‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ Review: Fine Blockbustin’

'Avengers: Age of Ultron'

Movie Rating:

4

The biggest problem with ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ is simply that no movie could have possibly lived up to its expectations. 2012’s ‘The Avengers’ had the advantage of being the first movie to combine independent superhero franchises into a rock ’em, sock ’em team-up. The sequel had to not only follow the third most successful blockbuster in history (for now, give ‘Furious 7’ time), but offer satisfying plot threads for five protagonists, introduce four major new players, and deliver massive action scenes every 20 minutes.

That was pretty much impossible, yet Joss Whedon did his best and has delivered a damn fun movie. It’s just not the greatest comic book blockbuster ever made, and unfortunately for some fans that’ll mean the whole production is a failure.

Things kick off in the middle of a big action scene in which Whedon attempts to top his one-take-wonder from the last ‘Avengers’. It’s a bold opening and a heck of a lot of fun, but doesn’t pack the same wallop as the first time, which is indicative of the movie as a whole. From there, we learn that the gang are seeking out the Loki-pokey stick from the last movie. They find it. All is well – at least until Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo, duh) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., double duh) decide to use a little of the technology they discover at the secret base containing the stick to launch the A.I. Avenger project they were batting around, called Ultron.

With that mission accomplished, it’s time to party, with the gang cracking wise Whedon-style and reminding us why we love these crazy cats. Then Ultron (James Spader) bursts into the room to announce his plans to be the villain in ‘Avengers 2’. After that, the gang must bicker and battles must commence. Captain America (Chris Evans) frets about justice, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) goes on a mission that goes nowhere, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) falls for The Hulk, and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) gets a personality. Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) are introduced, as is Vision (Paul Bettany). A few other subplots pop up, and it all builds toward a finale in which Whedon cleverly toys with the MCU “stuff falls onto a city” climax cliché.

As you might have noticed, that’s a hell of a lot of plot for one movie, even at 141 minutes. In recent weeks, rumors have spread about a 3.5 hour rough cut of ‘Age of Ultron’. Looking at the final cut, that seems entirely possible. At times, things feel a little too rushed, while at other times threads are left dangling (like whatever Thor’s original plot was supposed to be). The filmmakers still manage to condense all the sprawling excess and unfinished subplots into a satisfying summer blockbuster, so it’s hard to complain too much.

Given the massive expectations that Marvel movie lovers will have upon entering the theater, the easiest first reaction is to fret over all the things that this sequel isn’t. However, doing that requires you to ignore what the movie actually is, and that’s a mistake given all the geeky fun on display.

First off, Whedon’s crackling snappy dialogue and characterization are in full force. With the Avengers now finally a team, he lets the gang banter off each other freely with some big laughs sneaking in. Some of the best scenes and moments in the movie don’t involve a single explosion. They’re the result of Whedon and his cast having fun with the characters, whether they’re arguing over who can pick up Thor’s hammer or icing Don Cheadle whenever he tries to tell a War Machine story because his adventures can’t compare to Avengers shenanigans. This time, Whedon writes his Avengers like old friends, and the audience is invited in on their private party.

Downey, Evans, Hemsworth, Ruffalo and Johansson all wear their roles like comfy old pajamas now, so they slide into that tone with ease. Renner gets a bit more meat and backstory to chew on at long last, so Hawkeye finally feels like a full character. (Given everything else going on, he only gets a fraction of the running time, so don’t expect too much.) Olsen and Taylor-Johnson make for an amusing Russian-accented tragic hero team in their roles, even if they’re mostly setting themselves up for expansion in later Marvel movies. (Ditto Bettany, whose Vision looks and feels right, but is ultimately a ringer tossed into the mix for the finale.) Meanwhile, James Spader smarms and sleazes out a delightful voice performance as Ultron, who is officially the most sarcastic movie robot outside of Douglas Adams’ creations. Spader’s Ultron is one of the most enjoyable Marvel villains to date, but that’s mostly because – aside from Loki and Red Skull – he doesn’t have much competition in that department.

The action sequences are certainly big and expensive with a few amazing highlights, such as the long-awaited Hulkbuster fight and Captain America’s unique use of a motorcycle as a projectile. However, action spectacle has never been Whedon’s greatest strength, and overall the movie represents a mild step down from the explosive eye-candy of last summer’s Marvel blockbusters. His ability to juggle characters and plotlines with pithy ease is remarkable, though. The mere fact that he managed to deliver a movie with this many moving parts that somehow feels cohesive and propulsive is a heroic task that most viewers will take for granted.

