It has been said over many years that lightning never strikes twice in the same place. We know that, scientifically speaking, this is not true. However in the movie industry, more often than not, it is true. In this age of movie making that is replete with sequels, prequels, and remakes, it seems that for the most part, when there is a great movie, it is usually followed by another film that is less than what is expected. But as we all know, there are exceptions to almost every rule, and Marvel would seem to have figured out how to make movies that are consistently as good as, if not better than the ones that come before their previous efforts.
Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron is once again proof that lightning, at least as far as movies are concerned, can not only strike twice, but multiple times. What is it with this studio? They seem to have hit on a formula, or some device that has brought hit after hit to the big screen. I’m not complaining, mind you, but it is impressive.
Age of Ultron opens with a massive battle scene that finds the Avengers advancing on a large castle-like structure that houses a Hydra outpost. Inside is Baron von Strucker who has been working on enhancing human abilities using Loki’s scepter. The result of his experimentation are a brother and sister duo Pietro (Quicksilver) with the power of super speed, and Wanda (Scarlet Witch) who can manipulate minds and throw energy bursts. After the running battle, Tony Stark captures Loki’s scepter and all return to Stark’s tower that has become the base of operations for the Avengers.
While analyzing the sceptre, Stark and Banner discover an artificial intelligence and use it to complete Stark’s global defence program that he calls Ultron. What they don’t know is that the artificial intelligence that they discover is also sentient and Ultron’s mission is global defence through the elimination of all humankind.
As the Avengers relax during a victory party, Ultron eliminates Stark’s own artificial intelligence, Jarvis and becomes more powerful and crashes the party. Ultron then escapes with the sceptre and returns to von Strucker’s former base. While there, he enhances himself and builds an army of robot drones. Ultron also recruits the enhanced twins who are seeking revenge against Stark for the killing of their parents via the use of weapons that were developed by Stark Industries.
The twins head to Wakanda to obtain vibranium (the substance that is used in Captain America’s shield) and meet with an arms dealer. When the Avengers arrive and try to stop them, Wanda subdues them with visions of doom, except for the Hulk, who goes on a blind rampage. Stark is forced to use a new enhanced armor to subdue the Hulk, but not before there is a significant amount of destruction. This results in a backlash of negative public opinion against the superheroes and that, combined with the disturbing visions planted by Wanda, send the team into hiding at Clint Barton’s (Hawkeye) home.
During the downtime in the country, Thor departs to consult with Dr. Selvig about the visions he is having and Banner realizes an attraction for Natasha, and she is also attracted to him. They make plans to leave together once Ultron is defeated. Nick Fury arrives on the scene with encouragement to keep the team working together to make a plan to defeat Ultron.
Meanwhile, in South Korea, with the help of Wanda, Ultron forces Banner’s friend, Dr. Cho to create the perfect body for him using her synthetic tissue technology, vibranium and the gem from the sceptre. While Ultron uploaded himself into the new body, Wanda reads his mind and discovers his plan for the destruction of humanity and the twins turn against him. Before ultron can complete his task, Captain America, Natasha and Hawkeye track Ultron down and take the synthetic body, but Ultron manages to escape with Natasha.
Stark reveals that Jarvis is not actually gone as was thought, but was hiding the entire time inside the internet, and he secretly uploads Jarvis into the synthetic body and Thor returns to activate the body with lightning. Thor then explains that the gem that has been placed on the forehead of the body is actually the Mind Stone, one of the six Infinity Stones, and one of the most powerful objects in the universe. Thor further explains that the Mind Stone was part of his vision and thus the body is called Vision.
