Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers: Age of Ultron opened this weekend. Something you clearly knew already.

Image provided by imdb/Marvel

When the blockbuster sequel opens, the Avengers are in the small country Sokovia, hunting down a rogue Hydra cell. The team is after the scepter of Loki, stolen at the end of the first movie. In short order, Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) are tearing through a forest stronghold.

The Avengers discover that Hydra has been attempting to create superhumans of its own. Its only successes are twins Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) Maximoff. The twins tangle with the heroes before making their own escape.

Image provided by imdb/Marvel

With temporary custody of the scepter, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner use its technology to kick-start an artificial intelligence project that they hope will lead to a global defense system. But the project goes awry and gives birth to Ultron (voiced by James Spader), a brutal artificial intelligence with a twisted perspective on “saving” the planet. The twins initially ally with Ultron, but later switch sides. An experiment of Ultron’s gone awry results in the creation of a new android hero, the Vision (Paul Bettany).

The Avengers and Ultron have a fierce showdown in Sokovia, with a wild end game driven by Ultron that reshuffles the deck for the franchise. At movie’s end, the team looks a lot different.

Avengers: Age of Ultron doesn’t necessarily try to “go bigger.” The movie certainly adds many new faces to the mix and has plenty of impressive action. But it doesn’t neglect character development. There’s an appealing chemistry among the characters (and actors) that gets a lot of spotlight. The heroes face some difficult emotional issues in the course of the fights. The plot plays with real world concerns about safety and technology while drawing deeply from the superhero action well. It’s a balanced approach that results in a well-rounded movie.

Age of Ultron shows the wisdom of hiring good actors to play these roles. Downey and Evans remain the crux of the ensemble and quarterback the movie quite appealingly. Johansson and Ruffalo have some great scenes together. And Hawkeye, arguably the least served member of the original ensemble, gets a more multi-dimensional treatment, using Renner to good effect. Olsen and Taylor-Johnson are strong additions to the main cast and Bettany’s expanded role is quite welcome. The script devises origins for the various new characters that ground them in what’s already been developed for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The key addition is Spader. He never appears onscreen, but his dynamic voiceover work makes Ultron one of the most fascinating Marvel movie villains yet. He adds pathos and dimension to the genocidal robot that deepens the character’s impact. After Ultron, you’ll want all movie villains to be this complex.

Age of Ultron shows how the Avengers franchise is the hub of the MCU. Characters and plot elements from various other movies and TV projects all feed into the story here. Notable returning characters include Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), Heimdall (Idris Elba) and Peggy Carter (Haylely Atwell). Age of Ultron doesn’t hit the viewer over the head with every connection, but for fans who have seen the other projects, it adds to the richness of the tapestry. Certain plot points also tee up what’s to come in future MCU projects.

Image provided by imdb/Marvel

The visuals in Age of Ultron are first rate. Director Joss Whedon (also the screenwriter) crafts some stunning action sequences. The initial assault on Hydra is a riot of stunts, fights and acrobatics. It’s also a great showcase for the main cast’s chemistry. The much-anticipated Iron Man/Hulk showdown is worth the price of admission alone, featuring some brilliantly executed action work and Downey’s sharp-witted line readings. The climactic final battle is the distillation of a classic comic book approach brought to life. With strong work from the F/X, costume and make-up teams, plus first rate editing, Whedon delivers an impactful film that translates the colorful source material into an engrossing action spectacle.

Built for maximum impact, Avengers: Age of Ultron delivers.

Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on May 4, 2015.

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