MOVIE REVIEW: Avengers: Age of Ultron | FanboysInc

MOVIE REVIEW: Avengers: Age of Ultron

By Jason Pickup

MOVIE REVIEW: Avengers: Age of Ultron

Hello Fanboys and Fangirls, it’s Jason, just back from a Friday morning showing of Avengers 2: Age of Ultron. I realize I’m probably a day or so behind the eight ball but I’ve got kids and no fancy press credentials so this was my first real crack at a proper viewing. If you’re a regular reader of mine, you’ll know how these reviews go. But if you’re new, first, welcome. Second, I tend to talk about themes and tones rather than the book report style, play by play review. As usual, and this time I will paraphrase Melisandrethis post is dark and full of spoilers.

MOVIE REVIEW: Avengers: Age of Ultron

There are no strings on this review

How to best sum up Age of Ultron: if you walk in expecting the first Avengers movie, you’re going to have a rough time. This is very much a departure from the first film in that the bulk of the attention seems to be paid to the characters who really didn’t get the spotlight the first time around. Age of Ultron is more Hawkeye and Black Widow’s movie than Thor or Iron Man’s. I know that may turn off some people who might have the same gut reaction to Hawkeye that DC fans have to Aquaman, but it works. We’ve had a good 20 hours to get to know Tony, Steve, and Thor; we pretty much know their nuances backwards and forwards. At this point shifting the focus of character development to other players is the smart play. In a world of gods and monsters it focuses on the human element in a way that Iron Man 3 tried to, the difference here is Age of Ultron succeeds.

The big development on Hawkeye’s front comes when he takes the team to his safe house, which is his actual house, complete with wife and two and a half kids. It’s the type of development that you look at and honestly think in your head, “oh they’re going to kill Hawkeye”. They never try to raise Hawkeye up to the level of the other heroes, in fact they play remarkably well on his vulnerability during the whole movie. He even jokes while under fire that he’s just a guy with a bow and arrow but his job is to get into ridiculous situations where he has to fight aliens or robots, he knows he’s out of his league but it never stops him. It’s nice to see that level of development because you or I could all wish to be Thor or Iron Man, but, we could actually be Hawkeye. I think it’s a great lesson for the kids who will see this movie, that just because you’re scared or in over your head, it’s not an excuse to throw in the towel.

Black Widow gets fleshed out a bit more as well. There’s a never coming to fruition romance angle with Bruce, which makes sense in the context of the movies. These are two people who are surrounded by killing that at this point in their lives would rather be doing anything but. After that I try not to think of the physics of what would happen if he Hulked out mid-coitus.  There’s finally a quasi explanation as to how Black Widow became the bad-ass she is today, for those who didn’t watch Agent Carter and saw the Red Room in action. Natasha alsop drops the revelation to Bruce that the graduation process from the Red Room involved her sterilization, so much like him, the option for a normal life isn’t exactly on the table. Johansson was, in my opinion, a weak link of the first Avengers movie but between Winter Solider and Age of Ultron she’s grown nicely and I no longer have the same reservations.

The three new additions get a varied treatment. Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch get a fairly solid treatment and the little minute-long explanation surrounding their orphaning is both credible and down to earth enough to explain why they’ve decided to take up with the bad guys. It’s enough of a variation of the usual hero creating the villain trope that it doesn’t feel worn out. I’m also as of now neutral on the Joss Whedon Quicksilver vs Bryan Singer Quicksilver. Whedon’s is better realized as a character but man, that slow motion scene from DoFP is so pretty, so I’m calling it a draw. Vision sadly doesn’t get a lot of screen time or depth but I appreciate the fact that they both hired Paul Bettany, the actor who voiced Jarvis for the role and that they cast an actual actor for a role that very well could have been entirely motion captured.

That does not say that the big three don’t get a fair amount of screen time. Tony after all is the reason we have a sequel, or should I say Tony’s hubris is the reason we have a sequel. Tony, in the spirit of Jurassic Park, is so preoccupied with creating artificial intelligence that he doesn’t stop to think if he should. He ropes his science bro Bruce into helping build Ultron. Ultron is designed to be a global peace keeping force so that the Avengers can go off and lead normal lives. Well, Ultron breaks out because because the AI it decides to manifest is 100% Stark ego and long story short, it decides the best way to protect society is to remove them from the planet in an extinction level event. Hilarity ensues. Wait did I say hilarity? I meant the destruction of a couple square miles of a city.

