Thursday, April 30, 2015

Review: "Avengers: Age of Ultron"

No, it's not quite the same thrill as watching the first Avengers movie. Really, how could it be?

Marvel spent years putting together the first super-hero supergroup movie, patiently setting up characters in their own solo flicks. So finally seeing a bunch of mini-gods in spandex fighting for a common cause was the ultimate payoff.

We're built to like what's shiny and new, so anything after that is bound to be a letdown. Still, "Avengers: Age of Ultron" is a worthy successor, managing to layer in plenty of incredible action scenes while also exploring what the whole "hero" concept means to those behind the masks.

(I say "masks" pejoratively, since only Iron Man wears one, and only then because it's not wise to leave obvious holes in your armor. Most comic book heroes keep their identities concealed, but Hollywood prefers not to spend big bucks on pretty faces and then hide them.)

Writer/director Joss Whedon combines a fanboy's appreciation for the intricacies of super-hero mythology with a cineaste's head for fast-paced mayhem. The result is a fun, giddy movie that occasionally rambles off the narrative tracks, but always manages to land its emotional punches.

If you'll recall from last time, the gang -- Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.); Thor (Chris Hemsworth); Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson); Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner); and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) -- had successfully fought off an alien invasion led by Loki, Thor's wayward brother. Half of New York was destroyed in the process, but hey, that helped set up Marvel's "Daredevil" show on Netflix.

"Ultron" opens with the Avengers stamping out the last traces of Hydra, a Nazi holdover that had captured Loki's magical staff.  Instead of returning it to Thor's home world for safekeeping, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner -- that's Iron Man and Hulk's nerdy scientist alter egos, of course -- decide to use it to build an artificial intelligence capable of safeguarding Earth from all threats.

Alas, their creation, Ultron -- wonderfully voiced and motion captured by James Spader -- decides that the biggest threat to the planet is humans. So he sets about on a nefarious plan to wipe out the Avengers and the regular folks they protect.

The hard part about defeating Ultron is that he can replicate himself, so he creates an army of robots -- all variations on Iron Man's suit -- which means you have to destroy every one of them to eradicate his mind.

Adding spice to the mix are Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, wayward young mutants who become Ultron's apprentices. He can run as fast as a bullet, hence his code name Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). She's the trickier of the two, capable of telekinesis as well as a limited degree of mind control. Aptly named Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), she invades the inner psyche of each of the Avengers, forcing them to face their darkest fears.

The upshot of all of this is that being a hero isn't always that super. Stark and Banner in particular would like to hang up their mantles -- especially Banner, who can't control the Hulk and views his time in that form as a kind of madness. Black Widow is the only one who can calm him down, and that leads to the beginnings of a romance.

There's plenty of other cool stuff, too. We learn that Iron Man has a fail-safe option for when the Hulk goes berserk, and it's an even bigger iron suit that goes on top of his regular one, and comes with the absurd codename of "Veronica." We also get to meet the Vision (Paul Bettany), an artificial creation that ... well, best to discover on your own.

You can't put lightning back in a bottle, and you can't entirely recapture the spark of cinema's first super-hero team. But you can have a helluva good time trying.

1 comment:

  1. While I enjoyed the movie a great deal, I did find it pretty heavy-handed.
    From what we've seen of Tony Stark in the previous movies, I have trouble believing he could give the "Peace in our time" line with even a hint of sincerity. And if that wasn't awkward enough, Whedon had to have a fly-bye of the ship, Churchill when they went after the arms dealer.
    And why does Banner get a pass on everything that happens?
    Still, better than 99% of the movies I've seen since Guardians of the Galaxy.