Film Review: ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’

'Avengers: Age of Ultron' Review: Building
Courtesy of Marvel

The most successful superhero movie of all time gets a super-sized sequel with surprising amounts of soul.

Three years after saving New York from an alien apocalypse, Marvel’s superhero all-stars once again find the weight of the world — or, at least, an airborne chunk of Eastern Europe — thrust upon their mighty shoulders in “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” a super-sized spandex soap opera that’s heavy on catastrophic action but surprisingly light on its feet, and rich in the human-scale emotion that can cut even a raging Hulk down to size. Having gotten over the hump of assembling his six main characters in 2012’s “The Avengers,” returning writer-director Joss Whedon brings a looser, more inventive and stylish touch to this skillful follow-up, which finds our now S.H.I.E.L.D.-less defenders facing off against a man-made enemy more dangerous than any alien life form. Jump-starting the summer movie season on May 1, “Age” may well cool its heels in theaters until the dog days of August, where it stands a very good shot at surpassing the previous film’s $1.5 billion worldwide haul.

For all its box office muscle (making it the third-highest domestic and global grosser of all time, behind “Avatar” and “Titanic”), “The Avengers” was hardly the most glittering gem in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, arguably more memorable for its snappy banter between caped crusaders than for its two gargantuan, pummeling action setpieces (one on a state-of-the-art aircraft carrier, the other on the streets of Manhattan), which seemed haphazardly stitched together by Whedon and his editors, as if they were being paid by the cut. That movie largely lacked the more intimate, character-building moments that had distinguished the first “Iron Man” and “Captain America” adventures from the superhero herd. But it did have two aces up its vibranium sleeve in the form of Tom Hiddleston’s fratricidal Loki (sinking his teeth into each of Whedon’s faux-Shakespearean lines as though they were ripe, juicy plums) and Mark Ruffalo’s existentially conflicted Dr. Bruce Banner/Hulk, ill at ease in his own body whether green or white.

Having apparently resolved that one failed Earthly invasion is enough for one millennium, Loki is nowhere to be found in “Age of Ultron,” but even minus his caustic wit, the new movie is a sleeker, faster, funnier piece of work — the sort of sequel (like “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” “Superman II” and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” before it) that shrugs off the self-seriousness of its predecessor and fully embraces its inner Saturday-morning serial. Rather than putting all his eggs in one apocalyptic basket, Whedon this time hopscotches the globe from Europe to Africa to Asia and back, staging exuberant mini-cliffhangers as he goes. And if we must once again watch the world end — or come perilously close — “Age of Ultron” at least gives us a more compelling (and plausible) destroyer than yet another galactic supervillain hellbent on domination. Specifically, it gives us that most destructive of all universal forces: man’s own best intentions.

Before all that, this second chapter plunks us down in the wintry republic of Sokovia, where Captain America (Chris Evans) and the gang raid a mountaintop Hydra base to retrieve Loki’s troublesome scepter from the clutches of Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann, last seen up to no good in the post-credits teaser from last year’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”). It’s there that the team first encounters two new, genetically enhanced foes: the twins Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), he of blinding speed and she of blazing psychic powers — including the ability to infect others with vivid and terrifying waking dreams rooted in their deepest fears. These nifty phantasmagorias allow Whedon to flex his visual imagination in ways that the first “Avengers” never hinted at (think “A Nightmare on Marvel Street”). But a greater threat to the Avengers hides in plain sight much close to home. Its name is Ultron, and it begins life as a kind of ghost in the Stark Industries machine: an artificially intelligent “global peacekeeping initiative” designed to serve as “a suit of armor around the world.” Iron Man, meet Iron Dome.

As such brainchildren are wont to do in the annals of science fiction (where man routinely suffers for playing God), Ultron enters sentience with some major daddy issues and the temperament of a hormonal adolescent, ready to bite (off) the hand that fed him and then some. When the character of Ultron first appeared in the “Avengers” comics circa 1968, he was the Frankenstein-like creation not of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) but of “Ant-Man’s” Hank Pym. But for the character’s movie debut, Whedon has made him over into a kind kind of power-mad Pinocchio (along with a few sly nods to the 1940 Disney animated classic) who needs no help from a fairy godmother to lance his strings, assemble a makeshift suit of Stark Industries armor, and raise an entire drone army in his own image. (Like father, like son, indeed.) The movie’s visual-effects wizards (a whopping 19 companies are credited) have a grand old time with Ultron’s herky-jerky movements, but James Spader has an even grander one giving voice to the machine-man’s self-aggrandizing sentiments — a diabolical purr that sounds like HAL 9000 reborn as a Vegas lounge lizard.

