‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ review: Love it, though darker and less exuberant than the first

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April 27, 2015 by Hope W.

L to R: Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), James "Rhodey" Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle), Dr. Cho (Claudia Kim), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers: Age of Ultron

Left to right: Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), James “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle), Dr. Cho (Claudia Kim), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers: Age of Ultron

Half the world — excluding North America and a few other unlucky foreign markets who only get it after May 1 — went to watch Avengers: Age of Ultron over the past weekend. If you are the unicorn who intends to but hasn’t yet: GO WATCH IT NOW. Because here there be (minor) spoilers, unless you don’t mind reading them.

My colleague and I were talking about The Avengers’ trailer and comparing it to Age of Ultron’s. She feels that Age of Ultron’s is better because she didn’t really remember the trailer for The Avengers, and she doesn’t remember being as excited for the first movie.

That isn’t true for me, but even so, I can’t say which one is better because they both have very different feels. Age of Ultron had a moodier and darker trailer than The Avengers, which had a more vibrant, “rock” vibe, set to Nine Inch Nails’ “We’re In This Together”. It’s kind of like comparing the graphic novels of today to the brighter comics of the ’60s.


And it’s exactly the same for the movies themselves. Joss Whedon has taken Age of Ultron in a completely different direction from The Avengers: darker and not as unrelentingly fun, shown in a muted aesthetic as well as a bleaker storyline. You won’t hear AC/DC blasting from Tony Stark’s speakers in this movie. (Loki wants to place everyone under mind control and unleash the Chitauri on the world? Pfft! At least some people could have survived that. Ultron wants to vapourise the planet! And Thanos will probably want to destroy the galaxy in Avengers: Infinity War – Parts I & II!)

Ultron (voiced by James Spader) in Avengers: Age of Ultron

Ultron (voiced by James Spader) in Avengers: Age of Ultron

Not that the movie isn’t fun, because it is; just that the dialogue feels forced at times, like the characters are competing to see who can say the wittiest things, even if they don’t know it. I don’t blame Joss for it, because the pressure to top himself must be incredible; but when you already have gems like “Doth Mother know you weareth her drapes?” from the first movie, it’s really hard to succeed. Ultron is snarkier than I expected, but he’s voiced so menacingly by James Spader that I couldn’t find him funny.

Not withstanding that, everyone is greatly fleshed out in this sequel. While the first movie is about the team coming together, Age of Ultron is about the team working together. As usual, everything is fine and dandy until a disaster happens, and then suddenly people are turning on each other and keeping secrets.

Mark Ruffalo (Bruce) and Robert Downey Jr. (Tony) in Avengers: Age of Ultron

Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), “Science Bros” in Avengers: Age of Ultron

Tony has a character arc that could have been taken straight out of a well-written fanfic (or even better yet, the *comics*) — he screws up, the team turns against him, he thinks of himself as a failure, he does everything he can to make it right again, whether or not he has his teammates’ approval. The scene where the team confronts him in his lab just after Ultron and his robots attack the afterparty, and his reactions, was one moment in the movie where I thought to myself: I am watching a fanfic come to life. That’s testament to how well fans (as least, the good ones) and/or Joss understand Tony Stark. Even the resolution of the relationship between Natasha and Bruce at the end of the movie felt like something I might have read somewhere. (By the way, Natasha and Bruce have a relationship that most fans never dreamt of, and in some cases never even wanted to, because what about Betty Ross? And I thought Natasha had a thing with Clint/Hawkeye after she dropped everything to go find him after he was “compromised” in the last movie. Sadly, Age of Ultron shows it was always platonic and never romantic.)

Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark in Avengers: Age of Ultron

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in Avengers: Age of Ultron

I keep comparing it to fanfic because not all fanfic is immaturely written, or about pairing characters up; there are actually many talented fans out there who *get* the characters. And some happen to be lucky enough to work in the comics and movie industry. Joss is essentially one such fan — some have termed him “God of the nerds” — who got to translate his vision of The Avengers to screen and make it canon, as far as the Marvel Cinematic Universe is concerned.

Scarlett Johansson and director Joss Whedon behind the scenes of Avengers: Age of Ultron

Scarlett Johansson and director Joss Whedon behind the scenes of Avengers: Age of Ultron

Thor and Cap continue to have great camaraderie and work in tandem — remember when Thor smashed his hammer against Cap’s shield and flattened the forest? They put that power to good use this time. But it’s Hawkeye who improved the most from the last movie and had several of the best self-deprecating one-liners — probably Joss’ way of making up for Jeremy Renner not being satisfied with Hawkeye’s role in the first movie. Some of my favourite moments are seeing the deep bond between Natasha and Clint, though I am sad it’s not of the romantic persuasion. But I can accept that.

(By the way, I just realised something: Someone asks Clint to make sure that while he has their back, they have his back too. And later, we see that the team literally had his back. 😥 Though it wasn’t someone he would have originally expected.)

Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) in Avengers: Age of Ultron

Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) in Avengers: Age of Ultron

Of course, with Captain America: Civil War coming out next year, they were setting up the seeds throughout with Cap and Tony’s antagonistic relationship, which also harks back to their comic book origins. Tony created Ultron out of the best intentions, and as Scarlet Witch says, “he would do anything to make it right again”. He does something that Cap strongly disagrees and tries to stop, though Tony turns out to be right this time. In Civil War in the comics, Tony and Cap butt heads and Tony once again does what he thinks is right, only to end up in a situation where he turns out to be right, but he decides “It wasn’t worth it” — while sitting by the body of Captain America. I don’t know if the “body of Captain America” part will happen in the movies, but I sincerely hope not. Other than that, I am looking forward to their Civil War clash, but how is Cap going to continue looking for Bucky? Which he was doing at the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but foisted off to Sam Wilson/Falcon after he gets caught up in his Avenging duties. Just wondering.

Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark) and Chris Evans (Captain America) in Avengers: Age of Ultron

Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Tony (Robert Downey Jr.) and Cap (Chris Evans) in Avengers: Age of Ultron

The newcomers, twins Wanda and Pietro Maximoff (aka Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver), are great, though I admit that X-Men: Days of Future Past’s Quicksilver was done better. He had that standout sequence in Days of Future Past, while Aaron Taylor-Johnson didn’t really have any in Age of Ultron. But I care more for the Avengers’ Quicksilver. He’s given more depth through his relationship with his sister, rather than defined merely by his powers and a flippant personality. As Joss Whedon said in this Buzzfeed interview, you don’t understand Quicksilver unless you have Scarlet Witch in the picture too. I didn’t particularly like either of their casting when it was first announced, but Elizabeth Olsen was also great as Scarlet Witch, especially in portraying her emotional unstability and closeness to her brother. (Also, throwing around balls of energy actually looks pretty cool.) The twins’ inclusion brought a freshness to the team’s dynamic; not once did it feel like the filmmakers decided to add more Avengers just to make the sequel bigger. The same cannot be said about X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Elizabeth Olson (Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch) and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver) in Avengers: Age of Ultron

Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) in Avengers: Age of Ultron

There were a lot of action pieces, so it felt very chaotic at times, but eventually they made sense. In fact, the movie did an admirable job juggling all its superheroes and their various subplots, except for Thor’s, which could have been cut out, or told in a different way. I’m still puzzled why he needed Erik Selvig’s help, or what his entire Scarlet Witch-induced vision was about. Out of all their visions, Thor’s looked like he had been drinking absinthe, while Cap’s was that of a melancholic drunk.

There are SO MANY throwbacks to The Avengers, and I mean SO MANY. The first scene when they are fighting and the camera jumps from Avenger to Avenger, it references this scene:

And their final fight protecting the Very Important Thing, it references the moment they first assembled:

Bruce Banner also says the word “horrible” in this movie.

AND THE HELICARRIER FROM THE FIRST MOVIE LITERALLY SHOWS UP. WITH NICK FURY AT THE HELM AND MARIA HILL AS HIS SECOND-IN-COMMAND.

Also, Joss is such a tease. Not once does the word “Assemble” appear in the movie, though there’s a moment when you really think that it might, and then it cuts off to something else. I am positive that if it were ANY other writer, they would have caved to the pressure and found a way to work the phrase into the movie; but not Joss. 😀

Though he kind of forgot to explain why Tony still has suits after destroying them at the end of Iron Man 3 and concluding that he was Iron Man, suits or not. Are we supposed to infer that he doesn’t want to give up being an Avenger so he kept at least one? Oh we are? Okay then.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Tony (Robert Downey Jr.) and Cap (Chris Evans) in Avengers: Age of Ultron

Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Tony (Robert Downey Jr.) and Cap (Chris Evans) in Avengers: Age of Ultron

You’ll never guess who is worthy enough to “possess the power of Thor”. One reviewer wrote that the film’s central theme is about what makes someone “worthy” to be a superhero. Since only Thor, with all his flaws and belligerence, can pick up the hammer, I don’t think we should really look to his hammer for answers. But we can look at what differentiates the Avengers from other superheroes, in that their foremost concern has always been to save innocent bystanders, even if they don’t make it out themselves. In the end, an Avenger makes the sacrifice play and doesn’t come back from it. (Now would be a really good time for Nick Fury to break out the Kree blood, or whatever it is that he used to bring Agent Coulson back from his death in The Avengers in order to do Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)

In contrast, look at the mass destruction that Superman’s battle with General Zod wrought on Metropolis. I remember Tumblr making a big deal out of it right after Man of Steel came out, and comparing it to The Avengers. I don’t know about you, but give me hope, fun, and saving people’s lives any day to superhero showdowns that cause millions of casualties. Man of Steel was so bleak! Even though it had a beautiful score.

Money shot

Money shot

Many critics seem to prefer The Avengers over Age of Ultron, though most like the latter just fine. As for me, I can’t decide right now, because it took me repeated viewings to get to my fervent mad love for The Avengers. When I first watched it, I remembered thinking at the time: “That was so fun! But the CGI in some scenes looked very obvious.” And then I didn’t think much about the movie again until it came out on home video and I rewatched it, and I started getting deeper into the nuances of how “wink wink nudge nudge” it was. It’s like rereading the Harry Potter series for the 20th time and still discovering new details. So I won’t judge Age of Ultron properly until I’ve given it the exact same treatment I did The Avengers. But I do love it.

(Though I’ve just remembered another thing. If the scepter contains the Mind Gem, why did Thanos give it to Loki at the beginning of The Avengers? Isn’t it his aim to collect all the Infinity Stones? Hrrrm.)

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Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Cap (Chris Evans), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Tony (Robert Downey Jr.) and Rhodey (Don Cheadle) in Avengers: Age of Ultron

By the way, the Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer played before my screening, and people in the theatre were outright cheering. It’s going to look AMAZING in 3D.

And I just found out that there’s a Star Wars Easter Egg in every Marvel Phase Two movie (which means from Iron Man 3 to Avengers: Age of Ultron — not sure if Ant-Man is considered). That’s really cool!

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