The twins and Vision accompany the Avengers to Skovia where Ultron has used the remaining vibranium to create a machine to lift a giant piece of the city high into the atmosphere and then plunge in back onto the surface of the Earth causing global extinction. While the landmass rises into the air, Banner rescues Natasha and she helps him turn into the Hulk and get ready to fight. In the meantime, Nick fury arrives with a Helicarrier to evacuate the people off of the landmass. Pietro takes fire that is intended for Barton, who is holding a child, and is killed in doing so. This sends Wanda into a rage of grief and she releases an energy burst that destroys many of Ultron’s drones and causes damage to Ultron himself, but is also allows one of his his other drones to activate the machine Ultron is using to destroy humanity. The landmass begins to fall to Earth, but Stark and Thor arrive and manage to overload the machine, shattering the landmass before it can hit. Vision saves Wanda and confronts what is left of Ultron.
In the closing scenes of the movie, the Hulk takes a Quinjet and leaves on his own, leaving Natasha behind instead of them getting away together as they had planned. The Avengers establish a new base in Upstate New York under the direction of Fury, Hill, Cho and Selvig. Stark drives away talking like he is retiring, and Hawkeye returns to his family. Captain America and Natasha begin the training of a new team of Avengers consisting of War Machine, Wanda, Vision, and Falcon.
The only easter egg in the credits shows Thanos vowing to hunt for all of the infinity stones himself.
There was a lot I liked about this film. In the past, I have bashed on the Tony Stark character as portrayed by Robert Downey Jr. In the Iron Man films, I thought that he was way too flippant and constantly cracking wise. As I recall, I said that the Iron Man films seemed like a two hour Downey Jr. stand-up comedy act. It wasn't as much that in the last Avengers film, but then, he didn't get as much screen time. In Age of Ultron though, I was happier with the character. While he still had his arrogance and some of his flippant tendencies intact, he seemed more flawed and more human, and more serious about the situation. I even found myself liking Star for the first time since he began appearing in the more recent Marvel films.
I also loved, as always, Scarlett Johansson's portrayal of Natasha. But this time, she comes across also as a character who is very human. I enjoyed the scenes that she and Banner had together. Banner wants to simply get away because he is appalled by what he becomes when he transforms into the Hulk, an apparently out of control, unstoppable force of destruction. He just wants to go someplace where he can enjoy peace and quiet and not become his alter ego. Natasha is similarly tired of the constant adventuring and wants to get away making the two kindred spirits. In this film, we get some of Natasha's backstory; we learn that she was sterilized to prevent her from thinking about her emotional side that might prevent her from being the stone cold killer she was trained to be. In the scene where she explains this to Banner and they talk about their getaway, Natasha begins to tear-up and seems on the verge of losing it, but she doesn't quite let go. In my mind, this was one of the best and most human scenes in the movie, showing that there is a human side to the characters, and that there is indeed more depth to them.
A sequence that I also loved was the victory party at the tower after the capture of Loki's scepter. Especially when everyone tried to lift Thor's hammer from the table. No one was able to do it, but one character was able to make it move a bit, and Thor looked on with a bit of worry on his face. As part of one of the running gags during the film, Vision DID lift the hammer and hand it to Thor later in the movie, and the look on Hemsworth's face made everyone in the theater chuckle. I'll also say that the other running gag involved Captain America's concern with Iron Man's tendency to use some more colorful metaphors.
I thought that this was a well balanced film. There was plenty of action and plenty of story in equal parts and the time went by so fast, it certainly didn't seem like it was almost two and a half hours long.
I do only have one, very small and nitpicky complaint; the action scenes and the scene changes go by so fast that there isn't really time to digest everything one sees on the screen. I am pretty sure that no one can see everything in a Marvel film in just one viewing, so whether it is a shortcoming of the editing process, or a ploy to get patrons to go and see the film more than once, it is just a small thing, because even if I cannot make it to the theater to see this a second time, I will be getting this on BluRay so I can see it again.
I will conclude by saying that I truly enjoyed this film. I found it entertaining on many levels, and if you are reading this and have not been to the theater to see Age of Ultron, or are waiting for it to come out on one of the digital services, please be advised that these films are made for the big screen and you will be doing yourself a disservice if you do not see it in a theater.
Well, there it is...