Avengers: Age of Ultron – Review

Avengers-Age-of-Ultron-IMAX-HR-3In 2012 Marvel did something with it’s heroes that had not yet been seen from either of the two major comic companies, it put its biggest superhero team on screen, together. It had one of the biggest opening weekends in box office history and is now considered a classic. The question became, “Can you ever top this?” The Age of Ultron is now upon us and as the sequel to The Avengers, it has very big shoes to fill. Luckily it does have some intriguing themes.

Mad Scientists

There is an interesting conversation that Tony Stark and Bruce Banner have about being mad scientists. Tony is already responsible for creating the Ultron program that has run amuck after he tried to bring it to artificial life. Tony believes that merging the construct that Ultron was creating for himself with Jarvis, he will be able to create Ultron’s doom.

It raises some very interesting questions. As Tony and Bruce work, they are meddling in things they don’t completely understand, their motive is pure but their methods are flawed. They are taking terrible risks. The alien technology they are trying to use has barely been studied and the consequences of their actions has already created one “Murder-bot”. You’d think they would have seen The Terminator and Skynet and learned something. Tony willing does not tell the rest of the team about his creative activities feeling there is no time to discuss it in committee. He also does not want to be told yet again that he should not be meddling in things he doesn’t understand. Tony and Bruce have not seemed to consider that just because one can do a thing does not mean one should.

These men want peace. They want to proactively protect the world. Captain America reminds Stark that every single time someone has acted preemptively, innocent people have ended up in the crosshairs. There must be responsibly in creation and Tony cannot see the line of how his will to protect could actually create the world’s greatest weapon. There is often a good chance that one will become the thing they hate if they are not careful. Ultron is very much a mirror for Iron Man, it is one of the strongest themes in the film, the hubris of thinking you can control everything through technological creation. History shows us that humanity is it’s own worst enemy, creating it’s own doom from which we desperately need salvation.

Why We Fight

This is really well done in the movie. The ideas of why these heroes do what they do. They are on the side of life and will do whatever it takes to protect it. That means that they do fight to kill and take out the threat. Vision reminds the heroes that even though Ultron is a unique creature, its aim is total annihilation of the world, therefore there is only one choice. Honestly it’s the best reason I’ve seen in a comic book movie for taking out the villain for good. As a hero you are protecting life by making sure the destruction planned by the bad guys can never happen again. Now of course there are people the heroes will go up against where these measures will not be needed, but something like Ultron or Zod, these are treats that have to be eliminated.

The Movie 

GDgeek_2015-May-03While the movie has some good themes, it feels extremely busy with not enough narrative focus. It is as if it’s trying to serve too many masters. the film is trying to finish the second phase of the Marvel franchise, set up the third phase, as well as tell a compelling story. There is so little explanation for the things happening on screen and if you blink you’ll miss the small amount that was there. From the enhanced twins, to Thor’s sight bath, so much is glossed over and never fully fleshed out; partly because it’s feels like it’s just set up for the next action scene. The action is good and there is a moment near the end of the movie that looks like splash pages from Avengers comics which is a lot of fun. Yet, it’s nothing revolutionary and it might just be because theirs so much action to digest that it begins to wash over you like a raging waterfall.

There are new characters in the movie, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and Vision. Vision and Scarlet Witch are the two most interesting, with Vision stealing some scenes from the likes of Thor. Quicksilver, who’s character was seen in Days of Future Past (albeit with a different actor) and who’s scene was the stand out in that film gets nothing like that here. It’s as if they realized there was not topping that so why bother trying.

The rest of the main characters play off each other with ease. It’s a well oiled machine at this point. Unfortunately there are some things that get short shrift, like the romance between The Hulk and Black Widow. This really deserves it’s own movie as does Black Widow herself. The humor and banter, a Joss Whedon trademark are well represented with Captain America’s line about Iron Man watching his language getting huge laughs. It was also nice to see Hawkeye get something more to do than be mind-controlled. Renner gives some of the best lines in the film, bringing a humanity and levity to the craziness. He seems to be speaking as much to the audience as Scarlet Witch when he talks about a flying city, evil robots and he’s got a bow and arrow and how none of this makes any sense. It’s a nice wink to us in the seats.

Conclusion

This is a competent Marvel movie. All the actors and action are good, it’s the story that bogs down the film with the weight of all that’s it’s trying to accomplish that left me underwhelmed. It feels formulaic, as the plot is much the same as the original Avengers – team ends up fighting amongst itself, gets beat down, gets a pep talk from Fury, saves the day. One of the pitfalls of Marvel’s cinematic universe is that there is not always enough distinction between the films. I one of the things that made Winter Solider so good, it continued on the Captain America story while feeling fresh and new. Here’s hoping that Anthony and Joe Russo can bring that same sensibility from their work with Cap to Avengers: Infinity War part one and two. Age of Ultron is rated 3 out of 5 Captain America shields.

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7 thoughts on “Avengers: Age of Ultron – Review

  1. Michael Poteet

    Nice review, Matthew. (And not just because I happen to agree with all your points!) I thought the movie was very entertaining, but it definitely shows the shortcomings you mention. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who found the Thor subplot barely comprehensible.

