When Tony Stark tries to jumpstart a dormant peacekeeping program, things go awry and it is up to the Avengers to stop the villainous Ultron from enacting his terrible plans. (from IMDB.com)
The day has finally come, one that Marvel Cinematic Universe fans have been itching for since the credits rolled on Marvel's The Avengers three summers ago. While the Marvel and Disney folks populated our Summer 2013 with a third Iron Man film and Summer 2014 with a second Captain America vehicle, it's been an otherwise long wait to see our heroes team up once again. For Avengers: Age of Ultron, Stark's own brilliance accidentally creates the titular villain, which causes an immense amount of death and destruction, something that only the Avengers can thwart together. This villain ends up threatening the very unity of this team for a second time, too, but it allows for our heroes to realize how much their unity is needed, and how they can only succeed when they learn to work together.
One of the oddest things about Avengers: Age Of Ultron is actually how it all kind of comes together. While none of the Marvel films take place in immediate succession, each of the latest entries has left off with the heroes setting off on their own individual quests. And those quests have been either seemingly abandoned for this venture, or written off with a line or two of dialog as being put on the back burner for the time being. Age Of Ultron opens with the team back together again already and well into the thick of battle against a team of Hydra remnants who happen to have Loki's scepter in their possession. We never see how the team gets back together or were even rounded up, and while it's awesome to see the movie open with them all in action, it feels more like we've walked in on a movie that's been underway for an hour instead of just beginning. As it is, last summer's Captain America: The Winter Soldier saw Black Widow and Cap heading off in undetermined directions with Nick Fury remaining "presumed dead" by everyone except a select few. Here, in Ultron, it indeed takes place after the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D., but it also kind of glosses over little things like what exactly is in place these days and what everyone's been up to. If you weren't paying close enough attention to the prologue of Winter Soldier, for examole, you may even have missed that S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Maria Hill now works at Stark Industries (which is mostly referenced here in dialog) -- stuff like that.
But seriously, it's a forgivable gripe. While it's still a little irritating to ponder, it's quite minor in the grand scheme of things. As it is, Age Of Ultron is almost 2 and a half hours in length, and most of the "down time" between action is spent developing relationships and characters instead of having an Ocean's Twelve-style round-up at the beginning. Admittedly, it's time well spent. And, really, how cool is it to open the movie with the Avengers in action; it's pretty cool. The character development--what little that can be done with so many characters--is especially honed in on Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner and Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye, and the great part about that is these guys are just really good actors too. That's not even taking into account how intense-actor James Spader is voicing and acting out the robotic villain of Ultron. There's just a great deal of talent enlisted for this massive movie. And while there are a ton of characters in a movie that has the look of a Michael Bay film as far as scale, it instead has well-written dialog and just one great moment after another. And if you're partial to any particular actor or superhero present and accounted for, you'll be pleased to discover that everyone gets some solid screen time and shining moments (even if you're still left wanting more from that character in the end). Director Joss Whedon even develops the characters of Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) surprisingly well. By the grand finale, you're likely to find yourself caring about them, too.
But this doesn't mean that Whedon doesn't make some bizarre choices -- as a director and storyteller. Without spoiling things, I'll just say that two characters become romantically involved that is surprising if not kind of unlikely. We miss the lead-in to how this "romance" even began to bud before blossoming, so that kind of hurts the audience's ability to readily buy into it. Then another character is revealed to have somewhat of a secret life that apparently no one knew about. And of course, Whedon has an unashamed need to kill of characters in his movies. (He's even gone on record to say recently that he never intended for Agent Coulson to live again. He was kind of miffed that Marvel brought him back for the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show.) While the death in the film is surprising, it doesn't exactly ruin the film or even impact it in the same way that Coulson's death had, but it still feels a little unnecessary to have to lose any of these cinematic heroes at this point. Still, I can understand Whedon's argument that it adds emotional weight and danger to the stories, but it's still bittersweet at best. As to my other semi-gripes mentioned here, none are deal breakers, but they're odd story developments and some of these plot progressions are hard pills to swallow--especially when the story keeps coming back to them.
The content is definitely of the PG-13 variety, which is a shame, really, because heaven knows parents will want to take their kids and their kids will want to see this. It's an epic superhero movie; what kid wouldn't want to see it? The worst moments, however, are of the psychological variety, while there are also some bloody moments--and one kind of gory one. Scarlet Witch tends to get inside people's heads and cause them to enter dreams or hallucinations. The darkest of these is clearly Natasha's, as she revisits memories of being a ballerina in a dance studio and then flashes to her being instructed to shoot a man who's tied to a chair with a bag over his head. We then see quick flashes of surgical instruments and her on a table. It's unsettling stuff, especially for any kids in tow. Simultaneously, Cap finds himself inside a 1940's banquet hall where he then sees some of the soldiers with blood on their clothing. Thor ends up in a vision of Asgard with people pulling at him and yelling and some women dancing around semi-sensualy. This is all in one chunk of the movie, too. Earlier, Tony Stark has a vision of his entire team lying dead. It's super dark and it gives the movie an odd, schizophrenic feel. Sure, the first film had edgy moments, but it seemed to keep the same air about itself throughout. It had more balance. Here, Age of Ultron can get crazy dark and then toss in a few jokes to lighten the mood a bit. It's almost jarring at times.
