Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Avengers Return in "Age Of Ultron"

Writer-Director Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron is an entertaining, eye-popping, action-filled superhero movie. The film starts in the middle of an action sequence (if you watch ABC’s Agents of SHIELD series, you’ll know a little of the backstory, but it’s not essential) as our team of heroes head to a HYDRA base to retrieve the villainous Loki’s scepter, and end up tangling with two new enemies: Pietro, the super speed enabled Quicksilver, and his sister Wanda, the Scarlet Witch, who can control people’s minds & shoot energy bursts from her hands. HYDRA, as part of an experiment to create their own super-beings, has given them their powers. Wanda zaps our heroes and gives them a look at their darkest fears: Iron Man sees a terrible future in which his fellow Avengers appear defeated & dead after a furious battle. Our heroes retrieve the scepter, but aloo of their thoughts are troubled by Wanda’s manipulation of their minds. The entire scene is fantastic, and gets the movie off to a rousing start; kind of like a 007 pre-credits sequence, Marvel style.

Tony Stark’s fears cause him to enlist Dr. Bruce (the Hulk’s alter ego) Banner’s help to finish the creation of Ultron, an artificial intelligence system that can protect the entire world. Stark believes that if Ultron works, there will eventually be no need for The Avengers. The problem is, Ultron goes live & becomes a little too self-aware: it decides the best way to save the world is to destroy humanity. Now our heroes have a new battle to fight against an enemy that can control every computer system on the planet, and is personified by a robot (eerily voiced by James Spader) that is constantly upgrading itself. Ultron enlists Wanda & Pietro to help him in his battle against The Avengers, and is one step ahead of them at every turn. Can our heroes stop Ultron before he destroys the world? Will the team be able to trust Stark after his mistakes once again causes chaos & destruction? Before the battle is over, The Avengers will have to put aside their differences and enlist the help of even more heroes to stop Ultron. And just whose side will Wanda & Pietro end up on?

It’s interesting that a running plot point of these films has been Stark’s pride and his lack of asking the opinions of his teammates before he makes decisions that could affect them all. Many of the events in this film are sowing the seeds for the next Captain America sequel, 2016’s Civil War and the next Avengers film, the two-part Infinity War, due in 2018. There are a host of cameos from characters throughout the Marvel cinematic universe, and a lot of nods & hints for Marvel fans in the movie. There’s also an appearance toward the last part of the film by another Marvel hero that will really please classic Avengers fans. In a way, that’s one of the minor issues with the movie: it’s such a large-scale story and there are so many characters & and plot points that you can’t possibly give everyone & everything equal time. Wanda & Pietro are interesting, but aren’t quite as fully fleshed out as they could be. However, I will say that the main characters are given some nice development, especially Hawkeye & Black Widow, who were given kind of short shrift in the first film; Jeremy Renner & Scarlett Johansson both get some nice scenes in the movie. In fact, Hawkeye feels like the heart of the team in this story.

Whedon is the perfect writer & director for this type of film, thanks to his love for these superheroes, and his ability to balance action & humor with some real character moments & depth. I also think it’s the Marvel movie that best captures the look & feel of the classic Marvel comics of the 60s & 70s, especially in the action sequences. The movie really makes you feel like you’re watching a comic book come to life. Kudos to Whedon & his team; the look, effects, music & entire design of the film are fantastic. The cast is wonderful, and the actors really have grown nicely into their roles; you really can’t imagine anyone other than Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man, Chris Evans as Cap, Liam Hemsworth as Thor, or Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/The Hulk. The film is a very enjoyable, large-scale summer popcorn movie. It’s a shame Whedon won’t be returning for the next films in the series, but he’s leaving those entries in the capable hands of Joe & Anthony Russo, who helmed 2014’s excellent Captain America: The Winter Soldier. For Marvel superhero fans & action movie fans, Avengers: Age of Ultron is a great way to kick off your 2015 summer movie season. Here’s a link to the film’s trailer:

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