the welfare of any of these heroes?  And, yes, Whedon is definitely a masterful cinematic craftsman at delivering action sequences that will assuredly appease comic book fundamentalists, but most on display in AGE OF ULTRON tend to come off as more numbing and exhausting than jubilantly exciting.  AGE OF ULTRON uses unparalleled cutting edge visual effects to make these heroes and their exploits feel like they're literally ripped right off of the pages of Marvel Comics, but it makes the mistake of thinking that louder and noisier is better. 

Whedon somewhat makes up for his film’s self-indulgent excesses in the avenue of character dynamics.  There are a handful of strong beats to be had here, such as a much-needed exploration of Renner’s Hawkeye character, now being given a weighty back-story and an exploration into his home life that’s rather welcoming.  There’s also a nicely modulated subplot involving the unlikely romance between Black Widow and Bruce Banner that works on its infectiously flirtatious levels (at the very least, when the two talk about a possibility of a union the big green gamma-ray riddled elephant in the room is usually brought up as a sticking point).  There’s also some strong rhythmic interplay between Rogers and Stark in some of the film’s quieter – and more compelling – scenes where the two lock heads as to the correct ideological path to take in their future heroic exploits (the groundwork for increased tensions between the pair is clearly a preamble for the upcoming CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR). 

Then again, so much of what appears in AGE OF ULTRON feels like obligatory fan servicing; it's like an unwieldy engine ostensibly designed to appease viewers, so much so that it gets a bit lost along the way.  The overall story here feels like a series of placeholder events for future standalone Marvel Cinematic Universe films, which is partially the intention here, I guess.  Yet, there are so many characters, so many storylines, and so much narrative ground to trudge through in AGE OF ULTRON that it never really germinates with substantial and newfound interest.  Additional characters like Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are woefully under-utilized and, quite frankly, feel like superfluous entities here.  Even the inclusion of Paul Bettany’s Vision – a cool looking robotic hero that was the created by Stark transfusing the mind of his AI  J.A.R.V.I.S. into a synthetic body – is more like an afterthought than a truly worthy and substantial character here. 

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON is an absolute triumph on a pure technical level.  There's no doubt of that.  The cast that’s – ahem! – assembled (or re-assembled) is as game, spry, and instantly agreeable as they’ve ever been before (even contemplating an inevitable re-casting of the roles when these actors' contracts are up seems positively horrifying at this point).  Whedon’s esoteric brand of wisecracking humor and witty banter is on prominent display as well.  There’s so much to bloody admire in this sequel, but deep down it’s too mournfully overstuffed in its efforts to be a connective tissue, of sorts, to the events in future Marvel films.  Maybe that's why I preferred many of the standalone Marvel films, because they were unavoidably more insular, intimate, and focused.  That, and how many more times are we going to have to witness a climax involving the Avengers wage war on city streets, causing billions of dollars in property damage, against thousands of faceless alien/robotic enemies?   

There has to be something more creatively “mighty” for them to do, right?

  H O M E