    I am uncertain the deaths of Zod and Ultron are morally equivalent (not your phrase, but perhaps your implication? At least my inference), since Ultron is an artificial intelligence and Zod is a living, breathing being. No one screams in grief after Ultron is gone, let alone The Vision. I think the Zod case is more complicated, as almost two years of controversy over “Man of Steel” has shown. No one is going to argue the Avengers should have found some other way to deal with Ultron.

    I admit my thinking on this point is shaped by my experience of having slowly soured on “Man of Steel” quite a bit, and by the fact that “Age of Ultron” goes out of its way to say, “Look how concerned our heroes for the innocent civilians.” It’s maybe a bit heavy-handed, there are so many lines about protecting the innocent; but, as you rightly say, the Avengers are “on the side of life and will do whatever it takes to protect it.” It was nice not leaving this superhero film with an uneasy feeling in my gut, thinking of how to mount an apologetic for the good guy.

    So, no, not a masterpiece, but a very entertaining two-and-some-change hours. I do want to read up on The Vision some. I gather you’re more familiar with Marvel than I – are there any particular story arcs or trades you’d recommend?

    Reply
    1. mrushing02 Post author

      There is a difference for sure in Ultron and Zod yet they are both bent on destruction. This movie does a good job of saying that yes, there is a time when killing the enemy is the best option. There was a great article in the Wall Street Journal and I like this quote, :This is what destruction looks like, though, and audiences need to believe what they’re seeing even in popcorn spectaculars. Similar scenes in “Man of Steel” are no less harrowing despite the lack of heroic handwringing. In fact, “Man of Steel” is notable for showing the limitations of Superman – he can’t be everywhere, particularly against a super villain and his super army. The Avengers are a team, however, and Superman isn’t due to get one of those until at least next year.” It was hard to watch Superman not be able to save anyone, yet his job was to keep Zod focused on him. AoU has a lot of destruction in it, especially the hulk/IM fight. I am sure plenty of people died. Unfortunately it’s what happens when evil must be fought. I don’t think MoS needs any apology. It shows a hero and the limitations of a hero alone. Luckily he’s going to get some friends soon.

      Reply
      1. Michael Poteet

        I don’t dispute your point that they are both bent on destruction and must be stopped. And, yes, Superman is only one man, albeit a super one. And it may be that many people died in A of U, although there were several lines suggesting no one did (e.g., the building Tony drops Hulk on is conveniently empty).

        I think my gripe with MoS at this point (and I honestly do think better of it some times than others) is that, yes, people die when evil must be fought in the real world. But these movies aren’t documentaries, as several folks have said; and so how the heroes behave or don’t says things about the kind of stories we want or feel compelled to tell each other. If we can’t tell a Superman story where Superman — Superman! — finds absolutely no way to stop the bad guy except by killing him — well, that just seems sad. (And as you know that wasn’t the original ending.) But as you point out, he’s about to get some friends, so maybe I’ll eventually be able to see it as the first movement of a lager symphony that (ostensibly) it’s meant to be.

        Anyway, thanks for the reply. And for the recommendation of Brubaker’s Cap run – I have read some of it, but not the whole thing, but it was quite well done.

  2. mrushing02 Post author

    I’m not sure it is sad, I think that it’s a learning process for the character. Heroes, just because they are heroes don’t always get it right. The Avengers shows that well and MoS does that too. Especially when you remember that this is the first time Clark has faced anything of this magnitude, literally the first day trying to save the world. Honestly, for me, having Zod dead is probably the best thing for humanity. Super Villains always seem to come back and kill more people, is it not just better to put them down than let more innocent people suffer?

    Reply
    1. Michael Poteet

      Well, could be. You are a Doctor Who fan, too, yes? It makes me think of Clara’s comment to the Doctor re: The Master in “Death in Heaven” – “If you’ve ever let this creature go, then you bear some of the blame,” or words to that effect. On the other hand, some of the killings of bad guys — low-level henchmen, not even the Big Bads — we got in Iron Man 3 were really too casual, and played for laughs – also unsettling. I mean, when Batman doesn’t even “put down” Heath Ledger’s Joker at the end of TDK… I dunno.

      It’s not sad that Zod is dead. It’s sad (maybe) that creators deliberately chose against removing him as threat in a way that was more consistent with Superman’s character .Maybe a final heart to heart between Kal-El and the Jor-El AI about, “You did what had to be done,” “Then why do I feel like I didn’t?” or somesuch conversation – something to assure the audience that the Superman we’ve just seen is not “the finished product”…. that would have gone a long way toward making me feel more at ease about that ending.

      Reply
      1. mrushing02 Post author

        I think that is what the next movie is for. This is about the journey to Clark becoming Superman. Remember this Clark does not have a fortress and grew up in a 9/11 world, it’s very different for him. I think this journey is something that is really interesting to see and I’m glad we are finally getting to see how Clark becomes the icon of Superman.

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