Past the Popcorn: Joss Whedon Strikes (Gold) Again in Avengers: Age of Ultron
by Jeff Walls
Prior to the release of Joss Whedon’s The Avengers in 2012, there was some skepticism as to whether a comic book adventure featuring a team up of so many different superheroes could actually work. No one had ever really attempted such a project before and some of the biggest complaints about previous superhero films that failed were that they tried too hard to shoehorn multiple characters into one movie. Just think about Spider-Man 3. Whedon pulled it off, though, and The Avengers became a Hulk-sized smash. As a result, its sequel, Avengers: Age of Ultron, hasn’t faced much skepticism, but it has been challenged with some ridiculously high expectations.
The movie opens with the team working in perfect harmony as they look to take down a top-secret Hydra facility where they believe Loki’s scepter is being held. Upon retrieving the scepter, Tony Stark discovers within it a powerful gem which he believes contains its own consciousness. He attempts to combine this consciousness with his own robot army in the hopes of creating a peace-keeping force that will operate independent of human control. He succeeds in creating Ultron, an artificially intelligent robotic being who takes Tony’s words about peace to heart, but comes up with his own plan for achieving that peace, a plan that involves destroying most of the world’s population so that we can “evolve.”
The team needs to stop Ultron, but complicating matters are two new super-powered beings working with Ultron: twins Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, whom you may also know as Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. Quicksilver has super speed, but Wanda is the one who provides the team with their biggest challenge. She has the power to get inside each of our hero’s minds and show them that which they are the most afraid of. This sends the Hulk into a rampage and nearly pulls the whole team apart. They must overcome their fears and faults and learn to work as a team again if they are going to stop Ultron and his ever-growing army.
If anyone had any doubts that Avengers: Age of Ultron would be able to live up to the hype, those doubts are put to rest within the movie’s first few minutes. The opening action sequence is phenomenal and gets the movie off to a running start. Stunningly choreographed and seamlessly combining stunts and special effects, this opening action sequence is better realized than anything that we saw in the first movie. It shows the Avengers working together as a team and perfectly in sync with one another. It’s not just action, though, as the sense of humor that Marvel has done so well to maintain in their films is there, too, as we are treated to some terrific one-liners right out of the gate.
If there is a downside to this incredible action scene, it is that it sets the bar so high right off the bat that the rest of the movie has trouble keeping up with it. Whereas the first movie started slow and then built up to its biggest and best action sequence in its finale, this one kind of works in reverse. That is not to say that the climactic action sequence in the sequel is weak. In fact, it’s a very strong action finale when compared to most other superhero and action movies, but it just can’t quite match the awe-inspiring joy of its predecessor.
Beyond the exciting action, the fantastic special effects (save for one obvious rear-projection moment), and its wonderful sense of humor, what stands out most about Avengers: Age of Ultron is the performance of James Spader as Ultron. Even though he is playing a robot, Spader’s performance shines through and really gives the character some personality. That makes him a very interesting villain; it’s too bad that most of the action scenes have the heroes just fighting off his many drones. It’s a similar problem that faced the first film, when hundreds of indistinguishable aliens were being fought off by our heroes.
The other new characters—Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, and The Vision—fit perfectly into the world that Marvel has created. Any fears that Quicksilver would be unfairly compared to Fox’s brilliant use of him in X-Men: Days of Future Past are eased because the character is used so differently here, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s interpretation fits well with the movie’s style. The same can be said for Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch, who gives the series another good female character going forward in addition to Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow.
Avengers: Age of Ultron does not disappoint, proving to be an exciting and funny action extravaganza from start to finish. It’s certainly a great way to start off this year’s summer blockbuster season.
Avengers: Age of Ultron opens today at the AMC Southcenter 16 and AMC Kent Station 14. Won’t it be nice when Des Moines has its own theater again? Eat local before you go!