If the movie seems a little light on style and subtext after ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ and ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’, that’s likely because there just wasn’t space for more. Whedon touches on the perils of A.I., the challenges of being a hero in this wonky world, and questions the motivations of the Avengers, but doesn’t dwell too much on any of those themes because he has a climax to deliver and individual character fan bases to satisfy.

If ‘Age of Ultron’ feels a little hollow, that might be a result of this sequel not serving as a payoff to Marvel Phase 2 like the last ‘Avengers’ did for Phase 1. All the movies in this run were more self-contained, and the few franchise seeds they planted either set up the upcoming ‘Infinity Wars’ or ‘Civil War’. Whedon couldn’t do too much to rock the boat. This is a mid-season adventure in the grand scheme of the MCU. It’s big and fun and loaded with fan service, but it ultimately doesn’t advance things much. The sequel just gets the band back together for one more big show and squeezes in as much superhero fun as possible. I can’t complain about that. If anything, it’s Marvel’s fault for suggesting that all ‘Avengers’ adventures must be universe-shattering events. That’s never been the case. Some ‘Avengers’ comics are just new adventures that only a team of the mightiest heroes could possibly take. ‘Age of Ultron’ feels like one of those comics on a $300 million scale.

Whedon and co. also deserve credit for delivering an unapologetically nerdy superhero experience without any concessions to mainstream audiences. Characters wear capes, shoot lasers from their heads, and engage in all manner of larger-than-life heroics with no connection to the laws and logic of our world. If you’d shown a Comic-Con crowd this movie ten years ago, they wouldn’t have believed such a thing is possible and would have wept with joy. Now we’re all jaded enough to expect this sort thing from a superhero flick. That doesn’t mean that ‘Avengers 2’ isn’t a very impressive and satisfying bit of comic book blockbuster fluff. It just means that the bar keeps getting raised and anyone who dares to make superhero blockbuster now had better really step up his game or the genre will die quickly through repetition.

We’re not quite at the point of total superhero saturation just yet, but if a blockbuster as accomplished as ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ feels even remotely like a letdown, then clearly we’re well on our way to that sad future.

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71 comments

  1. They already announced an Extended cut of the film and an alternate ending for the DVD/Bluray release…..so we will get some more meat it looks like 🙂

    Seeing this on Saturday, looking forward to it!

  2. cardpetree

    Can’t. Read. Yet. Not seeing this until Saturday so must resist spoilers. I don’t even watch the multiple trailers that are shown on TV.

      • Clemery

        I have seen thousands and thousands of movies in my 39 years, and The Avengers is in the less-than-average category (I don’t rank it amongst the worst, but was very ho-hum to me). Perhaps seeing more movies will make it even worse for him. To be fair, I would rate less than half of all the MCU movies more than a 7/10, with only IM1, Norton’s Incredible Hulk, Thor 1, Cap 2, and Guardians Of The Galaxy being memorable.

      • I can understand not liking The Avengers (or any of these Marvel superhero movies, for that matter). Calling it one of the worst movies ever made is a tad bit extreme, however.

          • Bolo

            I’m not the biggest superhero/Marvel fan. I can watch these movies and usually get a passing amusement from them, but they’re not my favourite thing. I usually catch them on airplanes or hotel rooms.

            Of the Marvel films I’ve seen, I’d say Iron Man 2 was the worst. I hated how Sam Jackson kept showing up ever 10 minutes to promote The Avengers. And ScarJo’s character did nothing for me.

            I found Iron Man 3 to be fairly amusing. I liked the Shane Black bantering. Since I don’t read the comics, I wasn’t all upset about The Mandarin character being turned into a joke.

            I guess if I had to rank the Marvel films I’ve seen it would go like this:
            Iron Man
            Iron Man 3
            Guardians of the Galaxy
            The Avengers
            Iron Man 2

          • Clemery

            I enjoyed IM3 far more than IM2, The Avengers, Thor 2. IM2 remains the worst of the MCU movies for me so far.

          • William Henley

            Hmm, I would rank them:
            Captain America
            Iron Man
            Thor
            Avengers 2
            Captain America 2
            Iron Man 3
            Iron Man 2
            Thor 2
            Hulk
            Avengers

      • Scott

        Well, my favorite movie ever would be Michael Mann’s Heat. Other favorites are A Thin Red Line, Apocalypse Now and Scarface.

