It's finally time. Marvel's massive movie universe's Phase 2 has erupted with the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron. While this summer's Ant-Man will officially bring the Phase to an end, this is undoubtedly the climax we've all been waiting for. So was it able to match the bar that first movie set so incredibly high?
Review by Crispy
Added: May 09, 2015
Ever since the dissolution of S.H.I.E.L.D. Tony Stark has been funding the Avengers' continuing efforts to recover Loki's scepter from Hydra. After months of searching, they finally find the base where Baron Strucker was using it to experiment on local volunteers and make their move. Despite the unexpected counter-attack of those volunteers (enter the Maximoff twins: Quicksilver can move faster than the eye can see and Scarlet Witch boasts a series of powers including telekinesis, mind control, and firing magic projectiles), the mission is a success. As our triumphant heroes plan their victory party, Stark persuades Thor to let him and Banner study it before he takes it back to Asgard. If you'll remember, this is the same staff that gave Loki the power to control the minds of Selvig and Hawkeye, and the two scientists discover that its power lies in a gem hidden within it. Not only that, but the stone actually boasts an artificial intelligence leagues more advanced than even JARVIS; it actually operates more like a brain than a computer. Stark couldn't be happier, as he's just stumbled across the key to Ultron (a global defense system intended to protect Earth from threats in a way the Avengers never could) and after convincing Banner, they quickly attempt to interface it with this new intelligence. The program doesn't seem to be compatible with the Mind Stone, however, so they let JARVIS continue the trials and join the party upstairs. When the connection is finally made, Ultron begins its mission by scanning the past centuries' history in a matter of seconds and quickly concludes that the only way to protect this planet is by eradicating humanity, starting with the Avengers. After killing JARVIS, it uploads itself into a series of battle bots, steals the scepter and sets up a base of operations where it begins construction on an army of robots (any of which it can instantly move its consciousness into) and hires the services of the Maximoffs, who have their own vendetta against Tony Stark.
Going into this movie, the biggest thing I was worried about was that Age of Ultron was going to feel like a stall tactic. The entire Universe is building towards Thanos' reign of destruction with the Infinity Gauntlet, and I wasn't too big on the idea of that momentum being ignored to have a quick one-off battle with Ultron. Turns out I had nothing to fear, as Marvel expertly moved the Thanos story along quite a bit while simultaneously allowing the killer robot's saga to shine. With global extinction and an entire army to deal with, neither the action nor the stakes could be higher, and it's an absolutely ball to watch. With our heroes getting individual movies to show off, Whedon had no reservations about backing up and letting us take in the chaos in its entirety. As these two armies tear into each other, it's almost more than we're able to keep up with, but Whedon toes the line beautifully. As much as I enjoyed the battle against Ultron, I do have to say that the best fight in the movie is unexpectedly between two of the heroes. After Scarlet Witch hypnotizes Banner into a furious rage beyond anything we've eve seen, Stark suits up in his Hulkbuster armor to try and reign him in; the brawl between these two titans all but levels a city and had me cheering in the theater. With all that said, the movie still doesn't quite meet the expectations I had going in. That's not really a knock on it per se, it's just that the Avengers movies are supposed to be the mack daddy entries in this world, and while it is a damned fine action movie, that's where it maxed out. It just doesn't quite feel like an event like the first one did.
As far as villain goes, Ultron is a sheer bad-ass. Hell, even its debut moment gave me chills; borrowing a heavily battle-damaged droid, Ultron backs into the room before turning to face his creator (perfectly mirroring Boris Karloff's appearance in Frankenstein) and delivers an enigmatic rant promising their destruction. He wasn't even on his feet yet and I was terrified. Things only get better once it actually builds itself a body and its end-goal begins to take shape. Sure, a machine realizing that mankind should be eliminated to protect the world may not be the most original of ideas, but James Spader's voice acting carried this villain to higher places. His raspy delivery is one of the biggest reasons that debut scene worked so incredibly well, and he consistently keeps the tension high throughout the running time with Ultron's musings on evolution and puppets. The only thing I really wasn't crazy about was Ultron's wry sarcasm. It was completely at odds with his cryptic diatribes against humanity, and there was even a scene or two where it came across as petulant. Sure, the movie kind of hand-waves this by insinuating it's taken on aspects of Tony Stark's personality, but it's still a bit of a stretch in my opinion.
Once again, Joss Whedon works up a cinematic miracle and gets all these heroes firing on all cylinders. Their banter, both in the heat of battle and while regrouping, is relaxed and natural, and you can easily see the results of working with each other for the past few years. Even without that advantage, however, newcomers Aaron Tayler-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen seamlessly click with the group, both using Hawkeye as a conduit. Olsen was especially nice to see in action, as her jerky movements and tendency to sneak up on her foes unseen are straight out of a horror movie. As an added bonus, this movie is even able to add some depth to a handful of characters that have been left in the background. We take a quick trip into the psyches of Banner and Romanoff, and it seems that the movies are slowly starting to make the change towards a more intellectual Hulk. While I was never a fan of the color-change gimmick (Hulk changes from green to gray depending on how in control of his rage he is), I definitely wouldn't mind seeing the lines between man and monster blurred, especially if the change gives Marvel the confidence to kick out more Hulk movies. Moving on, after an unnamed cameo in Thor and being reduced to a mindless slave in Avengers, Hawkeye finally gets his chance to become an actual character. Neither him nor Black Widow had the benefit of their own movies, but the Russian spy at least got some bits and pieces throughout the various sequels. To make it for it, Barton gets a whole bunch all at once, and it was a doozey. One final note, this is going to be the last time that Joss Whedon helms The Avengers franchise, which is something of a mixed emotion for me. On the one hand, all of this chemistry I've raved about in two reviews so far is thanks to him, and there's no question he's hit two home runs so far. On the other, Whedon has an extremely distinctive style, especially when it comes to dialogue, and much like Tim Burton he's wont to take it just a bit too far. In Age of Ultron, you can already see things heading that way. In fact, when I was talking about the movie with some buddies of mine, I used the term "Whedon-y" to describe the problem I had with Ultron's sense of humor, and they knew exactly what I was talking about.
Once again, Marvel does not disappoint. While it may not be as jaw-dropping as the first one, that movie was something special, and it doesn't change the fact that Age of Ultron will keep a smile on your face. Looking forward, Marvel's future is incredibly bright, and even though we're a whopping eleven movies deep, I can't wait for more. 9/10.