Avengers: Age of Ultron is the ultimate family/action movie. On the surface, it means that you can bring your kids of all ages to see it, because anytime someone swears, Captain America will be there to serve a warning. It’s actually a great in-movie joke and just one of many peppered throughout the 2 hours and 21 minutes film.
Issue 1: Roll Call
Go in deeper and you will be reminded that this is the 11th movie in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, and the fifth film in the Marvel’s Second Phase, so the different heroes are quite familiar with one another. While their first meeting in Avengers (2012) was the classic superhero set-up, Age of Ultron assumes that the team has been working together for a while, and establishes the Avengers as a superhero family.
And like families, the members work together, play together and help one another. And when the time comes, they can also disagree with one another, and even fight each other. Sometimes, they might even betray the trust of another, because they believe it to be the right thing to do. That’s the family that forms the backbone of Age of Ultron, and Joss Whedon’s swan song (for now) to the MCU is stronger because of it.
Following the events of Iron Man 3 (IM3) and Captain America: Winter Soldier, the Avengers are called together to take down Hydra’s last known base (seen in the end credits of Winter Soldier). Despite initiating the Clean Slate Protocols in IM3, when Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) destroyed all his armours, he is still leading the charge here in a brand new suit, supported by a fleet of remote armours controlled by his AI computer system, J.A.R.V.I.S..
Issue 2: Avengers Assemble
Naturally, the good guys win but not before executing an excellent display of teamwork that establishes why they are the world’s finest team, and a family of heroes who look out for one another. The most obvious set-up is the burgeoning romance between Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), the latter who is now able to calm the Hulk down, to initiate the beast’s transformation back to human form.
But before the team can pat themselves on the back for a job well down in reclaiming the Chitauri Scepter, some have their minds invaded by Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), who together with her twin brother, Quicksilver/Pietro Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), were successful results of experimentation by the scepter.
This leads to some dubious decision making by Tony and Bruce, who agree to create a fully functional AI with the scepter, to protect Earth together with Stark’s robot army. A part of them realises that what they are doing won’t be accepted by the other members of the team, so they don’t say a thing. And that forms the seed that will no doubt flourish in the upcoming Captain America: Civil War movie, which has been touted as a face-off between Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Tony, but looks to involve far greater supporters for each camp.
Ultron ultimately comes to life, birthed from the brain of an altruistic mind, but evolving into a mad, powerful being who believes that the only way to save humanity, is to destroy it. Played, or rather, voiced with delicious aplomb by James Spader, Ultron is the evil creation that turned on his creator, and serves as the equivalent of the Borg to the Enterprise, the Daleks to the Time Lord and Skynet to the Connors.
His machinations, together with help from the wonder twins, easily tear down the Avengers and their first salvo sees the Hulk battle Iron Man, in a pleasurable, fan-service display that reminds us that every hero can be taken down a notch or two. It is just a matter of how. My only complaint is that this fight has been outed in promotional publicity for the movie, when it should have been treated as an event in its own right.
Issue 3: Marvel Team-Up
In between the narrative, Whedon inserts his signature character moments that remind viewers that despite the escalating danger, this is still a comic book movie. The best bit though happens at the beginning at the new Avengers Tower, where Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Jim Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle) make an appearance. The masterful Whedon even allowed himself a moment to have Steve talk to Sam about their ongoing search for the elusive Bucky/Winter Soldier, and update viewers on the unfortunately unseen whereabouts of Pepper Potts and Jane Foster, the significant others of Tony and Thor (Chris Hemsworth).
With so many characters in play, a lesser director might have lost sight of all the elements, and pulled together a bloated movie laced with special effects. Thankfully, Whedon knows what he is doing, which is allowing those who have their own movies to take a back seat to the proceedings here, and allowing Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Black Widow and the Hulk to take centre stage, followed by Wanda and Pietro.
Comic book fans hoping for the Hawkeye and Mockingbird match-up from the comics here will be sorely disappointed as Barton’s quiver is already spoken for. Along with this unexpected revelation is former S.H.I.E.L.D director, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who shows up to knock some sense into the disassembled Avengers team, and forces them to re-strategise.
There is a nice bit here where a concerned Barton is worried about facing what is coming next and the narrative suggests what the audiences are probably thinking – what can a man and his arrows do to help a living legend, a demigod, a raging beast and an armoured knight? The answer might surprise you, and even as Whedon shows Barton trying twice as hard, the fact is that his teammates don’t see him as any less.