Of course, what Ultron wants most of all is to become a real live boy — well, that and to turn a sizable chunk of Sokovia into a meteorite to be hurled back at the Earth like a fast ball down the middle. But even as billions of lives hang in the balance, “Age of Ultron” takes (welcome) time out to show us what our Avengers do when they aren’t busy avenging. In the case of Banner and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), that makes for a nicely hesitant romance between savage man-beast and the woman (with no shortage of her own emotional baggage) who knows how to soothe him. Ruffalo and Johansson have terrific chemistry together, and they become the tender core of a movie that also makes a surprising reveal about the personal life of Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton/Hawkeye, and frequently reminds us that, while sticks and (infinity) stones may scarcely harm these Marvel mainstays, their psyches have suffered their fair share of heavy blows. (Taking his cue from those reviews that compared the first “Avengers” to a comicbook “Rio Bravo,” Whedon has also amped up the Hawksian vibe here, including some amusing macho posturing having to do with Thor’s mighty hammer.)

When the movie does return to symphony-of-destruction mode, it stays engaging precisely because Whedon has given us reasons to care — at least a tiny bit — about the all the whirring and smashing and booming and crashing. It helps that the actors by now wear these roles as comfortably as second skins — an enviable model that those forthcoming superhero alliances, “Fantastic Four” and “Justice League,” can only hope to follow.  (Even Downey, whose smirking sarcasm had already begun to wear thin by the time of “Iron Man 3,” is kept relatively in check here, despite his top billing.) And while Whedon still lacks the innately gifted image-making of his obvious role model, Steven Spielberg (or of his fanboy contemporary, J.J. Abrams), he keeps the movie’s heavy machinery in constant, fluid motion. If this is what the apotheosis of branded, big-studio entertainment has come to look like in 2015, we could be doing much worse. Unlike its title character, “Age of Ultron” most definitely has soul.

Working for the first time with British d.p. Ben Davis (“Guardians of the Galaxy”), Whedon thinks the film out in more cinematic terms than the prior installment, with some complex tracking shots that last for upwards of a whole minute. Dueling composers Brian Tyler and Danny Elfman have provided a surfeit of speaker-rattling action music, though the most memorable passages remain those recycled bits of Alan Silvestri’s brassy “Avengers” fanfare.

Film Review: 'Avengers: Age of Ultron'

Reviewed at Walt Disney Studios, Burbank, Calif., April 9, 2015. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 141 MIN.

Production

A Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release of a Marvel Studios presentation. Produced by Kevin Feige. Executive producers, Jon Favreau, Stan Lee, Victoria Alonso, Jeremy Latcham, Patricia Whitcher, Alan Fine, Louis D’Esposito. Co-producer, Mitch Bell.

Crew

Directed, written by Joss Whedon. Camera (Technicolor, Arri Alexa HD, widescreen), Ben Davis; editors, Jeffrey Ford, Lisa Lassek; music, Brian Tyler, Danny Elfman; music supervisor, Dave Jordan; production designer, Charles Wood; supervising art director, Raymond Chan; art directors, Julian Ashby, Tom Brown, Jordan Crockett, Matthew Robinson, Phil Sims, Mike Stallion, Mark Swain; costume designer, Alexandra Byrne; sound (Dolby Atmos/Dolby Digital), Peter Lindsay; supervising sound editor/sound designer, Christopher Boyes; sound designer, David Acord; supervising sound editor, Frank Eulner; re-recording mixers, Lora Hirschberg, Christopher Boyes; visual effects supervisor, Christopher Townsend; visual effects and animation, Industrial Light & Magic; visual effects, Virtuos, Double Negative, Tritxer, Method Studios, lola VFX, Animal Logic VFX, Framestore, Cantina Creative, Soho VFX, Luma Pictures, Rise Visual Effects Studios, Zoic Studios, Blur Studio, The Secret Lab, Black Ginger, capital T, Crafty Apes, Technicolor VFX; head of visual development, Ryan Meinerding; co-head of visual development; Charlie Wen; stunt coordinator, Greg Powell; associate producers, Jamie Christopher, Jeffrey Ford, Daniel S. Kaminsky; assistant director, Jamie Christopher; second unit director, John Mahaffie; second unit camera, John Gamble; casting, Sarah Halley Finn.

