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  • In “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” the action is always dynamic, particularly when it slows to a stop and allows the audience to swoon over its heroes’ dramatic poses.
    Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios
    In “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” the action is always dynamic, particularly when it slows to a stop and allows the audience to swoon over its heroes’ dramatic poses.

“Avengers: Age Of Ultron” Is Worthy Of Thor’s Hammer

Dan Gvozden
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May 6, 2015

In 2012, “The Avengers” accomplished a long-held dream for millions of comic book and movie fans around the globe when it united four disparate film series into one colossal, multimedia spectacular. What the experience of seeing all of Marvel’s heroes battling extraterrestrial combatants together lacked in dramatic subtlety and depth, it made up for with lightning wit and rocket-fuel-powered fun. While that thrill will likely never be reproduced, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” pushes the series into deeper and darker territory while still delivering on the action and rivalries that fans adore.

After recovering Loki’s troublesome staff from a Russian terrorist group, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) secretly uses its powers to jumpstart a peacekeeping program named Ultron (James Spader) that turns on its master, constructs a robotic body and becomes intent on destroying all life on earth, starting with the Avengers. That decision predictably doesn’t sit well with the Avengers, whose team also includes leader and professional shield-thrower Captain America (Chris Evans); Norse god and hammer-wielder Thor (Chris Hemsworth); the rageful Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and palliative Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson); and, in a surprisingly rich role, archer Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Supporting the villainous Ultron are newcomers Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), neither of whom have enough screen time to make a splash outside their ill-defined power-sets.

James Spader’s Ultron begins the movie as a truly compelling threat unlike any the Marvel cinematic universe has ever seen. Spader’s sarcastic, detached wit is perfect for the calculating and sinister Ultron, a character whose fingers curl in the air as if he were cradling a skull and quoting Shakespeare. In many ways, he’s an unstoppable, vengeful god seeking to wipe out mankind only to rebuild it in his own image. It is a shame then, that by the film’s end he’s reduced to a similar role as the first film’s villains: an endless, faceless horde of monsters for the Avengers to pummel. Ultron poses an interesting dilemma to the heroes; too bad it’s a discussion solved by lasers and fists rather than a compelling ideological opposition.

In an effort to outdo the city-spanning action of “The Avengers,” director Joss Whedon flings the cast around the globe this time to do battle in Bangladesh, South Africa, England and even South Korea. There’s no time for a discussion of American imperialism; they are all American superheroes after all (even the Norse god), as the Avengers fight not only a floating city full of artificially intelligent Iron Man suits but also one another. The action is always dynamic, particularly when it slows to a stop and allows the audience to swoon over its heroes’ dramatic poses, but also far too chaotic and overstuffed.

Shaky, handheld camerawork is partnered with dozens of computer-generated characters tearing one another to pieces in a geographically confusing city that offers limited visual distinction between one location and another. It is a shame because “The Avengers” was celebrated for the exact opposite: geographically and logically consistent, large-scale action that flowed from one beat to the next in an invisible manner. Make no mistake, the action here still dazzles, particularly a larger-than-life battle between the Hulk and the Iron Man “Hulkbuster” armor, but it’s noticeably less discernible than before.

The real draw to “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is its large cast of charming characters that audiences have adopted as part of their cinematic family. Rich and witty dialogue scenes between the characters conjure forth the inside jokes, rivalries, and familiar good and bad expectations of a family reunion. It seems almost a shame that Ultron has to go and interrupt the fun of watching Iron Man and Captain America take turns trying to lift Thor’s unwieldable hammer. Even the new dynamic between the Hulk and Black Widow manages to light up the screen, despite there being no precedent for their churning romance. After being tormented by haunting visions, implanted by Scarlet Witch, the individual characters are driven apart to embark on their own personal quests. Some of these stories are interesting but most are filler meant to set up the next film in the series.

Make no mistake, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” departs wildly from the serialized narrative established by the films that preceded it. A few elements remain: S.H.I.E.L.D. has been disbanded and Thor remains on Earth, but any reference to Iron Man’s retirement, Agent Coulson’s resurrection or the Winter Soldier’s escape are swept under the rug. It’s a baffling decision, considering one of the significant appeals of the Marvel films is their line-wide continuity, and one has to wonder whether this divergence will hurt the value of the brand overall. If audiences can’t trust that what they’ve invested in will count towards the overall story, should they be expected to continue attending all the Marvel films?

These minor grievances aside, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” delivers on the fast-paced action and witty charm that Marvel films have become known for over the past seven years. By its end, the film still manages to leave the Marvel cinematic universe in an interesting, if contractually obligated, place for stories to build toward the upcoming “Avengers: Infinity War.” If “Avengers: Age of Ultron” stumbles, it does so only over a problem that has plagued modern comics for at least a decade: the challenge of pairing mature, adult drama and themes against pulpy comic tropes from the birth of the superhero, making every laser blast and shield-toss mean something. In an era of cinema dominated by loud and thoughtless product, “Avengers: Age of Ultron”’s desire to say something about its world and characters allows it to stand apart, even if it isn’t a complete success.


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