MOVIE REVIEW: Avengers: Age of Ultron

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I won’t go into talking about the whole cast, as we already know about most of them, so let’s just talk about the heavy hitter; James Spader as Ultron is great casting. If you want someone to manifest what is basically a more amoral Tony Stark, congrats, you just hit it out of the park. Now, I understand what you’re saying, it’s just a voice. But there is a certain emotive quality that Spader brings to that voice that really hooks you in, something akin to Hugo Weaving’s work in V for Vendetta. For as far back as I can remember James Spader has excelled at playing somewhere between a cocky, self obsessed jerk, and vengeful monster and it’s always his tone that gets you to notice him. Sure there’s the affable Jeff Goldblum-esque performance in Stargate, but roles where he was a coke dealer in Less than Zero or Dutra from The New Kids and probably the first time I remember seeing him as the ultra-prick Steff in Pretty in Pink are more likely to linger in your recollection of his work. Spader is having fun with the character and you can tell, there are moments of child-like glee that come across and when he wants to menace there’s a gravitas in that voice that makes you believe every metallic word he says. Also, if you’re a music fan you can’t help but notice in his first monologue as he becomes self aware that there is an almost Tom Waits quality to his voice and I mean that as the highest quality praise possible; if you want raspy with that underlining current of menace, Tom Waits is your go-to voice.

Ultron is also a different type of villain than we’re used to. There’s a patience there that you don’t see from someone like Loki. Loki wants everything yesterday and actively pursues his objectives. Ultron seems patient, after all he’s not going anywhere and when it comes to physical confrontations he’s relatively uncaring about taking a beating, because he’ll just download himself into another shell. He’s the Dorritos of supervillains: crunch all you want, he’ll just make more. With that however, you don’t really feel the urgency of stopping him or even of his plans until the last act when we get to your traditional Marvel-film, “Oh god! Oh god! We’re all going to die” event. I don’t want to go so far as to call him lackluster, after all Loki’s boots are pretty tough to fill, so I will simply say Ultron is a shift from tradition much like the choice of focal characters.

Age of Ultron continues the nice tradition of the first Avengers, in that you never feel like anyone on the team isn’t useful. And, given the severity of the power curve between the low end characters like Hawkeye and Black Widow, juxtaposed with Thor and Hulk on the high end, that’s a tough balance to strike. The writers get resourceful to keep everyone viable and if you don’t think of certain things like the fact that Quicksilver hitting metal Ultron copies at high speeds would probably do a fair amount of damage to himself, it’s fun to watch everyone smash things in their own particular style. The fight scenes are all well done and there are some interesting camera choices during some of them. There is a scene during the opening assault on Baron Strucker’s base that’s kind of over Iron Man’s shoulder as he’s flying down a corridor, zapping Hydra agents that looks and feels like a video game. Later in the film during what I consider to be the best fight of the movie – the Hulk vs the Hulkbuster – there is a shot of Hulk that I can only describe as “looks like it’s filmed by a Hulk-facing GoPro camera”. The slow-mo is used sparingly and other than the shot of all of them slow motion leaping in the forest that we’ve seen in every preview thus far, it doesn’t feel gratuitous. You’ll also have plenty of moments that leave you giggling like an idiot, like some of the combination moves the Avengers have learned, or when you see Vision use his signature solar jewel move.