His mentor status towards Wanda is also touched upon, especially since Barton is the only one who is able to evade her mind control. Why? Let’s just say he has experience dealing with it.
It is also obvious that Whedon can do no-wrong with his female characters, and his depiction of Natasha in both Avengers movies continues to add more depth to the Black Widow. A little of her backstory is revealed, and elements of the Red Room, where she was trained, is revealed. For the casual viewer, her reasons for wanting to be with Banner are sound, but for comic book fans, it is a tragedy in waiting and Whedon delivers it with a one-two punch that lets these fans understand why some things are the way they are.
As for Banner, what else needs to be said? He’s the smart guy in the room that no one blames for creating Ultron, he gets to kiss the hot girl and is likely the strongest one there is. And there is Veronica, the Hulkbuster armour that is so awesome, yet useless in so many ways. And if you are wondering why Tony calls his Hulkbuster armour, Veronica, think Archie Comics. Archie’s weaknesses, are Betty and Veronica. (If you have to ask who Betty is, you deserve to be pounded on by Banner)
Issue 4: Final Crisis
No movie is perfect though, and some cracks do show in Age of Ultron. There are some edits that forces the viewer to make several leaps in logic, with the biggest one being the creation of The Vision (Paul Bettany). Thor’s little segue way with Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) that formed a vision (no, really) to create The Vision was off the mark and confusing. My guess is that this is a lead-in to the next Thor film, as well as the next two Avengers movies, but it felt like a cheap shot at forming links.
But nothing can beat the fact that despite his villainous reputation, the one thing that Age of Ultron fails to do, is to make Ultron a believable enemy. Maybe it is the way Marvel films are made, but there is no sense of danger or urgency with Ultron’s plans. And a lot of it has to do with Spader himself. Despite looking menacing, Spader ultimately makes Ultron come across as a whiny little bitch with Daddy issues in the second half of the film. This supposed alien intelligence complains whenever he is on screen, postures with the audience, and comes across as a Loki wannabe, but without the charming charisma of Tom Hiddleston.
Issue 5: New Avengers
But the final act is an amazing set piece that is so satisfying in so many ways. The ways the heroes team up. The way War Machine and his escort swoop in to assist the Avengers. The way Black Widow convinces Banner that she needs the other guy. I could go on, but watch out for that final fight between the Avengers and Ultron’s minions. It’s reminiscent of the group shot where the camera circles the Avengers in the first film, during the battle of New York, but this time, the camera weaves in and out of everyone fighting.
Is Avengers: Age of Ultron the best comic book movie ever made? These days, it doesn’t have to be. It is better than the original in some ways, and lacking in others, but also because it is packing in a lot more. But for this long-time comic book fan, Age of Ultron is the sequel that satisfies, that doesn’t repeat itself, and left me wanting more.
It also serves as a transition into the next phase of Marvel movies, and towards the end, when the caption, “New Avengers Facility” appears over a base of operations, I cannot help but wonder if the movie is referring to the facility as being new, or foreshadowing that when the sequel to this movie finally arrives, audiences will be seeing a group of New Avengers emerge from this facility.
Drew: Something I want to add is the incredible effort put into humanizing these superhuman characters. You see it in the Hulk’s increased facial expressiveness (kudos to the animators at ILM), you see it in the dialogue when the heroes are outside of battle. Most of all, you see it in a farmhouse sequence that was my favorite part of the movie.
It is a logical thematic extension of the Avengers, because while the first movie put all these characters together and showed that teamwork is as difficult for heroes as it is for you and me, this sequel pushes this concept even further.
Yes, Iron Man has a suit of armor that can survive an explosion powerful enough to turn a city into tiny chunks of rock, but underneath that he’s just a man with fears of inadequacy just like the rest of us. Yes, the Hulk is an physically unstoppable and indestructible, but his emotions are just as fragile as ours.
Most of us can’t relate to being a god or a trained assassin, but we can all understand what it feels like to be lonely and not knowing your place in the world. We’ve all felt that turmoil of struggling between what your own personal needs and what you believe is the right thing to do.
It is at this moment that the theoretically weakest member of the team, the most normal human of the bunch, turns out to be the strongest because he’s the only guy that has his sh*t together where it really counts.
To circle back to the film, this is why it is so successful to me. It’s not because of the incredible visual effects, the massive ensemble of stars, or the witty dialogue (although these elements certainly help a lot!) but because deep down inside, this movie has heart. And that’s all you need to succeed in life.
Don’t quite agree with this verdict? Here’s our other less positive review of the movie.