        • cardpetree

          We seem to have similar tastes in movies. Heat is probably in my top 5 if I was forced to list a top 5. Surprised you would think Avengers was one of the worst movies ever.

    • William Henley

      If it makes you feel any better, I didn’t care for the original Avengers movie either. Well, Actually, I guess it was okay – Uma Thurman looked great in that black latex gettup, and its hard not to like anything with Sean Connery.

      See what I did there?

      I didn’t like the 2012 remake either – I mean, it had nothing to do with the 1960s television show. It was all Marvel characters.

      Truthfully, though, while I really liked all the Iron Man, Captain America and Thor movies, having them all together just did not work for me. The chemistry was wrong, the story was weak, it felt like a Transformers movie to me.

        • Clemery

          Especially the Transformers comparison, as the action just felt so lifeless, with silly humour designed to appeal to pre-teens. For that matter, I found Age Of Ultron to have an even greater feeling of Transformers/Michael Bay… with so much “large scale destruction” shot from afar that probably reads better on paper than it looks onscreen. The hulkbuster sequence is a clear example of this (IMO, anyways).

          • Your comment is dead-on. Whedon channeled so much Transformers and Michael Bay into this movie that I’m calling it ‘Bay-vengers: Age of (fill in the blank).’ From crappy shots/cutting and nonsensical story elements to robots with pliable bending-metal lips and a motive-less villain, ‘Ultron’ is a total disappointment.

          • Eh to each their own, no way can you compare this to a Transformers movie, the dialogue alone is leagues above Bay and his writers, not to mention the action is completely watchable, no horrible edits or bad cuts not being able to see what the hell is going on….this action is far more refined and far more entertaining. While I like my dumb Transformers movies too, people should feel ashamed to even stick this in the same sentence as Transformers

    • Uh maybe skip this one, I take it you arent a Marvel fan, I can understand not liking the Super Hero genre, I know plenty of people that dont get into it, but saying Avengers is the worst movie ever put on film? I really cant go with an opinion when people use that to describe something thats clearly far from the worst movie put on film 🙂

          • Still shooting too high my friend, all of those were enjoyable and far from the worst movie I’ve ever seen, I’m talking stuff like Starship Troopers 2 type stuff here, you havent watched enough films if you think Dreamcatcher is one of the worst movies put on film either

          • Chris B

            Dreamcatcher is a giant steaming canoe of a movie. Every element of it sucks. The acting, dialogue, story, effects etc. it’s just a total fucking disaster and not enjoyable at all.

  3. I’m with cardpetree…not reading until I see the movie, although I still think Star Wars is going to do better at the box office than Age of Ultron. We’ll know by this time next year. 🙂

  4. I agree, this is yet another excellent Phil review. Quasi spoilerfree, well-written, and informative. I wasn’t too impressed with ‘The Avengers’ either, so I won’t be seeing this one theatrically. Have to say, though, that I find it very inappropriate to release an American film starring quintessential American heroes in Europe first. That’s just wrong.

    • William Henley

      Most of Europe got Team America on Blu-Ray back in 2013 (I imported the steelbook from the UK). It still has not been released in the USA

  5. skinnyb37

    Our Drive In opens Friday, and I’m taking my wife on a date to go see this there. Looking forward to it. Didn’t want to read too much (in case of spoilers) but the 1st paragraph is pretty much what I expect…not going to meet the expectations from the 1st movie. However, at the Drive In, I’ve seen bad movies (ahem…Iron Man 3) and had a blast. The experience of the Drive In can make a bad movie at least an enjoyable experience.

    • Its a dying past time thats for sure… mine was all set to close the transition from film to digital based movies and they couldnt afford the upgrades, but someone donated money to save it it looks like and its opening again this year with this movie, I was really disappointed I wasnt going to be able to take my son there, but it looks like I will get to and we are going to try that this summer for sure, if some decent kids movies hit that is 🙂

      • skinnyb37

        Yeah, we had the same problem. Very fortunate folks ponied up some money. Took our daughter last summer (she was 5 at the time), and she had a blast. They have a play ground and a mini golf course too, so a lot for the kids. Such a fun experience. I hope ours stays open for a while.

