Saturday, May 2, 2015

Movie Review of "Avengers: Age of Ultron"

The long-awaited Avengers sequel has finally hit and like any sequel, there are good points and bad points. This phase in the Marvel cinematic universe (MCU) finds the team going directly into action to face off against HYDRA and Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) to obtain the scepter previously used by Loki, obtaining the wisdom infinity stone. The audience is not given any review or catching up on what our heroes have been up to lately. So let's review what we know so far: Captain America (Chris Evans) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) have been on missions together and seen the end of S.H.I.E.L.D., which was infiltrated and corrupted by its enemy HYDRA; Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who, somewhere between Captain America: The Winter Soldier and here, got into a romantic relationship with Black Widow, went off to work at Stark Industries, alongside Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.); after a major battle with Aldrich Killian, who tried to further weaponize the "Extremis" technology, Stark seemingly gives up his Iron Man persona to be with an ailing Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow); Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) has been laying low; Thor (Chris Hemsworth) saved his world, Asgard, and Earth from the evil Malekith, with his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) posing as their father, Odin, and two Asgardians deliver an Infinity Stone (featured in Guardians of the Galaxy) to the Collector (Benecio del Toro), which, thanks to the Guardians, is currently in the custody of the NOVA Corps. Otherwise, the audience is just thrown into the action. What follows is a fun, action-packed beginning to the summer movie season!

 The newest addition to the MCU is the addition of the "miracles" (they're mutants -- let's be real), "the Twins," Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who have powers beyond a scientific explanation; Wanda has telekinesis, hypnosis, and can emit powerful energy bolts, and Pietro is a super-fast speedster. We find out the two are not the victims they were made out to be in their brief appearance of the post-credit scene in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. As Wanda uses her powers to hypnotize Tony Stark, he sees his worst nightmare of his teammates dying while Earth is faced with another alien invasion. This fear spreads within him and he decides to turn his sentient Iron Man soldiers (oh yeah! They were made too in the interim between films!) into more aware artificial intelligence (AI). The problem is that his AI -- named Ultron -- becomes all too self-aware and decides the only way it can bring about Tony's "world peace" is by destroying those who make the world the most violent: humans. Thus, the Avengers spring into action and it's an entertaining ride to watch.

"There are no strings on me." Ultron first meets the Avengers and makes a rather underrated, sinister threat.

One of the best things about the villain of Ultron is that he is a broad-based villain. Everywhere there is computer AI and the internet, he lives. Plus, he makes several copies of himself, making an innumerable threat. But that is also a problem in Age of Ultron, because, for a villain who seems so much of a huge threat and is capable of being one, the filmmakers don't fully utilize his power of coursing through the world's internet and it is never explained why (I can't say too much now as it would become too much of a spoiler). Sure, there's a brief mention of NEXUS, but how Ultron is prevented from fully using his power is never explained. Of course, in the comic, Ultron is actually created by Hank Pym -- who will be played by Michael Douglas in the Ant-Man film due out this summer -- but, in this film, it is understandable that director/writer Joss Whedon had to keep it in the already-established characters' world. The other best thing about Ultron is he is voiced by James Spader. Spader brings a delightful playfulness to his villainy, his voice oozing with delighted evil (fans of NBC's The Blacklist know what I'm talkin' about!). Ultron is probably one of the best robotic characters I've ever seen on film. Since Ultron is created by Stark in the film, it is understandable that the robot would take on Stark's wit and pompousness. I think he's even better of a villain than Loki. Taylor-Johnson is good as Quicksilver but -- because I'm a DC Comics fan, I have to say -- that character is no Flash. Olsen really brings "the dark" as Scarlet Witch and I can't wait to see how the MCU fits her in to its world. And Paul Bettany's Vision was interesting, I liked the way Bettany portrayed him as well as how he was written, and there was one jaw-dropping moment which Vision silently shows his full strength ... and it's not even in an action sequence! I look forward to seeing how he'll affect the overall function of the Avengers as a whole.

Some of the best parts of this film are some of the small quirks peppered throughout the film; my personal favorite is when all of the Avengers are humorously trying to lift Thor's hammer and Cap -- an insanely buff Evans -- slightly nudges it, and Thor gets a worried look on his face but quickly plays it off like he wasn't worried. Also worth mentioning is the introduction of Ulysses Klaw (Andy Serkis) in Africa -- this is a brief intro to the world of Black Panther (who will be introduced in Captain America: Civil War, and have his own film come out in July 2018). Plus, this has to be my favorite Stan Lee cameo of all the ones he's done so far ("Excelsior!"). What I also liked about the film was the further development of Hawkeye's (Renner) character, and Thor's little side mission where he sees a major foreshadowing. I've said this since The Avengers and I'll say it again: Black Widow should have her own stand-alone film; she has one of the best origin stories in the Marvel universe. There is also definite seeds being planted to foreshadow the famous "Civil War" event storyline (from the comics), which will be the centerpiece to the next Captain America movie (due out in May 2016), most notably the fight between Cap and Stark. I love that this film explored the duality between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers. Stark is so intent on wanting to protect the world that he creates destructive devices to do so (sounds like most real-life "politicos" nowadays) -- an idea which is one of the Maximoffs' main reasons for not trusting Stark -- while Rogers believes in overall freedom. I couldn't help but think of Rogers' most quotable line in any of the films he's appeared in when he confronts Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) in Winter Soldier, by pointing to S.H.I.E.L.D.'s new weapons and saying: "... Like holding a gun on everyone on Earth and calling it protection. This isn't freedom. This is fear." This will play out more in Civil War. Now, some people may think this film follows the same formula of the first, especially involving the "dysfunctional family" feel. However, this aspect is necessary in this film so that Marvel could set it up for what's to inevitably come. 

A house divided ...

What I wasn't too crazy about was some of Cap's action stunts. I know this is a comic book adaptation movie, but there's still only so much unrealistic action moves I can stomach, and his were too much to bear. Also, Marvel's continuing utilization of the entire "coincidence catastrophe" technique is good in theory. Let me explain. You might notice in every Marvel film that when any major disaster happens in a city or place, miraculously no major lives, cities, and/or places are destroyed (although, in this film, there is plenty of destruction, and I'd like to see what Man of Steel naysayers who were so up-in-arms about the destruction of Metropolis would say after seeing this -- even though I'm sure they'll make excuses). Anyways, like I said, this technique is good in theory in that kids don't see much death and it makes the story all the more optimistic, but it sort of gets old. It gets to be too unrealistic ... even for a film steeped in science fiction and flying men. But it still works nonetheless ... for now.

Overall, Avengers: Age of Ultron is a great way to start the season, another exceptional notch in Marvel's belt, but don't expect too much exposition. Still, there's more story here than in The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies! The cast ups their game as we get glimpses into what they really fear, and makes me really wish there would be a Hulk stand-alone film. But what's most exciting is the mid-end-credit scene. I won't spoil it but it sets up for the next Avengers film: probably one of the most major events in comic book history. Whedon does a great job -- as usual -- but it is the humanity of Avengers: Age of Ultron which ultimately makes this film a memorable addition to the MCU.

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