Avengers: Age of Ultron is everything one could want in a big budget summer action movie: multiple great action sequences, compelling characters, and kicking ass. Obvious comparisons will emerge between this film and its predecessor, but I very much see them as equals. Both films balance humor and action, juggle myriad superheroes, and portray interpersonal relationships with nuance– making them far more meritorious than your standard Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) installment. Essentially, however you felt about the first Avengers, you will feel mostly the same thing, plus or minus a few specifics. It is the focus of this review to opine on those specifics, while offering a caveat for the future of this franchise, and the MCU in general.
The film opens with a representative action piece with The Avengers working together to win a quick battle for Loki’s scepter , which is being held by the final remnants of Hydra. Tony Stark and Bruce Banner attempt to elucidate the mysteries of the weapon, but unwittingly birth an artificial intelligence named Ultron. The origin scene of Ultron (voiced by James Spader) is far more haunting than I expected, and the character completely delivers in a way that Loki fails to equal from the first film. Ultron sets his plan in motion by recruiting the twins Scarlett Witch and Quicksilver and collecting various resources which will be important for his ultimate endgame.
This film struggles with the question of how the constituents of The Avengers are going to interact. Sometimes they are at odds, foreshadowing next year’s Captain America: Civil War, but some of these scenes feel a little added-on and rushed. A romance blossoms between two characters, believable and well-handled, but it could certainly rub some viewers the wrong way. And a couple of characters, Thor especially, don’t have a place for stretches of the film, resulting in some bizarre decisions to get them enough screen time. This issue will become more problematic as characters continue to pile up in the MCU, and while Civil War may be able to handle the weight of this massive ensemble, the next two Avengers films (Infinity War parts I and II) may start to buckle.
There are some great sequences that really show Joss Whedon’s strength as a director. The interweaving of action and humor occurs throughout the film, and there are a number of important character moments which may have been neglected by a less-capable director. These moments occur from the opening sequence until the final credits, so it is always apparent that you are watching a truly professional film. Whedon’s camera works hard to make the action intelligible, which is more than can be said of other recent action franchises. There are definitely a few “Wow!” moments, and they are not relegated to the action scenes alone. The best scene of the movie, from an aesthetic perspective, may be directly following the creation of The Vision. Though Thor accepts The Vision as an ally, the rest of the team hesitates. What ultimately convinces them is perfectly foreshadowed and symbolic, to the point that Whedon almost allows the movie to pause before moving forward.
The mind covets like pieces of art for comparison, so is natural to wonder at the relative strength of a sequel to its original. In this case it is even more apt, as nothing else in the MCU has the scope and extended ensemble of The Avengers movies. Avengers: Age of Ultron is a worthy successor to the original, improving on the repartee, self-referential humor, and the villain, but it is lacking with regards to certain plot elements and character interactions. I do worry that this could be the last of the great epic MCU films as the universe becomes overpopulated and convoluted, but for now this is a very fun ride. All told, making a quality film of this nature is a unique challenge; Whedon and his collaborators on both sides of the camera triumph again with this offering.