Movie Review - Avengers: Age of Ultron

Just like the previous film to bear the name The Avengers, this follow-up and further, comic-book adaptation is only engaging when the super-powered heroes are fighting one another.

The chief antagonist in Age of Ultron is similar to the previous team-up in that the heroes have to fight an almost endless stream of mechanical enemies. Instead of mechanical enemies from outer space, it's mechanical enemies or advanced robots from right here on Earth.

Robert Downey, Jr. stars as Tony Stark aka Iron Man, a billionaire inventor who has built an army of robots based on his robotic suit, which gives him his powers. Iron Man has artificial intelligence called Jarvis, which assists him. Yet, he develops a separate artificial intelligence called Ultron, which he wants to use to protect the Earth from outer space enemies.

When he fuses that artificial intelligence with an alien power source, Ultron turns evil and comes up with a plan to destroy humanity. Ultron is created right under the noses of the Avengers, so it's no surprise when Ultron targets them first for destruction. Yet, if he were smarter, he would never have announced his presence to them at all. However, it's revealed that Ultron's personality comes from Iron Man's personality, which has an air of arrogance and braggadocio.

Written and directed by Joss Whedon, Ultron becomes a typical, arrogant and witty villain. If you've watched any of Whedon's TV shows, particularly Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it's clear how Whedon likes his bad guys. In ways, this villain is a mash-up of Mayor Wilkins from the third season of Buffy and Adam from the fourth season of Buffy, and no other person is perfect than James Spader to voice Ultron. Recent characters of Spader in Boston Legal or The Blacklist makes Spader more than perfect to convey that over-confidence, as well as color Whedon's quips with a proper amount of snark and with his nose slightly up most times.

The opening action scene has a shot that is similar to a shot in the first The Avengers toward the end, which is a long, continuous take that swings back-and-forth between all the heroes, giving them a moment to shine as fierce or efficient fighters. In the urban jungle of New York City, somehow it worked. Here, amid an actual jungle or snowy forest, the characters rendered look so cartoon-like and fake.

All the other action scenes don't seem to have that much weight. They're all just CGI smashes and explosions. The only action scene with any real gravitas is the fight between Iron Man and the Hulk. Downey's comedic lines of dialogue help, but again the movie is only interesting when the heroes are fighting one another.

Mark Ruffalo co-stars as Bruce Banner aka the Hulk, a biology and genetics scientist who experiments turned him into a super-sized, green monster fueled mostly by rage who is nearly unstoppable. He transforms back-and-forth between his handsome human form to the big, green form and often he can't control the green form's rage and destruction, so Bruce thinks himself a monster who will never have a normal life.

This is a theme that plays in heavily throughout the film over who are the true monsters and if humanity is itself a monster that's worth fighting to save, or if an extinction and evolution are required. The whole issue of worthiness runs through the film as well. A great joke with Thor's hammer exemplifies this.

In addition to Iron Man and the Hulk, there are the other members of the Avengers. Chris Evans plays Captain America, the field leader who has super-strength and an indestructible, circular shield. Chris Hemsworth plays Thor, the god of thunder who also has super-strength, the ability to fly and throw lightning with the help of a magical hammer. Scarlet Johansson plays Black Widow, a Russian spy with great agility and martial arts training, and Jeremy Renner plays Hawkeye, a fellow well-trained spy who is an advanced archer with a cache of specialty arrows.

However, a few new members are added this time around to the Avengers team. Like with a couple of the members in the previous film, the new members here all start out as villains. Elizabeth Olsen plays Wanda Maximoff aka Scarlet Witch, a Hydra experiment that gave her telepathic and telekinetic abilities. Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays Pietro Maximoff aka Quicksilver, Wanda's twin brother and fellow Hydra experiment that gave him the ability to move faster than the speed of sound.

Funny enough, the character of Quicksilver appeared in X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) but was played by Evan Peters. That film was made memorable for the one scene in which Quicksilver uses his powers to great effect. Director Bryan Singer conceived and executed that scene to perfection and amazement, and it was a wonder if Whedon would be able to match or hopefully top it. Sadly, Whedon does not. Singer made Quicksilver clever and creative. Whedon makes Quicksilver just another cog, disposable and forgettable.

If there's any character getting much talk coming out of this film, it's Vision, played by Paul Bettany. Up until now, Bettany was the voice of Jarvis. Yet, what happens is that Ultron designs a super android combining Avengers and alien technology, specifically the power and technology of Thor, as well as living tissue, which can repair itself. Ultron wants to upload his consciousness into the super android but Iron Man is able to upload Jarvis into the super android instead. Being that it is Jarvis inside the super android, Whedon simply cast Bettany to play the human-incarnation of Vision.

Strangely though, Vision is sidelined from a lot of the action in the final battle sequence. The extent of his abilities and his powers are never really explained either. He seems to have various powers, which seem random and necessary for whatever situation. Unlike the other characters, we don't know his limits or boundaries. He's almost the exact opposite of Ultron but the two aren't pitted against each other to a satisfying degree.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi action, violence, destruction, and some suggestive comments.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 21 mins.


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