With

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

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 36

Leave a Reply

36 Comments

Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. JulioIsYoung says:

    Some of the most unintentionally funniest comments I’ve seen….

    oh lord what stupidity some of these so called “critics” in the comment section have!!!
    There’s this one twat that thinks he’s a “film connoisseur” like wow… Insulting people who like movies that you clearly do not like.

    And the critic only gave a fair review. He enjoyed this movie. People can do that you know?

    While not a prime example of brilliant film, Avenger Age of Ultron is a fun and exciting film that carries on the Marvel Superhero genre magic. Surely a film that will entertain anyone who’s looking for a fun experience.

    Whedon does it again

  2. I want my time back reading (half) of that bad review. I mean age of ultron was bad enough, but this review is worse :D

  3. Corey Myers says:

    The moment you mentioned the first captain america movie as being distinguished from the superhero herd I lost all interest in this article. That movie was terrible, like come on.

  4. Mare says:

    Loved it! Great movie. Loved seeing more of the characters and a deeper exploration of who they are and what they fear and fight for. Especially loved Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner getting some more focus! He was the real gem of “The Avengers” for me! A tragic hero, both sides of him. Really hoping they bring him into “Civil War!”

  5. Twighlight fans also were upset at the critics and they did love Kristen Stewart even if her acting was the worst part of those movies, untill of course she ended her relationship with the guy by being a trampire, outlining if you like things that arent exactly cultural relevant is all your problem, but dont cry cause cultured people dont like it, thats why critics have jobs and people who go to movies dont work as critics

  6. Ben H says:

    Isn’t everyone on here a barrel of laughs!

    I thought AoU was great; i loved the visuals, there were a couple of unexpected plot twists and I loved the little nods to future films, such as Civil War. The reason there’s an inter-team battle over Vision is a good one, and I thought the film achieved a good balance between seriousness and humour.

    According to everyone here though, that makes me some unsophisticated idiot with “no real job prospects.” Wow. Way to pin down a guy based on his movie tastes. It seems to me like everyone here is a pessimist, determined to LOOK for negativity and judge anyone who thinks differently. Me, I look for the positives, and found many. No, it wasn’t perfect (as a film, I prefer The Winter Soldier), but all in all this is a great film.

    It also seems to me like most of you are a little older, so actually in context, it’s not so surprising that you don’t like it; the demographic this is aimed at is the 12-25, young person demographic. That might be something to consider too.

  7. Full disclosure: I consider these movies to be pure junk. A feeble step up from Harry Potter. Barely.

    That said —

    “the new movie is a sleeker, faster, funnier piece of work — the sort of sequel (like “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” “Superman II” and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” before it) that shrugs off the self-seriousness of its predecessor and fully embraces its inner Saturday-morning serial.”

    Wow. Way for the critic to discredit themselves. The first Trek was considered painfully bad, the first Superman fantastic, and the first Indiana Jones AMAZING. The second Trek was considered AMAZING, the second Superman merely okay, and the second Indiana Jones painfully bad.

    Know your movie history or don’t bother speaking.

    • 1. “The first Trek was considered painfully bad” etc If you need straw men to back up your arguments, maybe you should watch more movies and come up with your own opinion.

      2. The reviewer isn’t commenting on the quality of the films he used as examples, just that the sequels to each “shrug off the self-seriousness of its predecessor and fully embrace its inner Saturday-morning serial.” Which is arguable but fair comment.

      Oh, and that second Superman? Terrence Stamp was the best Zod ever. If anything, Superman II was the best of the four in the original series especially as it didn’t rely on a ridiculous “Superman decides to change time just this once” deus ex machina device like the first one.

  8. John M Holt says:

    Critics can be so amusing, especially bad ones. Here you have a person who is ferociously trying his very best to be the best at his job. Only it isn’t working. Simple minded and easily influenced individuals may buy into this garbage, but there are a lot more sophisticated minds out there at large. It is easy to bash and pull apart a group of peoples work, but it is something else to be able to find the good qualities in something when you are able to comprehend the art and hard work put into it.

    That being said, It is easy to understand where critics are coming from because it is easy to be a critic. Being a connoisseur of film art is a very different quality all together.

    A lot of people ask how it is easy to be a critic? Well critics pull apart , destroy and find fault in work that isn’t even theirs. Their work is destructive in nature. Common sense tells us that it is easier to destroy than it is to create.

