The Avengers have assembled once again in this sequel to their 2012 blockbuster smash. This time, Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America/Steve Rodgers (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk/Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlet Johansson) and Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) must confront a threat they themselves created, as well as two superpowered twins with roots connected to Hydra (as well as Agents of SHIELD). Director Joss Whedon returns to the helm to guide his warriors into battle. Does this match or surpass the first film?
WARNING: SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT ON!
During a raid on Hydra’s last base in the fictional country of Sokovia (set up in Agents of SHIELD), the Avengers reclaim Loki’s scepter, which apparently was stolen by Hydra during the chaotic events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. However, during this battle, Hydra’s Baron von Stucker sends out his experiments: the Maximoff Twins Pietro/Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch/Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen). The latter messes with Tony’s mind, which starts setting off numerous repercussions. Back at the new Avengers Tower, Tony and Bruce discover that there seems to be an AI within the scepter’s gem, which Tony believes could prove useful to their “Ultron” project; a global defense plan. Unfortunately, this new AI (voiced by James Spader) attacks Tony’s JARVIS program (voiced by Paul Bettany, who also plays The Vision) and places itself into a new body to crash a party the Avengers are throwing, saying he must destroy them for “peace in our time”. Teaming up with the Maximoffs, Ultron puts a deadly plan into motion.
The performances from the cast are excellent. Downey Jr. steals almost every scene he’s in while Evans’s Cap remains the team’s moral center. Ruffalo and Johansson have more to do this time, as their characters begin to form a relationship. Renner has more to do in this movie as an Avenger, and we get to see more of Clint’s life as well as seeing him be the voice of common sense for the group. Unfortunately, while his performance is great, Hemsworth’s Thor doesn’t do much in this film storywise; though he does seem to be helping to set up the events of the next phase in the MCU. Taylor-Johnson and Olsen give good performances, but it’s Spader’s wisecracking Ultron who steals the spotlight from them, and almost everyone else, when he enters the room. Paul Bettany is a serene presence both as JARVIS and The Vision. There are also plenty of wonderful cameos ranging from Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), who is now the Avenger’s manager of sorts, to James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who appears when the team needs him. Additional cameos from Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and Heimdall (Idris Elba) in hallucination sequences rounds up a large cast of fan favorites.
There are some amazing action sequences in this film, ranging from the opening raid, to a fight between Hulk and Iron Man (in Hulkbuster armor) in an African city, to the final fight against Ultron. Balancing these action heavy fight scenes are moments where we get to focus on the characters and their relationships. We see the straining friendship between Steve and Tony, while seeing a possibly hopeless love blossom between Bruce and Natasha. Unfortunately, director Joss Whedon’s wonderful small moments have to be put between giant action pieces, making the pacing of the film seem a bit rushed and crammed (though I do want to see his three hour first cut to see how it would have helped pacing). Whedon had a lot to cram into this one film, and it shows.
Ultron, while intimidating, is just not as good a villain as Loki, Red Skull, or the Winter Soldier. Like many Marvel villains, he just isn’t as scary or as strong a character as he could have been. He just exists to be the opposing force to our heroes. His constant wisecracks (probably a trait he “inherited” from Tony) makes him look more comical than he should be and removes the feeling of threat we should have for this villain. To see this massive robot constantly making jokes and quips even while he maims and kills costs him the edge he needs to be a good villain. A good description is “Deadly, but ludicrous”.
Avengers: Age of Ultron is an exciting thrill ride, albeit one filled almost to the point of overflowing. It helps close one phase and begin the next, and is a brilliant adventure throughout. Unfortunately, it suffers from said overstuffed plot and a weak villain, but these are overcome by winning performances and brilliant visuals. While Joss Whedon will not be returning to the Avengers franchise and Marvel any time soon, he sure went out on a high note.