That being said, Age of Ultron brings over some parts of the first movie that I think we could have done without. At first I was a bit hesitant to Loki’s scepter used again, but I also understand what they are building towards by including it in the plot. However, did we really need two movies in a row where one of the bad guy’s main tools is the ability to turn the heroes against each other? As awesome as the Hulk vs Hulkbuster scene is, and trust me it’s flippin awesome, it just felt like a louder, more property damage-y Black Widow vs Hawkeye. Also they give Hulk not one but two “Loki moments” with Ultron, (spread the wealth Marvel) instead of Hulk booting him off the island why couldn’t he have taken Mjolnir to the face? The big fight at the end also feels almost exactly like The Battle of New York down to Iron Man’s brilliant plan to save the world. I get the need to strike the balance between minimizing property/civilian damage and maximizing butt kicking, but for once I would like to see a fight take place on the supervillain’s evil island and we can just focus on maximum butt kicking.

I was however pleasantly surprised by a couple of plot swerves, one of which I thought was ruined in one of the earliest trailers. When the Avengers are all taking turns trying to lift Mjolnir you see Cap move it ever so slightly as Thor makes the sudden ‘oh crap’ face then laughs it off when it stops moving. That to me said “OK, we’re going to get a point in the movie where Ultron has everyone down and Cap, in a last ditch effort to stop Ultron, reaches for Mjolnir and takes Ultron’s head clean off.” I think its called foreshadowing? But anyways, I was very happy to see that didn’t come to pass or at least hasn’t come to pass yet. Will I put it past them to build off that down the line? They might, but given Vision was deemed worthy instead, it might cheapen Thor to have three people, two of whom are not Thor, who can swing the hammer. Also, and I’m having a hard time typing this, I’m glad they didn’t kill Hawkeye. This is Joss Whedon we’re talking about people. “Let’s give a character some well needed depth and then murder the heck out of him” is pretty much his standard operating procedure. Instead Whedon took a ballsier approach as far as I’m concerned in killing Quicksilver in his first movie. If this movie was a sort of changing of the guard, it seemed odd to snuff out one of the new class right off the bat. But then again it’s Whedon.

If Avengers is aiming to be a trilogy – and it is but because of the third installment’s format, it’s also technically going to be a quadrilogy – this could qualify as Marvel’s The Empire Strikes Back. It’s not as dark, but it certainly doesn’t end anywhere remotely on the level of positivity that the first film did. Quicksilver is dead, Hulk is MIA which leaves Natasha heartbroken, and Tony and Clint appear to both be retiring. It’s a far cry from sharing shawarma together. I have to admit, I’m OK with that. They can’t all be flying off into the sunset to cheerful music. You need the barely survived ending to make the aforementioned sunset walk all that much sweeter. Though, given the plans for Phase 3, I think its going to be a good long while before we see that sunset.

Now I would be remiss if I didn’t end this by discussing how all of this will lead to further films. We all know the new big one is Captain America: Civil War, which will revolve around the government demanding powered beings register themselves so that they can be monitored. In the comics this comes in the wake of a super villain literally going nuclear in a school and blowing it up, killing everyone inside. Obviously in today’s climate that wouldn’t play on the big screen but the government cracking down after a certain large green guy ruins a city certainly makes a fine stand in, especially if his whereabouts are unaccounted for. I’d like to say the rift between Captain America and Iron Man, who will be rivals in the next film widened but to be fair, the love/hate relationship in this film is about on par with all their other interactions so there really isn’t an escalation pushing towards the next Cap film. Also if you stay 45 seconds into the credits you’re treated to my favorite purple meglomaniac, Thanos, who seems to have acquired the Infinity Gauntlet sans Infinity Gems. But there’s more to it than that. The Infinity Gauntlet is safely locked away in Odin’s Vault, and is designed for a right hand. Thanos puts the glove on his left hand. This is an interesting departure from the comics and unfortunately means that my theory that everything Loki had done up until this point was to get the Infinity Gauntlet onto Thanos’ hand was wrong. I do so hate being wrong.

FBI SCORE: 8 out of 10
Avengers: Age of Ultron isn’t perfect and it goes to the well a bit more than I’m comfortable with for a new franchise, but if you’re willing to overlook some minor imperfections, it pays off in spades. All of the trademark jokes, snappy one liners, and “I’m gonna need to rewind that twenty times when the DVD comes out” moments are still there. For a movie about killer robots and androids Avengers: Age of Ultron is a surprisingly human and a totally enjoyable two and a half hours.

Jason Pickup

Jason just pawn in game of life.

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