Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron

It's finally here! I've been waiting for this movie ever since the first trailer debuted about seven months ago... okay, actually I've been waiting for this movie ever since 2012's The Avengers ended. After three years of build-up and solo films to heighten our expectations, it's hard to imagine any film living up to so much hype. If you've read my top ten most anticipated films of the year, you'll see only one film higher on the list than Avengers: Age of Ultron, so suffice it to say that my own expectations were incredibly high. I even sat for a good 10+ hours with some great friends of ours watching all of the Phase 2 movies leading up to it, which was both helpful and potentially detrimental to my initial viewing experience. I'll get into more of that later, but first let me get into a spoiler-free summary of the plot.

After the events of the Chitauri invasion of New York (not to mention the stand-alone movies in-between), the Avengers are well-known and feared by all who are associated with Hydra. Baron von Strucker, one of the last Hydra leaders, is hiding out in the fictitious European nation of Sokovia while attempting to create "miracles" out of two local volunteers - Pietro (aka "Quicksilver", who has super-speed) and Wanda Maximoff (aka "Scarlet Witch", who can project energy and cause mental interference). The Baron has been using the cosmic staff wielded by Loki during the Chirauri invasion to create these super-powered beings, and the Avengers are there to reclaim the relic. However, the operation isn't without its hiccups, and Tony Stark is subjected to a horrific vision, courtesy of the Scarlet Witch, in which he is to blame for the deaths of all mankind. With this fear firmly in place and using the newly discovered properties of the staff, Stark wishes to fulfill his ultimate goal of creating an artificial intelligence to serve as a global protector... a project known as "Ultron".

This film kicks off with one of the best action scenes in the MCU, involving every one of the Avengers in battle before a line of dialogue is spoken. It's a stark difference from the slow build of the first Avengers film, where half of the movie's run time was devoted to assembling the team that would eventually thwart the alien invasion. Here, the film wastes no time in getting us re-acclimated with our heroes as each one gets a stand-out moment during their assault on Hydra's last remaining fortress. Just like in the first film, there is no shortage of jokes in Age of Ultron, but with an added dose of darkness to the proceedings it feels slightly less skewed for humor than last time.

Tension runs high throughout this movie, and my first watching was spent in fear for every Avenger's life. That fear is never greater than when Ultron first makes his appearance in a great scene that was heavily featured in the trailers. He starts out as a broken-down, slightly confused, and delicately homicidal pragmatist, spouting off poetic philosophies on the numerous failings of the super-team he seeks to destroy. James Spader is hypnotic as the voice of Ultron, and the motion capture performance also adds a bit of flavor that would surely be lost without his unique touch. A funhouse mirror-image of his maker, Tony Stark, Ultron seeks the same aims as the playboy billionaire... just from a different approach. His humor seems adopted from Downey's playbook as well, with sarcastic remarks about revealing his entire plan to the team rather than putting the plan in action. He's an oddly sympathetic character as well, possessing a strange loneliness that became somewhat poignant to me following the film's climax.

If there's one thing this film had in excess, it was characters. With an already bursting supply of talent from the first Avengers movie, there were moments that felt a bit bloated with returning cast members from previous Marvel movies. Don't get me wrong, I loved seeing some familiar faces again, but they didn't really serve a purpose in this story. To get all of my complaints about the film out of the way now, I also have to say that the score by Brian Tyler was completely unmemorable and would have been utterly bland were it not for Danny Elfman swooping in to save the day. Thanks to his last minute rewrites, we got back the iconic Avengers theme from the first movie that I've really grown to love, and which were the best parts of the score for Age of Ultron as well. Then again, I tend to think of Brian Tyler as a hack in general, and really didn't like his generic scores for Iron Man 3 or Thor: The Dark World (the funeral scene notwithstanding).

There is so much going on in this film that I felt I had to see it twice last weekend to absorb as much as I could, but there's still probably more to pick up from it. As such, I won't be able to talk about all the things I really liked (Robert Downey, Jr.'s awesome performance, the introduction of Scarlett Witch, Vision being so freaking cool!), but suffice it to say that everyone who's even remotely interested in these Marvel movies NEEDS to see Avengers: Age of Ultron! It's one of the most fun experiences I've had in a movie theater in years, and it's easily one of the top 3 best movies of the MCU. I don't understand the Rotten Tomatoes score being so low (75%? Seriously?), but I give this movie a very solid four stars. I don't know how Marvel is going to top themselves after this, but I can't wait to find out!

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction, and for some suggestive comments