After the Avengers recover a stolen S.H.I.E.L.D. artifact in HYDRA’s possession, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) discovers a mysterious power within the artifact that could power a peacekeeping program that he and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) developed known as “Ultron,” composed of Tony’s Iron Legion to operate independently and safeguard Earth in the event of another alien invasion. Things go south as Ultron (voiced by James Spader) becomes self-aware and believes that the only way to save Earth is to eradicate humanity. As the Avengers attempt to stop Ultron from completing his master plan, Ultron recruits two of HYDRA’s super-powered test subjects Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) to disassemble the Avengers for good.
Age of Ultron isn’t as good as the first Avengers movie; however that doesn’t mean it’s worse than the original. They’re completely different from each other and are both good in their own way. With The Avengers, Iron Man, Captain America (Chris Evans), Hulk, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) had to learn how to learn how to work together as a team, forming a trust factor that establishes them as Earth’s mightiest heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In Age of Ultron, the team is firmly established, but what threatens to tear them apart is their personal fears of failure.
The personal fears of each character adds more depth to the characters that have already been established, such as Tony, Steve, Thor and Bruce, but the Avengers with significant development are Black Widow and Hawkeye. After three movies, we get a sense of Natasha’s feelings on being a member of the Avengers, despite being the only woman and not possessing superpowers or highly advanced armor. We also get a glimpse of her past, helping to understand why she’s emotionally closed off and how it continues to haunt her to the current day. As for Hawkeye, we get a major development of the character in this film. In Thor and The Avengers, Clint is just a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent with an extraordinary talent in archery and marksmanship. Age of Ultron finally gives us an idea of who Clint is, what kind of a man he is, and why he continues to associate with The Avengers despite the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen get their chances to shine as the newest superheroes to join the MCU: Pietro and Wanda Maximoff. Because of the rights of the X-Men to 20th Century Fox, their origins differ from the comics; rather than being the children of Magneto, they are orphaned humans who gain their powers via HYDRA experiments. The result is a Quicksilver that is drastically different from the version Evan Peters played in X-Men: Days of Future Past, and was better in just about every aspect. Age of Ultron’s Quicksilver isn’t the cocky American teenager with the ability to run fast; we get depth to Taylor-Johnson’s Quicksilver and his relationship with his sister and their rough past, especially what motivation drives them to partake in HYDRA’s experiments and siding with Ultron against the Avengers. Olsen and Taylor-Johnson work well together once again (the two previously worked together in Godzilla) and establish a sibling relationship that comes off as genuine and believable.
Paul Bettany gets his chance to finally appear on screen as the mysterious Vision after only contributing his voice as J.A.R.V.I.S. While he makes a good first impression, he arrives so late in the film we don’t get to see much more development of his new character.
James Spader’s Ultron is by far one of the best and memorable villains in the MCU. A genuine problem that has plagued the shared Marvel films is the lack of a menacing or clever villain. Outside of Loki, most of the bad guys in the Marvel films are forgettable and lack that charisma to make them stand out, but with an actor like Spader, it’s difficult to ignore Ultron. Unlike most A.I. villians that seek to destroy humanity just because it views humans as a threat, they lack a big motivational key: emotion. Ultron’s emotional responses are based on Tony Stark and it gives him a god-complex. He resents the Avengers, firmly believing they are fools for wanting to protect the world but not doing anything to change it. He truly believes that his actions will benefit Earth; therefore he sees himself as the next logical step in evolution. Even with these dangerous thoughts that humanity, Ultron possesses a dark sense of humor, something only Spader could deliver with such success.
While the new cast shines, we get brief appearances by James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle), Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and Heimdall (Idris Elba), whom serve their purposes. but it would have been nice to get more involvement from Cheadle and Mackie, especially since Mackie performed so well in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The biggest disappointment comes from Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), who appears in the beginning of the movie and then vanishes until the last 20 minutes. For a person that’s regarded as a tough-minded and by the book hard-ass in the comics, Hill hasn’t done anything to distinguish herself. Smulders does deserve credit for playing her role well enough to imply that there’s a sense of compelling history to her character, but so far she’s come off as one of the more bland characters. Although she rescues Steve and helps take back S.H.I.E.L.D. in The Winter Soldier and has lines of dialog that makes her a hard-ass in her guest appearances on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., this is the third film in which her character falls completely flat and contributes very little to the movie.
The special effects in Age of Ultron have improved from the original, especially the CGI of Hulk, which seems to improve and look more realistic in every MCU film he’s been featured in. The action sequences are top notch and the soundtrack by Brian Tyler and Danny Elfman adds to the experience despite lacking any distinctive and memorable cues.
Despite its strengths, excellent action sequences and a plot that makes it one of the best movies of Phase Two, it’s not without its flaws. There were moments in the middle that went a little long and dragged the film, but what hurts it is that you know what’s coming next. We already know the movie after this is Civil War, which guarantees a majority of the characters are going to appear in the next movie and that most of the characters will be safe from death. The shock and awe of the mid-credits scene doesn’t deliver as impact as the mid-credits of The Avengers due to the fact Marvel announced the future titles of Phase Three movies long before Age of Ultron was released. That knowledge took away some of the drama and suspense of the movie, especially the mystery of the Infinity Stones since fans already know they’ll come into play in Infinity War Part I & Part II later on this decade. Also, the absence of a post-credits scene, a staple of Marvel films, was a major disappointment.
If you’re going into Age of Ultron, don’t expect it to be as epic as the original. Although it’s different, it still has the same Joss Whedon sense of humor as well as amazing action sequences and a memorable, fantastic battle between the Hulk and Iron Man in the Hulkbuster suit. Age of Ultron sets the seeds for the future of the MCU and the next time these Avengers assemble for Civil War, it’s going to be a huge blockbuster that might blow both Avengers movies out of the water. It’s just a shame that Age of Ultron won’t be the final film in Phase 2–that distinction belongs to Ant-Man, which already looks like a disappointing follow up to this superhero epic.
Grade: 4 out of 5.