    • Duder NME says:

      “Common sense tells us that it is easier to destroy than it is to create.”

      Not anymore. Now we can do both at the same time. According to myth, the Earth was created in six days… NOW WATCH OUT! HERE COME GENESIS! WE’LL DO IT FOR YOU IN SIX MINUTES!

  9. Brad says:

    Well I saw it. I liked the first Avengers, wouldn’t care if I missed this one. The movie was just messy. Lots of action but

    The 3D was distracting bringing forward chains holding up a tractor for no reason or bars on a jail cell. It doesn’t seem this was shot for 3D like the first movie.

    The sound was horrible think of Bane from the last Batman movie and then multiply it by the number of characters.

    The plot what little of it there was is overly simplex. The writing is all over the place. The effects were good but over used and didn’t help tell the story probably dozens of major effects a minute were scattered all over with no real cohesion.

    The dialog was horrible, and the director should be ashamed of himself. It looked like the old days when we would start and stop the video camera to record bits and pieces of an event without editing.

  10. Sandy Muller says:

    And now we meet the guy w/ the bow and arrows family. I flush more charm than Jeremy Renner. Honestly, why did they decide that we had to get to know this guy? He is so boring. Jeremy Renner has no charisma.Look at Iron Man chop wood….. Look and all the endless computer-generated blurry robots. Sucks!

  11. master Yoda says:

    I must admit, I wanted to like this one, but what happened? A bunch of whiners who turn on each other in a moments notice. Visuals are great, but the movie is tedious. Bad guys switch teams in a heartbeat. Movie felt very LONG…..

    • NYCS says:

      Looks like the DC executives got into the comments section. Don’t worry, fellas: your badly miscast Superman/Batman/Aquaman/WonderWaif/whatever movie will do ok, too.

  12. Britney says:

    Just watched it on Mixvid Goooood movie

  13. Cool! Action, fun! That´s all! I was with my niece and a friend watched this movie, and a lot of fun. Not always Movies, needs to be reflective; can and should be fun too.

  14. LOL says:

    These film are crap. They’re made for those with indiscriminate tastes who love watching silly live action cartoons.

    • Correct. They’re made to glorify military manliness… since many audience members will be high school graduates with no real job prospects. This was painfully obvious in MAN OF STEEL, TREK INTO DARKNESS, and DARK NIGHT RISES.

    • NYCS says:

      Spike? Is that you?

    • TONY says:

      GET OVER YOURSELF.

    • Joe says:

      This comment is crap. It’s made for those whose lives are so empty that they go on the Internet with the sole purpose of trashing movies they have no interest in watching.

      • Michael French says:

        OMG – cannot believe you guys are so worked up and critical of a kids movie made after kids comic book characters. It’s a great and fun entertaining film that lasts as long as it lasts – just like a good comic book. You need to think as a kid before commenting. Lighten up and have a bit more fun :)

      • anymous says:

        Wrong.

        This ‘film’ represents nothing more than shrewdly executed corporate strategy toward market dominance (greed, my friend), exploiting audience sentiment ruthlessly (and unfairly, given the deep regard for the source material among fans), and consisting of nothing but dumb spectacle and re-regurgitated story (Let me take a stab: bad guys challenge good guys, good guys win, or are on their way to winning?). Pathetic. Soulless indeed.

        I think the original commenter’s well-founded frustration may come from the fact that this is the tripe that dominates mainstream film culture. Open your fucking eyes.

  15. To read this sort of review (and I do enjoy reading them) the film seems Oscar-worthy. But that is not going to happen. As long as any movie makes money — even one based on a self-fulfilling prophesy — that’s is all which is required.

  16. Joel says:

    Roo bad it doesn’t mention how effective the 3D aspect is.

  17. anymous says:

    Vomits

    :: sorry guys, I can’t ::

    Vomits. Vomits.

  18. was it really necessary to go into detail about the finale of the movie and Ultron’s plan? Aren’t movie reviews supposed to be spoiler-free?

    • I agree, but since some of the damn TV Spots have implicitly revealed the plan I’ve pretty much given up. I can’t stand it. I hated the entire marketing campaign of Avengers 2, from the dull “no strings” to the bombardment of THIRTY TV Spots, each more spoilery than the last.

    • rowana says:

      This is an industry trade paper – it doesn’t need to be spoiler-free.

  19. Isacc Alves says:

    Another Marvel juvenule crap movie,, I’m not going to watch!

More Film News from Variety

Loading