“I’ve got no strings/To hold me down/To make me fret, or make me frown/I had strings/But now I’m free/There are no strings on me…”
When Tony Stark tries to jumpstart a dormant peacekeeping program, things go awry and Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, including Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye, are put to the ultimate test as the fate of the planet hangs in the balance. As the villainous Ultron emerges, it is up to The Avengers to stop him from enacting his terrible plans, and soon uneasy alliances and unexpected action pave the way for a global adventure.
The Avengers are back! Age of Ultron is impossible not to appreciate in the moment. It’s a vibrant flash of color, sounds, action, and familiar faces. Reigning in a strongly human element, the 11th installment in Marvel’s cinematic universe brings with it a host of memorable moments and recognizable faces. Wasting little time re-hashing old stories, this film makes it clear early on, this is no origin story. If you haven’t seen at least some of the other films in the universe, you might find yourself a little lost here in the early going.
The Avengers opens with a bang, following our heroes as they scavenge for the last remaining threats of HYDRA in a post Captain America: The Winter Soldier World. Taking an interestingly dark approach to the tone, there is some ominous imagery that sets in motion a chain of events that becomes the film’s main story arch. Tony Stark’s revelation of an apocalypse of sorts, seals his ideology that the war needs to come to an end and that the threat is coming from above. Stark then moves forward with an initiative meant to create a “suit of armor for the earth.” Unleashing Ultron, Stark and the Avengers must work beyond their internal conflicts to achieve a sense of uniformity to defeat the most richly developed villain in the Marvel cinematic universe to date (outside of Loki of course).
All of this sounds extraordinarily compelling, and it is. The overarching story is broad and grand and lofty in aspiration. The real question is, how do you pack all of these influences into one cohesive feature? The answer might not be as clean as most would have liked or anticipated. Avengers comes off very episodic. It jumps from set piece to set piece, and from plot point to plot point. While the film does have an overlying narrative, it also has a lot of pit stops to try and fit all of it’s precious Easter eggs it relishes so much. So for this, the film does feel choppy at times. The way Avengers is pieced together is akin to how Furious 7 was edited. That is certainly where the comparisons between the two massive films end.
With a large cast and a bushel of new characters brought in to help develop the universe, Avengers might have finally overstuffed it’s gullet. Understanding that this is not just a stand alone film meant to tie up neatly at it’s close, at what point is it ok to say we have too much? Now this certainly hasn’t crossed into The Amazing Spider Man 2 category in terms of poor character development, but there were a few missteps that leave the audience scratching their heads a bit. Specifically, the Romanov twins (Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver) played by Emily Olsen and Aaron Taylor Johnson. Awful Russian accents aside, there isn’t much depth or foundation built under these two to make you really buy in.
The film struggles to balance its characters. With a host of subplots, Avengers convoluted an already jam packed story with a bunch of puzzling side trips that seem unnecessary for story development. The issue is, are these asides meant to develop this story? Or are they groundwork for future films? Either way, they make little sense and offer no real immediate pay off or explanation. Avengers was able to expediently build certain characters and storylines, but then others seemed odd and out of place (Thor goes on some kind of ridiculous vision quest).
Despite all of the issues with overcrowding the Avengers does, well, what the Avengers does so well. Which is to provide a medium for maximizing entertainment with lovable characters and a rich solidly held together story. The ability to incorporate the snarky humor we’ve come to know and love is not lost in this installment. The trailers would have you believe that this is a darker brooding Avengers, but it’s not in the slightest. In fact I hearken to say this sequel is much funnier than it’s predecessor, evidently proving that director Joss Whedon has not lost his penchant for jokes. The one liners rain down from the opening scene to the last frame and it is all in good taste, and perfectly timed. Each action sequence has some light shed on it to alleviate some of the heavier issues at hand (like Ultron destroying cities and killing folks).
Whedon Wastes no time on pointless origins or lengthy back stories. Let’s face it, the likelihood that someone is going to buy a ticket having not seen any of Marvel’s previous 10 films is not great, so why waste time on menial back story that just slows things down? Providing you with just enough to get a read on the characters, Avengers perfectly aligns it’s main cast and builds upon existing relationships swiftly and cleanly.
There is an emphasis on personal demons that plays out quite nicely. Tony’s creation of Ultron is a prime example of both his hubris, and his primal fears. Watching him wrestle with his own ego and also others as a result of his behavior is a driving force throughout the film. The inner conflict is what humanizes the story. This is group of people, flesh and blood, that do not always agree on things. Ultron creates an army in his image and plays on the idea that his absolute uniformity can tear at the center of the Avengers and in turn rip them apart. This creates the juicy plot points that grip the heart of the story. With an interesting arc that allows us to see some of the characters anguished pasts, the film is able to let flashbacks and mental images do the heavy lifting for character development.
Ultron, simply put, is probably the best villain we’ve seen outside of Loki. He is so unbelievably rich and charismatic, James Spader brings this character to life. Easily the most difficult opponent faced thus far, any worries of how this evil robot will appear on screen melt away the moment he says his first words and you hear Spader’s impressive inflection. Providing some of the film’s funniest moments, Ultron finds a strong balance between comic relief and total bad ass. Next to Ultron is the introduction of The Vision. Paul Bettany has been the voice of Jarvis or four films now, so it’s high time he gets in the game via live action. The Vision is stunning and the story that introduces him is subtle and well developed. The Vision is really really cool.
While it may be unnecessary to advise, the Avengers is a beautiful movie none the less. Some incredible landscapes, and some CGI work that would make George Lucas crap his pants, bring this film to the next level. While the issues with plot cohesiveness are obvious, it’s important to understand that this movie is not just another film, but has obligations to it’s universe to unravel subplots that lead to other announced Marvel projects. In that way, Age of Ultron is a well functioning machine for driving the story arc to it’s next endeavor. This appears to be an experience that will have infinitely more payoff when the rest of its features begin to release. While this movie works well in its base function, It will likely make you miss the narrative simplicity of other Marvel properties like Captain America: The Winter Soldier. These criticisms keep the new Avengers film form eclipsing the best Marvel has to offer, but they certainly do not sully the movie as a whole. On the contrary this is magnificent fun, and a thrill ride that needs to be seen.
If you are on the fence about seeing this in theaters, don’t be, this is meant to be experienced on the big screen. The Avengers Jump and smash their way through spectacularly choreographed action sequences, deftly avoiding the sea of muddled confusion and vast explosions and bodies that define so many other summer blockbusters. The Avengers: Age of Ultron has it’s issues sure, but it’s important to remember that this film has obligations to the rest of the universe, and yet it still never disappoints, even for a little.
4/5 Pretty Cool Bro!