Friday, May 1, 2015

Movie Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

I saw the first Avengers movie many moons ago, a movie I loved so much I gave it a 10/10 on my blog, the only movie to have earned that coveted ranking. Now the sequel, Avengers: Age of Ultron is upon us. The 1992 Ultron card was one of my first comic-book cards as a child, so this is especially cool for me. Here we go...

The Plot

Soon after the defeat of one of the last known HYDRA outposts, Avengers Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) decide to create a peacekeeping program to handle the responsibility of protecting the world. Unfortunately, said peacekeeping program transforms into the malevolent, genocidal AI named Ultron (James Spader), who takes control of Stark's Iron Legion (think a bunch of autonomous Iron Man suits under the control of the computer JARVIS) and plots to destroy the Avengers in alliance with a couple HYDRA science projects, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch...

The Good

*The movie starts out with a bang, with the Avengers attacking the last major HYDRA base. All of the Avengers, including a Hulk who's much more in control of himself than usual, are absolutely devastating. It's a hoot to watch. There's a good tie-in with Agents of SHIELD in the form of the evil Dr. List, one of the HYDRA villains from the current season.

*I liked how at the Avengers' victory party, there are lots of elderly WWII veterans. Steve Rogers hasn't forgotten his war buddies, those still left. :(

*James Spader does an excellent job as Ultron. I have never seen a genocidal AI who is that much of a smart-aleck, nor one that shows occasional moments of pathos and, well, humanity. Given how on some level he's Tony Stark's "son," the snark is to be expected. He's got some really good lines--I'd never seen a robot actually exasperated before. And although he's a monster, he's a very lonely monster based on a couple comments he makes and his relationships with a couple human characters. He's also incredibly physically powerful and dangerous, plus he makes Biblical allusions. :)

*A new character who's kind of a foil for Ultron is introduced in the film as well, and he's pretty cool. I liked his interaction with the other Avengers and with Ultron. I like the good and bad side of the artificial-intelligence coin they both represent.

*The movie spends a lot of time on Hawkeye, who was a borderline extra in Thor and didn't do a whole lot in the original Avengers. We meet family members and learn more about his relationship with Romanoff. It's funny and sweet and, when you combine it with my next point, rather poignant. I'd gotten a distinct vibe Hawkeye and the Black Widow were an item (based on their interactions in The Avengers and her wearing an arrowhead necklace in Winter Soldier), but this situation is a lot less cliched.

*The movie provides more detail on Romanoff's back-story as a product of the Soviet "Red Room" espionage program, which just got a fair bit sadder.

*Although Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch are imports from the X-Men--in the comics they were the estranged children of Magneto--they work just as well in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the products of HYDRA experimentation. The rare willing products, I might add.

*There's some good foreshadowing of Captain America: Civil War (shooting now in Atlanta) and the upcoming Infinity War duology in both the events of the film and some characterization our heroes--in particularly Captain America and Iron Man--get. There're also some nods to the events of Winter Soldier.

*Although this movie isn't nearly as funny as the original and significantly darker, there are still some good jokes in this one. Not going to give away my'll just have to see.

*War Machine, who wasn't in Winter Soldier, is back and ready for mayhem.

The Bad

*The movie gets kind of slow toward the end, before everybody returns to Sokovia for an epic throw-down.

*The first one functioned just as well as a comedy as an action film, but there're a lot fewer jokes this time around. That might be an artistic choice on the creators' part -- according to one review I've read, the first film is about how great it is to have superpowers and the second is about how isolating these powers are. That last bit would apply especially to the Hulk I imagine, given the events of the film and some things we learn about him.

*The Incredible Hulk and The Avengers imply that Banner has learned how to control himself as Hulk and we see him fighting as a functional team member early on, but he still for some reason needs the Black Widow to calm him down like some kind of hot lion-tamer. There's a romantic subplot involving the two of them that this helps set up, but it's still a continuity problem.

*Where's Banner's girlfriend Betty Ross? Given the romantic plot with Romanoff, that's a bit of an elephant in the room.

The Verdict

Not as good as the first film, but a darn good movie. 9.5 out of 10.

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