The most gruesome moment, however, is when Ultron grabs a man's arm and seems to accidentally slice it off. The victim stumbles back, and while we don't see the arm being cut off in detail, we do see the man with a stump at his bicep as he runs around distraught. The scene is very dimly lit so, again, it's not especially explicit, but it's pretty gross and intense. Other scenes have characters being hurt and getting a bit bloody, with one character dying from being riddled with bullets (with some bloody results). Language isn't too horrendous, but it's a bit of an issue, too. The very first word uttered in the movie is the "S" word by Iron Man, which is immediately followed by Captain America reprimanding him by saying "Language!" It then becomes a pretty funny running joke as they tease him about it, but otherwise, there's a handful of uses of "h*ll," "d*mn," and "a**," with a couple exclamations of "G-d" from time to time. Considering how it all starts, there thankfully isn't too much profanity or language in the film. Otherwise, there's a little bit of innuendo and some flirtatious moments between two characters, with Tony at one point jokingly asking a girl if she's "playing hide the zucchini" with another male character (which she wasn't).
There are plenty of highlights in Avengers: Age Of Ultron, however. One of my favorite sequences has been teased since the film's early stages, where Iron Man must stop Hulk who's on a rampage. It's a super fun and exciting sequence, and you can tell all involved had fun putting it together. Then there's just the fact that we get to see the team working together again. Some of the most cheer-worthy moments in the first Avengers was when we got to see Thor and Captain America working together to deliver strategic blows, or Cap deflecting one of Iron Man's beams to take out one of the chitauri. All of that kind of stuff is back here again, and it's taken to the next level. There's even a hilarious sequence where the guys all take turns trying to lift Thor's hammer. And, finally, we have The Vision. Paul Bettany has been voicing J.A.R.V.I.S. since the first Iron Man movie 7 years ago and it's awesome to see him brought to life as his own character here (and the "how" and "why" is pretty cool, too). There are plenty of pluses here to outweigh the minuses.
While, like most sequels, Avengers: Age Of Ultron doesn't quite live up to its predecessor, Joss Whedon and company set out to make a fun follow-up and, really, it delivers. Whether the viewer goes in expecting more of the same or something new--or something immensely bigger--the truth is that Avengers: Age Of Ultron exists to entertain and deliver lots of superheroes and action. In the midst of that, Whedon actually goes a bit further to give the audience some good character moments too. Sure it's the poster child for a popcorn movie, but with a movie like this, it's the least we can expect--and Avengers: Age Of Ultron delivers it in spades.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 5/1/15)
From the Inside Out: Making Avengers: Age of Ultron (20:54) - The one and only core behind the scenes featurette is barely 20 minutes long, but it's time well spent, examining the characters, filming techniques, locations and more. For example, it covers Ruffalo and Spader's motion capture work as Hulk and Ultron (respectively), making Paul Bettany's JARVIS into The Vision and his concept and design, and shooting on location around the world.
The Infinite Six (7:28) - This one is pretty awesome. If you're a little lost about the Infinity Stones or haven't picked up on the well-designed continuity across the Marvel cinematic universe, this featurette talks about the different Infinity Stones introduced across multiple films and how it's all paving the way to the big two-part Infinity Wars Avengers movies coming up in a few years.
Global Adventure (3:01) is a short featurette that focuses on the multiple global locations the production traveled to; like South Africa, South Korea and the UK.
Deleted and Extended Scenes (12:04) - There are four deleted and extended scenes with optional commentary from Whedon and a Play All function. "The Man in the Church" shows the twins on the streets interacting with people before a random kid comes up to them to inform them that Ultron is waiting for them in a nearby church. "Watch Your Six" is a bunch of little moments around Stark's tower with the Avengers team. "Bruce and Natasha Talk" is an extended sequence of them talking at the ranch house where Natasha urges Bruce to run away with her and he says he can't just leave everything (Nat uses the "S" word once here that wasn't in the finished film). "The Norn Cave" fills in a gap where we see Thor recruit Selvig to help him get answers from the Norns. We then see Thor, possessed by an unseen force, deliver answers they seek to Selvig. It's worth listening to Whedon's commentary on these last two scenes.
Gag Reel (3:37) - The gag reel is a fun one that shows the actors goofing off on set and just enjoying their time together. There is some profanity use, but it's bleeped out here.
Overall, the extras here are good but they feel super thin. You'd think, for a massive film like this one, that there would be so much more. There also isn't even a Marvel One-Shot or any teasing of the next film, which is Captain America: Civil War. (The most we get is a trailer for Ant-Man.)- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 10/2/15)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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