A review for a Marvel movie is about as useful as communism. Regardless of what critics say, people are going to see it, and who can blame them? I was tempted to cut this review short, post a two-sentence recommendation, and leave it at that. The MCU films have succeeded in ways conventional Blockbusters can only dream of. They use an abundant amount of color, unapologetically adhere to their schlock origins, and treat the audience with a level of respect Michael Bay utterly lacks. That being said, as a critic, it is my job to report on new releases and give my opinion. So, what did I think about Avengers: Age of Ultron?
While very good and well worth your money, Age of Ultron arguably has some problems that keep it from being better than the first. The fantastic character moments and humor are present and accounted for, but minor superficial elements bug me to no end. I may be overthinking it and will have to see the movie again to get a clear idea of what felt wrong to me. Or maybe it was the annoying child with a lisp and his land-whale parent that sat behind me for three hours. If that kid were a decade older, I would have grabbed him by the scalp and dragged him down the theater stairs, grinding his face into each step.
Anyway, after a vision of his friends dead as a result of his negligence, Tony, played by Robert Downey Jr., becomes convinced the Avengers are not enough to defend humanity. Enlisting the help of Bruce, played by Mark Ruffalo, Tony develops an AI programed to protect the world called Ultron, played by James Spader. However, at his conception, Ultron becomes self-aware, deems the Avengers and humanity a threat, and sets in motion his plans for their extinction.
To put it bluntly, Age of Ultron is The Avengers ten times bigger, and almost entirely character driven. The central story parallels the heroes’ moral struggle with the idea of being heroes. It deals with the theme of power and how using it to save or destroy can be the same thing.
Ultron embodies this idea, a walking talking metaphor that disregards ethics and remorse for a single driving motivation, protect the world. When he takes into account the effects of humanity’s existence, he is compelled to wipe them out. Each hero reflects a part of the theme, specific to the character in question, creating conflict and tension within the team, and a realization that what they do may be causing more harm than good.
The excellent humor and group dynamic go without saying. Even better than the epic action scenes are the jokes and borderline slapstick peppered between moments of robots torn in half and harrowing rescues. If there is any reason to see Age of Ultron it is the sharp whit that has gotten better with time.
All the actors are good in their respective roles. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen do well as newcomers Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, but the best has to be Spader, a villain performance so good it makes Heath Ledger’s Joker look like Tommy Wiseau’s Johnny. He employs mostly sarcasm and a level of humanity that makes Ultron believable and funny. His responses feel genuine, coming from a place of emotion beyond his mechanistic nature. In most situations, he behaves as if he knows he is in a movie and enjoys it, a reflection of his character that says more about him as a person than his motivations. I would go so far as to say Spader makes the film work more than anything else.
Problems emerge from the production side. Where The Avengers had clean shots and a consistent pace that allowed you to see everything that was going on, Age of Ultron is kind of a mess. Each frame is fast with jump cuts to several angles of the same shot that would have looked fine with just one or two. It is like shaky cam, without the shaking, and more confusion. It translates more so into the rest of the movie as the story moves so fast, it can be hard to follow and remember certain pivotal moments.
The confusion can work in the action with a balance of steady shots in the calm, but what The Avengers did so well was consistency. Action sequences were shot as cleanly as everything else. We could tell what was happening and revel in the spectacle. Age of Ultron’s spectacle is hard to follow.
You do not need me to tell you to buy a ticket. In terms of ranking within the MCU, Avengers: Age of Ultron is third below The Avengers, then Winter Soldier on top. It is still good despite the editing and camera work, but no one sees these movies for the cinematography. If you want a group dynamic and humor that is stronger than ever, you will not be disappointed.