Some spoilers ahead. I’ll avoid the heavy ones, but I can’t comment without some content 🙂
Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron is everything you want it to be. Its biggest strength is still the amazing cast of Robert Downey Jr. (Ironman), Mark Ruffalo (Hulk), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Chris Evans (Captain America) and Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye). That cast would seem large and unwieldy but Joss is at the top of his game in the sense of giving them enough individual exposure but still make them into a team. Additionally, we’ve seen them before. How can we keep the dynamic fresh enough to make it interesting?
The answer if you are Joss Whedon is humour. Sass. Banter. And that is the movie’s greatest strength, to the point that the story and the plot are for the most part easy enough to figure out from the start. Yes, there are some interesting developments which I will keep mum about, but for the most part we know how it ends. How it gets there is the fun part of it. There are surprises along the way, but for the most part it’s business as usual.
That doesn’t mean that I wasn’t thrilled to see these guys again. The cast still makes the movie.
RDJ as Tony Stark is still responsible for moving the story along. He might still be the big cheese but Mark Ruffalo gets closer to center stage as a dorky, likeable and tortured Bruce Banner. Even the Hulk seems to have more that just rage beating inside of him. Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff is another leading character with her own issues from her past. Thor is kind of in the middle. Some of the scenes in which he appears are really entertaining, while others are a bit flat.
The less than stellar points are Chris Evans’ Cap and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye. Yes, Cap does a lot of the fighting. And we get it, he’s old school. But there’s hardly anything surprising or new there. He seems to have a little more heart than before. Hawkeye has one semi-interesting development halfway through the film that comes completely out of left field. Personality wise I didn’t see anything new here.
The reason behind most of the character development is one of the new characters comes with mental persuasion abilities. Wanda Maximoff aka The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) is one part of the Maximoff twins. Her mental skills are a plot device, but a fitting one. Her power enables to basically distract her target with their own memories, showing them what they fear the most. That means a different thing for a different person, but it’s believable that Hawkeye has built some mental resistance since the last time. Her brother, Pietro Maximoff, is Quicksilver – the same character that was played by Evan Peters on Days Of Future Past and now played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. He’s a straightforward speedster.
Ultron itself was an average villain but least he’s got the wit and the sass down. Which is a welcome thing, because the whole evil-robot-computer-AI could have been dull. Don’t get me wrong though, he’s still got the megalomaniac act down pat. Which brings us to his origin. I won’t disclose all the details, but Tony Stark is involved. The fact that he drags Banner into it makes an all-too-well analogy of old and powerful dragging along the smart and idealistic into an scenario that goes off the rails fast.
We all expect the day to be saved in the end. There are costs. There’s a lot of destruction made that makes me thing about the cleanup. When Tony mentions a team called “Stark Relief” I couldn’t help that meant a crew of doctors, firemen and rescue workers doing that things that the world needs: healing, rescuing, picking up the pieces. The kind of work and the kind of heroes that our real world needs… and I’m sorry because for a moment that took me out of the escapist fantasy and got me thinking what are the heroes the real world needs.
- Joss Whedon’s direction and dialogue are all over the movie, making you want to catch every joke and every little reference.
- Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) have a great dynamic in this one. Yes, there’s a bit of romance but I felt it was more emphatic and heartfelt than pure infatuation.
- Robert Downey, Jr. is Tony Stark. Sometimes you love him, sometimes you hate him but he’s always interesting.
- Paul Bettany’s character is hard to digest visually, but fortunately the actor does make him sound charismatic.
- James Spader does make Ultron scenes interesting to listen. Paul Bettany does the same with his character which I can’t mention because spoilers.
- There’s a fun scene with Thor’s hammer that has a few surprises. Thor may still be something of a jock but he is still likeable.
- Ultron is not that interesting as an enemy. The threat is world destruction. The solution is still destruction.
- Thor’s side quest has to sidestep Jane because they couldn’t get Natalie Portman. Portman doesn’t really need to play Jane at all. Thor doesn’t really need a love interest either.
- The Maximoff twins get as much coverage as you would expect. They have a real reason to hate Tony Stark. That is never quite resolved, it’s only a matter of saving the world but it would’ve been interesting for Tony to face some real backlash and own up to his actions.
- There’s an analogy to militarism and power here that was really hard not to see. I remember Captain America’s phrase from The Winter Soldier: “This is not justice, this is fear.” We’re supposed to allow it because they’re on our side but the suspension of disbelief can only last so long for me.