Avengers Age of Ultron (2015)

Director: Joss Whedon

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Cheadle, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Anthony Mackie, Hayley Atwell, Idris Elba, Stellan Skarsgård

Watching the trailers attached to this movie, the one which struck me as being particularly relevant was the one for “Terminator: Genisys” (I truly wish it were a typo). Both the “Terminator” franchise and “Age of Ultron” deal with an artificial intelligence designed as a peace-keeping force which, almost immediately upon its activation, selects the entire human race for extinction. Both Ultron and SkyNet find ways to evolve their original programming in order to make things that much more difficult for us. Because they begin their plot of mass genocide in their respective early stages of existence, the two A.I.’s can each be accused of behaving like children: erratic, insolent, illogical and, most of all, emotional. The one thing they fear the most is their own death. Had the Terminators come up against the likes of the Avengers, I doubt there would have been room for three sequels and a reboot. Thankfully, there’s a lot more going on here than just the story of Man endangering his future by trying to save it.

As the movie begins, we join our heroes mid-mission, in a very James Bond-like opening that sees them storming the fortress of Baron Wolfgang von Strucker. Of course, Strucker is hardly a match for Earth’s mightiest. He knows this, which is why the HYDRA agent has been running experiments designed to create super-powered beings. To achieve this, he uses Loki’s scepter, left behind in the rubble at the Battle of New York. Of his test subjects, only the Maximoff twins, Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen), who volunteered for the procedure have actually survived. Wanda has the power of telekinesis/mind-manipulation and can generate powerful bursts of energy to hurl at enemies, whereas Pietro runs at speeds faster than the blink of an eye. They’re not interested in Strucker’s plans, as they have their own score to settle with one Avenger in particular. It seems the Maximoff home in the Eastern European country of Sokovia was destroyed some years ago by weapons designed by Stark Industries, making orphans of the Twins. Although the Avengers retrieve the scepter, Wanda plants the seeds of their potential doom inside Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.)’s head.

Looking for a way to both keep the world safe and to allow for he and his friends to retire, Tony is about to take the next technological leap. Describing it as an “iron suit around the world,” Tony enlists the aid of Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) in designing the ultimate peace-keeping force, Ultron (James Spader). Making use of Loki’s scepter, they do this without consultation from the other four Avengers. It’s the age-old tale of doing something without stopping to consider whether or not you should. At a party in the Avengers Tower, following an amusing moment where all of the mortal men in the group try their best to lift Thor’s hammer, Ultron first makes his presence felt, disabling the J.A.R.V.I.S. program (which he perceives as a personal threat) and declaring himself free of his puppet strings.

Making off with Loki’s scepter, Ultron gathers supplies, stopping at Strucker’s base in Sokovia to make upgrades to his armor and at an African shipyard where he can obtain the Earth’s rarest metal, vibranium, which will play a part in his endgame. Ultron and the Twins are confronted by the Avengers, but Wanda’s mind tricks affect each member of the team on a deep and personal level. Bruce Banner is so affected that he turns into the Hulk and levels an entire town. Tony uses a special suit of armor designed for just such a contingency to subdue the Hulk, but the damage has been done. News of the Hulk’s warpath has gone global, and the Avengers avoid the resulting backlash by going into hiding at the family home of team member Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), a married father of two with one more on the way.

Once at the Barton farm, the nature of the relationships of the various team members becomes evident. In particular, the clashing ideologies of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America (Chris Evans) are pushed even further into the light (and serve as a set-up for the next “Captain America” movie), while Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Bruce Banner acknowledge a growing attraction between them. Natasha sees in Bruce the same fractured soul that lies within her. Each of them has been spending a great deal of time trying to repair damage done to them in their respective pasts. They are both “monsters” in their own way. They talk of leaving together after Ultron is defeated.

A turning point occurs when Ultron is in the early stages of uploading himself into his intended final body. Realizing that the A.I.’s deadly goals extend beyond the mere extinguishing of the Avengers, Wanda and Pietro abandon Ultron and side with their former foes. Acquiring the android body which Ultron meant for himself, Tony uploads the once-believed destroyed J.A.R.V.I.S. program into it, while Thor (Chris Hemsworth) lends a jolt of electricity to help bring the android to life. It appears that, all along, Loki’s scepter had been powered by one of the six Infinity Stones (four of which we’ve seen up to this point), which is now fitted on the brow of the newly birthed Vision (Paul Bettany), a creature whose temperment and philosophy run in stark contrast to that of Ultron. The Vision is so incorruptible in fact that he can lift Thor’s hammer, a feat once thought possible only for the God of Thunder himself. Along with the Vision and the Maximoffs, the Avengers (minus Natasha, who is in Ultron’s clutches) gather together for one final confrontation with Ultron in Sokovia, where they mean to save the entire planet.

Of course, it wouldn’t be an Avengers movie if there weren’t someone or something that needed avenging. The movie is not casualty-free, but that does not keep it from having many lighthearted, laugh-out-loud moments. There are several running gags. One of these involves the group taking every opportunity they can to poke fun at their leader, Captain America, for having earlier objected to Tony’s use of foul language. Moments like this are vintage Joss Whedon, who also brilliantly wrote/directed the first “Avengers.” The six actors who made the first film so much fun are all back and in top form. Some who got a little short-changed last time (Jeremy Renner!) are thankfully given more to do in “Age of Ultron.” Of course, Robert Downey Jr. is still the man! Among the newly added characters, my favorite is undoubtedly Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff, although I also look forward to more from Paul Bettany’s Vision. Special kudos also goes to James Spader, always great at what he does, proving it once again as the menacing machine-gone-wrong, Ultron. Some of Marvel’s villains have been weak, but Spader isn’t one of them.

For right now, I’m still more fond of the first “Avengers,” though that could be due to the fact that I’ve seen it several times in the last three years. Like many of the previous Marvel Comics Universe films, I expect that “Avengers: Age of Ultron” will play better on the small screen, when I’m not distracted by fellow audience members and can better focus on the action. There’s so much happening that you’re bound to miss something just by staring at the wrong part of the screen. Nonetheless, I found myself very entertained. The best of intentions sometimes results in disaster, but thankfully this is not true in the case of “Age of Ultron.”

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    As promised, you have given an excellent review of the film without spoiling the ending or revealing who will die in this Avengers movie. I look forward to seeing it with you!!!!!

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