Tuesday, May 5, 2015

[Review] Avengers: Age of Ultron


The All-Star team of superheroes are at it again in Avengers: Age of Ultron with some undoubtedly tentpole results, but the film falls short of its great predecessors.

Amidst the film's opening setpiece, the Avengers cruise through a forest, fighting off bots in order to invade a HYDRA fortress. It's hard not to think that Return of the Jedi did a similar sequence in the woods much better in the in the early '80s. Anyway, within the fortress is where we meet a pair of new villains--the speedy Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who disturbingly looks a bit like James Holmes here), and the telekinetic Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). The Quicksilver portrayed in last year's X-Men: Days of Future Past happened to be a lot cooler. But Scarlet Witch's mind control powers benefit the film in multiple ways. Not only is it a good upper hand technique for a villain, but in addition it allows for some dark and haunting dreamlike sequences that give the film some nice visual flares, while also functioning as a slight character development method to get all up in the Avengers' personal grills, even given the crowded ensemble.

Later, the Avengers throw a party at their headquarters, and the floor is opened up for a lot of humor. The banter between this group has always been a strong suit, and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is generally hilarious, whether it's the things he says, his facial expressions, or the gags with his hammer. However, the fun is soon cut short when an A.I. specimen that Tony Starks (Robert Downey Jr.) has been working on manifests and crashes the scene. This is Ultron, and he's a mean son of a gun. Ultron eventually takes off and teams with Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, and from here on out, the Avengers must engage in the tall task of defeating a ruthless robot that they are partially blamed for creating. This aspect explores a running theme--Are the Avengers heroes, or are they monsters? "Are they human, or are they dancer?"

I've seen a few reviewers and tweeters accuse the film of being confusing. But it really isn't. The narrative itself is actually very straightforward--it's just that there's A LOT going on. Some of it works and some of it doesn't. There's a flourishing love story between Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and it never quite flies. I'm all in favor of these films attempting to inject some sentiment, but the love story isn't interesting or conducted well enough to fit in with an already bloated plot. There are characters coming out the woodwork here, and a couple of them are welcome highlights. One is played by a grisly Andy Serkis, who is mostly known (or not known) for his brilliant motion-capture work as Gollum from Lord of the Rings, and Caesar from the rebooted Planet of the Apes. Another is played by the very brilliant actress/writer/directer indie purveyor Julie Delpy (2 Days in Paris, 2 Days in New York, the Before Sunrise series). Okay, her character actually is only on screen for a couple of moments in Ultron, but I'm just an avid fan.

The big battle sequence is impressively ambitious, but it isn't all that exhilarating. The now too common *a lot of things flying around and hitting stuff while the entire city crumbles* climax is getting worn out the more you see it, and it all sort of blurs together, even though Joss Whedon does his best to give everyone something to do. There's a moment near the end when Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) says something along the lines of, "The city is flying, we're fighting robots, I have a bow & arrow, and none of it makes sense," and you question exactly how the wink should be perceived. And even in regards to action sequences from this year alone, the setpieces in Furious 7 managed to be more gleeful and thrilling to witness.

When considering Marvel films from 2014, Ultron lacks the spunk and heart of Guardians of the Galaxy, as well as the adroit execution of X-Men: Days of Future Past. Last year's Captain America installment, The Winter Soldier, also had a more intriguing storyline. And then in comparison to the first Avengers--it's still enjoyable to watch these icons together on screen, but the film can't help but give off a "just more of the same" vibe. It's also worth mentioning that this film doesn't have a villainous screen presence quite as potently magnetic as Loki, who majorly lifted the first one.

I know this review might seem nit-picky, but sometimes that's what happens when you're dealing with such a beast of this hype. Overall, Ultron does its job in entertaining the masses, serving the comic book fans, and boosting the Marvel franchise. And most of us will keep flocking to these films. This blockbuster will have a significant place in box office history, but you wonder if its place in cinematic history will possess much staying power, especially when people are already looking forward to the next one. Or two. Or three.

7.5/10

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