Friday, May 01, 2015

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON: Satisfyingly More Of The Same

Now playing at every multiplex in the galaxy and beyond:

(Dir. Joss Whedon, 2015)

If you live on planet Earth, you’re aware that today the Marvel machine is rolling out the biggest super hero movie of the year - sorry, ANT-MAN, but, c’mon!

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (from this point on, A:AOU), the sequel to the biggest superhero movie of 2012, THE AVENGERS, and the 11th entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise that began with the first IRON MAN back in 2008, is here to officially kick off the summer 2015 movie season - sorry, FURIOUS 7.

But if you’re reading this, you most likely know all that, and just want to know if this highly anticipated, star-studded, and CGI-saturated production lives up to its huge hype.

I’ll say - yeah, it does. I had a tremendous amount of fun watching the reunited team - Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America/Steve Rodgers (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), The Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) – working together with lots of wit and energy to defeat the powerful robotic villain Ultron (voiced by James Spader).

This adventure begins with an already-in-progress action sequence, involving the comic book crew storming the castle of Hydra leader Baron von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) in the icy terrain of the fictional European nation of Sokovia.

Amid the standard chaos and wisecracks (most of which are pretty funny) we are introduced to a couple of new characters, brother and sister duo Pietro/Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). “He’s fast, she’s weird,” is what SHIELD’s Maria Hill (the also returning Cobie Smulders) says of their powers, which means that Pietro can move at supersonic speeds, while Wanda can manipulate minds with magic.

The Avengers rescue Loki’s scepter, one of the McGuffins of the series, and return to their headquarters at the Stark Tower Complex in Manhattan, where we actually get to hang out with the guys as they party, and engage in a game of taking turns trying to lift Thor’s hammer. Meanwhile, Stark’s Ultron project, which is supposed to be a global peacekeeping program, is co-opted by the scepter and becomes sentient.

That means Spader, who in addition to providing the voice, performed on set in a motion-capture suit, takes over as the movie’s major villain, and sets out to wipe out humanity (“There is only one path to peace... your extinction”).

As if he thinks we don’t have enough characters to keep up with, Whedon keeps piling them on. We meet Barton’s (Renner, in case you forgot) wife (Linda Cardellini of Freaks and Geeks and Mad Men fame) and kids living at a “safe house” farm where the Avengers lay low between battles, geneticist Helen Cho (Claudia Kim) who gets co-opted by Ultron, arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis, a motion capture master himself), and the re-occuring role of Stark’s A.I. companion J.A.R.V.I.S. (voiced by Paul Betttany) is expanded via a red and green android body (Bettany in the flesh).

There’s also the many cameos from the MCU including Don Cheadle getting in a few good one-liners again as as James “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine and Anthony Mackie getting in a few glaring grins as Sam Wilson/Falcon, along with appearances by Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, Idris Elba as Heimdall, and of course, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, who no Marvel movie should be without. And yes, there’s a Stan Lee cameo, but, c'mon, you knew there would be.

Yes, A:AOU covers every single fan-pleasing base it can in its 2 hour and 21 minute running time and is a pretty bloated affair because of it, but it swiftly juggles all these strands until they collide in the big climax set on a ginourmous hunk of a Sokovian city land mass that Ultron has lifted from the earth and is planning on crashing down. The Avengers try to save the city's people while warring with the armies of robots that are all forms of Ultron (in a MATRIX sort of way I guess).

The special effects, of course put together by thousands of digital artists, are flawlessly top notch, but it’s the human moments that give a lot of heart, soul, and humor to this enterprise. A romance blooming between Ruffalo’s Banner (another invested portrayal - where's this guy's Hulk movie?) and Johansson’s Romanoff adds a thoughtful touch, and while Downey Jr.’s Stark is still full of snark, there’s an unmistakable conscience behind it. The rest of the gang also have their moments, but Hemsworth's Thor is still my least favorite Avenger.

Spader, even with only a mechanical presence, makes for a powerfully worthy foe, one who gets his share of well delivered quips and takes delight in destruction.

If this is Whedon’s final fling with the super hero franchise, he went out with a multitude of big bangs. Maybe they’re all riffs on the familiar formulaic tropes of the genre we’re all used to, but that doesn’t make them any less effective. 

A:AOU is winningly and satisfyingly more of the same; it’s everything a superhero superfan would want out of a Marvel movie. Non fans who haven’t been won over by any of the movies in the series before won’t be converted by it, but I seriously doubt many of them will have read this far into this review anyway.

More later...

1 comment:

Duljani said...

Avangers: Age of Ultron is such a jazz instrument. Those are play themselves, but with nice coordination. Joss Whedon arranged it well. Thanks for review.