Apr 27, 2015

[Movies] Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Our continued adventures in the Marvel Cinematic Universe feel something like that first journey to Middle-earth when The Lord of the Rings movies were coming out year after year. And while the Marvel movies don't have quite as regular a schedule for releases, they have been steadily coming out and weaving a larger and larger tapestry of a narrative.

Avengers: Age of Ultron represents the penultimate chapter of what is known as Phase Two in the MCU timeline, with the upcoming Ant-Man movie acting as the final part of this part of the release schedule. But given how the first Avengers movie had marked the end of Phase One, it's only natural to sort of focus on this movie as the wrap-up piece and chance to look at things as a whole.

If anything, this movie was a lot of fun, but has received rather mixed reviews from different folks. The negative reactions may have been more of a result of really high expectations or something along those lines, but I feel rather strongly about how much fun this movie was and ultimately how I enjoyed it. This may be because of my excitement for Marvel's longer term plans leading up to their Infinity War movies, thus it becomes more of a fan-related feeling of satisfaction.

Synopsis: Avengers: Age of Ultron is the sequel to the 2012 Avengers movie and was again directed by Joss Whedon. The screenplay was written by Joss Whedon as well.

The movie begins with the Avengers assaulting the fortress of Baron von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann), a senior HYDRA operative who has been conducting various experiments on creative "Enhanced" individuals using the Scepter of Loki. Eventually the Avengers manage to succeed, but not before encountering Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) Maximoff, two individuals enhanced with abilities of superhuman speed and mental manipulation & telekinesis respectively. Wanda's powers focus on unearthing the fears of her targets and she manages to give Tony Stark / Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) a grim vision of the future that involves all of the Avengers dead with Stark somehow to blame.

With the Scepter of Loki recovered, Tony invests some time studying the gem that gives the scepter its power before it is due to be brought back to Asgard. But he discovers a program of sorts coded into the gem that appears to be a more sophisticated version of his own JARVIS (Paul Bettany) AI. He figures that the AI is sufficiently comprehensive to complete his long-envisioned Ultron program to better safeguard humanity with intelligent robotic warriors. Thus he enlists the help of Bruce Banner / The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) to decipher the code and find a way to import it into his Ultron robots. Eventually Ultron (James Spader) comes online without Stark and Banner knowing and he sets off on a plan to ensure true peace on Earth by destroying all of humanity.

First off, it was really nice to see the gang all back together, and Whedon made sure to give the team some great beauty shots in the middle of all the fighting. As campy as such moments were, it was still nice to see them in iconic poses and even seeming to recreate comic book panels through the wonders of slow motion and all that jazz. Wild, crazy fight sequences are fun in their own right, but Whedon has a good appreciation for the fact that fans also want to actually see what's going on and have moments of awesome to talk about over and over again after watching the movie. And he continued evolution of their fighting styles as a team made for a lot of fun given they really worked well together.

The overall plot this time around seemed simple enough - Ultron had misinterpreted his orders to bring about world peace as an excuse to destroy all of humanity, starting with the Avengers themselves. And somehow his nature as being born of the scepter also resulted in him having a better understanding of what it was for and the secrets it contained. The team ends up running after Ultron all over the world, but not before the team gets the wind knocked out of their sails thanks to the fears dredged up by Wanda Maximoff.

At first I had my hesitations about their interpretation of Ultron, who came across as being quite human and even humorous in a rather sinister way. But Tobie pointed out that it made sense since Ultron here was a product of Tony Stark's efforts, and thus he seemed to actively mimic some aspects of Stark's personality including his wit, humor and penchant for sarcasm. And from a movie perspective, the maniacal mad robot story has been done over and over again, and so here we had a version of Ultron that was a lot more intelligent and dare I say human, making him a more relatable villain of sorts when it comes to the audience. After all, a greater majority of movie-goers don't actually read the comics related to these movies.

And while it was a little annoying to have practically everyone in the team fall prey to Wanda's fear-inducing powers, it did give the team some time to really think about where they stand and how they work as a team. After all, the first movie had them coming together during a moment of crisis. Since then, we've seen many of them go through some difficult periods of change in the one-off movies. So this was pretty important time to just be together, work through a few lingering issues just before finding a path forward.

There have been some complaints that this feels too much like a setup movie, or something along those lines. But I don't really it that way. At the very least, all of the Marvel movies have some functional requirements to setup the next one, but this does not solely define the nature and tone of the movie as a whole. It had a solid story of its own before moving on to bigger things in the future and the next chapter in the story of the Avengers.

We have to take a moment to appreciate the tonal differences between this movie and related DC efforts. As much as the Marvel movies do have a somewhat more serious tone than the comics, they still know how to celebrate the fact that they are based on outlandish comic book characters. This movie really seemed to make a statement about what heroes ought to be like given the fact that the team consistently made efforts to clear out civilians from the fighting or at least find a way to take the combat away from areas where more bystanders might get hurt. Given the recent criticism of DC movies when it comes to property damage, to really stress the need to be, well, heroes was a striking one. Take that, Zack Snyder.

On the whole, Avengers: Age of Ultron was a great movie that really celebrated what comics are about and more importantly what Avengers comics are about. We had a good celebration of what it means to work together as a team and how the best of intentions don't always lead to positive results. The movie rates a great 4 versions of Ultron's body out of a possible 5.

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