Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe comes to a close with The Avengers 2, or Avengers: Age of Ultron, and boy is it a welcome return for some and a bodacious entrance for others. The comic book superheroes are united for the first time since the original Avengers film, Joss Whedon is back in the director’s chair, and lots of new characters are brought in. In other words, this is a huge film project that reportedly wore Whedon out a great deal and, in some ways, it shows.
So the Avengers, the Earth’s mightiest heroes, are reassembled at last after having inexplicably had to deal with their respective problems solo for the last couple Marvel movies. The core members are of course the endearingly arrogant tech genius Tony “Iron Man” Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), noble and patriotic super soldier Steve “Captain America” Rogers (Chris Evans), the godlike Asgardian alien Thor (Chris Hemsworth), martial arts extraordinaire Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), badass bowman Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and awkward scientist Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), who might have an angry Hulk or two hidden within. By their side, the Avengers also have their fierce and competent leader Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the man in charge of what was once the world-protecting organization S.H.I.E.L.D, as well as former S.H.I.E.L.D agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and even Tony’s old mate Jamey “War Machine” Rhodes (Don Cheadle), finally getting to join in on the Avengers fun, albeit briefly.
As the film starts, our heroes are on a mission to obtain the sceptre of their old foe Loki from the laboratory of HYDRA scientist Baron von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann). The unique power source within Loki’s sceptre – which we soon learn is, in fact, one of the so-called Infinty Stones – is what allows Tony Stark to commence the development of his, and partially Banner’s greatest invention yet: a peacekeeping A.I. program known as Ultron (voiced by James Spader), intended to take over after S.H.I.E.L.D and the Avengers and defend Earth from more alien attacks like the one in the first film. But, as anyone could have predicted, the A.I. becomes more powerful and malicious than Stark had foreseen and escapes the Avenger HQ via Internet with sinister and deeply hateful plans for human kind.
What was meant as a new shield for planet Earth has become its new enemy, and so The Avengers must unite yet again to find and deactivate Ultron before he grows even more intelligent, builds himself a stronger body out of materials he finds in Strucker’s old lab, and begins his extinction of humanity. Action, excitement, and hours worth of Whedon’s trademark witty banter ensue.
Amidst it all they learn of two new players that were originally subjects of Strucker’s twisted experiments and are now in allegiance with Ultron: the incredibly fast Pietro “Quicksilver” Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and his telekinetic/telepathic sister Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen), better known as the Scarlet Witch. So yes, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has managed to get X-Men characters involved now, even if Quicksilver was already in Days of Future Past. Interesting.
Filling out the cast even more are Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), the astrophysicist from the Thor movies; Helen Cho (Claudia Kim), a Korean geneticist; Sam “Falcon” Wilson (Anthony Mackie), best friend of Steve and then of course, there’s Paul Bettany as the voice of Stark’s main computer Jarvis and later a character known simply as The Vision. If that’s not enough, though, Andy Serkis makes a rare non-mocap appearance as shady arms dealer Ulysses Klaw, and, sometimes in really creepy visions imprinted on the heroes by Scarlet Witch, there are cameos a plenty from previous Marvel players such as Steve’s old girlfriend Peggy (Hayley Atwell) and Asgard’s gatekeeper Heimdall (Idris Elba). Stan Lee‘s there too, but thankfully not in a Scarlet Witch vision.
While there are some (often somewhat forced) allusions to the other Infinity Stones and the impending threat from Thanos, last seen in Guardians of the Galaxy, the story of Avengers 2 is relegated to Earth and how Stark’s ambitions to keep it safe from future invasion has backfired so direly that it causes turbulence in-between the Avengers. However, this turbulence is only intriguing thanks to how lovable these guys are when they do get along and fight crime together. Once more Whedon shows his skill at having all these different Marvel characters work off of each other in hilarious ways, be it when they combine their powers in a creative fashion to battle enemies or when they end up on bad terms and grow increasingly uncertain as to whether they can truly keep trusting one another. Their conversations, which consist of almost too many Whedon-esque one-liners, are a pretty helpful factor too.
Another thing that continues to impress me is how Whedon, even when there are so many characters to focus on, manages to use 2.5 hours of runtime mostly right and give all of them things to do and keep most of their individual arcs interesting, as well as balanced in terms of screen time.
I cared for the Maximoff twins, was mildly interested in finding out more about Hawkeye’s private life, and loved especially how Black Widow used the relationship between Banner and her as an actual way to directly make his raging Hulk persona calm down a bit and revert back to human form almost instantly. It’s no doubt one of the most heartwarming concepts in the entire movie. And to top it off, Ultron, with his delightfully creepy design, intimidating presence, and James Spader’s great voice work, might just be the most memorable antagonist this franchise has had since Loki. I will also say that the Vision character is probably my new favourite character in the series, but I don’t want to tread into too much spoiler territory regarding who he actually is.
If I were to come up with anything negative about the movie, it would be that the action scenes can be immensely monotonous and that indestructible heroes crashing through skyscraper walls in 3D is only fun to watch for so long. Exactly how long “so long” is I don’t know, but it’s less than in this movie. In spite of this, though, the action scenes are still interesting because you like and care about the characters and during the climax, which is both original and exhilerating, there are normal human lives at stake, which I suppose ups the tension a bit. I guess another complaint would be asking how Tony Stark has Iron Man suits left if he trashed them all in Iron Man 3 but to be fair, the less we care about that film the better. Also, there’s no post-credit scene after the mid-credits scene in this one, but trust me, with a mid-credits scene like that, a post one is hardly necessary.
I will give this film a 4/5. It may seem too high but to me the biggest problem with this movie is that parts of it are clearly missing, since the original cut is reportedly 4 hours long. I wouldn’t say a 2.5 hour movie that I want to see even more of is an especially shabby one.
In any case, this movie is funny, touching, consistently exciting, and effectively dramatic when it needs to be. I had an overall blast watching it, as I’m sure passionate comic book fans so too shall, and I’m sure I’ll be in the theatre when the third film (part 1) comes out and our heroes finally come face to face with the chessmaster of this entire franchise – Thanos. Bet you thought I was gonna say Howard the Duck.