    • William Henley

      Funny thing is, a couple of years ago, they opened a new one near me. I think it has more to do with the experience to say you have done it. I don’t care for drive-ins – too hot or too cold depending on time of year, unless you want to burn gas, the audio is awful, and if you have a cheaper car, it is probably not the most comfortable place to sit while watching a movie – you cannot stretch out, the stick-shift column gets in the way of snuggling up against that special someone, etc. I understand some people like it, but its not my cup of tea – I would much rather go to a theater or watch a movie at home.

  6. Ralph Tricoche

    “Whedon and co. also deserve credit for delivering an unapologetically nerdy superhero experience without any concessions to mainstream audiences. Characters wear capes, shoot lasers from their heads, and engage in all manner of larger-than-life heroics with no connection to the laws and logic of our world. If you’d shown a Comic-Con crowd this movie ten years ago, they wouldn’t have believed such a thing is possible and would have wept with joy.”

    Wonder what movie goers will say when Batman v Superman gets released. Looks like Zack is in full nerd mode to me and the hate is strong with this one already.
    Go figure.

  7. NJScorpio

    I’m pretty bored with this Marvel Cinematic Universe.

    One great aspect about the wealth of comic book franchises out there is the wide range of tones. Amazing Spiderman would have a different tone than, say, Deadpool, or Watchmen. I feel like this block of Marvel movies all have the same feel, just different characters fighting different enemies on different backgrounds. The exception, for me, was ‘Guardians’, because it broke free from the Avengers.

    I feel like I don’t care what happens with the Avengers, or any of the Marvel characters, and the films are only on my radar because they will be 3D. The movies entertain, but I’m totally indifferent about seeing any more of them.

    I’m FAR more interested in Batafleck vs Superman, just because it will be something different.

    • I’m very much an MCU superfan, but I can understand thinking that many of the films are overly similar. However I would definitely argue that the last three offerings (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy & Daredevil) have corrected that issue.

      • NJScorpio

        Is the Netflix Daredevil series considered part of the same active universe? If so, then I have to agree that it is a FANTASTIC change in tone….I’m digging it.

        • Yes, Daredevil is officially part of the MCU. Although I haven’t watched the series (don’t subscribe to Netflix), I’m told that it makes several offhand references to events from the movies.

        • Yeah it is. Even though it sort of keeps to itself in the MCU, they do address the existence the other superheroes, and they specifically state that the reason Hell’s Kitchen had gotten so bad was fallout from the battle of New York.

    • William Henley

      Since they all live in the same universe, and come together in The Avengers,, isn’t that exactly how the movies should feel?

  8. Clemery

    I would have selected “It’s right on par with the first ‘Avengers’.”, however it didn’t stipulate that the first Avengers was also fairly lame, so went with “Meh, its OK.”

  9. Just got home from Avengers sequel. I voted not as good as the first, but still very entertaining. The last battle wasn’t that impressive. The Avengers battle and easily take down several drone-bots in a city ruin just like in the first movie they easily take down several chitauri in a city ruin. I deduct a point for that. Aesthetically I would deduct another point for the drab color scheme. I don’t mind drab colors in a movie, but The Avengers was established as very colorful and I didn’t see the need to give it a Man Of Steelish ( not quite as washed out as that ) look just because the movie was a smidge darker in tone. The 3d wasn’t as good as the first. Aside from a few nitpicks here and there, it was still very enjoyable and the character banter and interaction was fun and witty and Ultron was pretty damn likable for a genocidal robot. I would’ve liked to see a little more of him and his development. I’m wondering if this longer director’s cut will actually come to be or is it just fanboy wishful thinking. There’s a good chance that I’ll see it theatrically one more time.

    • William Henley

      Drab color choices? Did we see the same movie? I am not saying it looked like Speed Racer or an anime or Disney Movie, but I wouldn’t describe it as Drab. Realistic would be my description.

  10. Saw it last night and this review is spot-on. It’s all good stuff here, any complaints I might have are less about shortcomings in the movie itself and more me being spoiled by an embarrassment of riches. Basically recreating the giddy, pant-shitting joy of the first movie is just not possible, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a hell of a lot of fun.

  11. theHDphantom

    Saw it last night. Was pretty under-whelmed by it. It was about 30 minutes too long. Really dragged in some spots. The humor was pretty dry at times too. The entire movie just seemed like it was trying too hard from beginning to end. Filmmakers these days really need to re-learn that “less is more”.
    Bottom line is, story was poor, action was mind-numbing. These Marvel movies are becoming on par with the Transformers movies now.

    • Nothing like the Avengers is on par with the Transformers movies, the building of characters and development of further story lines is so far beyond anything Transformers has accomplished, not to mention the interaction and dialog between characters is far superior and less asinine, 30 minutes too long? We really must have saw different movies because mine was started and over in a flash….loved every second of it, these movies have WAY further to go to even come close to be compared to a Transformers movie and I even like the Transformers movies 🙂

      Needless to say, excellent movie IMO and almost as fun as the first one was, of course the first cant be topped but this came damn close to being as good

      Keep em coming Marvel, I’m a HUGE fan and still all in 🙂

      • I gotta agree with you with the Transformers comments. I don’t think any of these Marvel movies have come close to reaching Transformers levels of bad. There are several levels one must drop to reach that bad. It would have to be deliberate to get that bad. I get the impression that Marvel and the filmmakers are trying to make good quality movies that bring their characters to life ( and of course make shit loads of $$$$$) that’s building up to something even more epic. It’s like a comic book come to life. That Veronica scene had me smiling from ear to ear. Watching the Avengers just kick back and party was just as fun as watching them kick ass. I’m still all in for all the superhero movies.

  12. William Henley

    Finally got around to seeing this, and must say, I disagree with the review – this movie is significantly better than the last Avengers movie. The last one played like a Transformer movie, IMHO, weak on story, horrible character interaction, and just all explosions and action. Boring. In fact, I thought the last Avengers movie was one of the worst superhero movies I have ever seen.

    This one, on the other hand, was fantastic! You got a great story, the characters were well fleshed out, wonderful interaction between the actors, tons of comedy, and great action scenes. This, in my opinion, is how a comic book movie should be, and I put it up there with the Captain America and Iron Man movies as a great comic book movie.

    I couldn’t have been more surprised, and absolutely loved this movie. I cannot sing its praises enough!

    • Honestly that makes no sense, this wasnt any different in terms of interaction between the characters, the banter between them was just as good as the first Avengers, Loki was a strong villain and his plot to bring the Chitari into our world was more thought out and planned than Ultron’s waking up and deciding to end it all. Ultron was fun but he had no build up like Loki already had in Thor. The thing going for this movie though was that we already know everything about these guys and girl, so anything here was just to build more upon them, we love them as characters and their interaction is on a different level from when we first met them and they became a team for the first time. Both were perfect comic book movies and I have no idea how you can see the first Avengers as such a failure and yet see the sequel which isnt really that different as something way above it. It was great stuff yes and easily on par with the first film, but no way is this leagues above it

    • “Finally got around to seeing this” makes me chuckle, William. As if you initially missed the movie, and finally saw it after months and months of anticipation. You did, however, see it after a mere two days of availability. Hardly ‘finally’, eh?

  13. William Henley

    I am thinking I enjoyed the trailers almost as much as the movie itself. I had seen most of the trailers, but seeing them on the huge screen… We got Terminator, Jurassic Park, Batman v Superman, Antman, and Tomorrowland.

  14. I liked it. Didn’t LOVE it. The reviewer praised Hawkeye getting more time. I thought that was a waste. He’s the most insignificant character, and even points that out in one scene! You could argue Black Widow is in the same category, except for the fact that she’s Scarlett Johansson in latex… Didn’t like the forced love story between BW and Banner. Where did THAT come from? The action scenes were fun, if sometimes hard to follow. There did seem to be less Whedon-esque dialogue here, which I suspect had to be cut for more spectacle. Still not sad I spent the big bucks to see it in large format 3D, as it was still a good time at the movies.

    • Why was that a waste, so many of the team are above him, they have super powers and crazy abilities and he is the human element to the team, he grounds them all and lets the audience relate to what he’s doing and why he’s fighting. I didnt find the love story between the two forced either, she’s drawn to him because he’s different from everyone else, she’s been with the cowboys of the team really and because of her upbringing she’s always gravitated towards the bad boy, I think whats great for her is that she KNOWS that there is the biggest bad boy underneath all of that but as Banner and the Hulk have always been, he pushes her away to be on his own, that was something even the Bill Bixbie Hulk was like on the TV show 🙂

      • William Henley

        I think the human element is why I liked this movie so much. You get a glimpse into many of the characters into what they are fighting for, what makes them tick, what they hope to accomplish. You see the building of friendships and relationships. To me, the whole Hawkeye home-life was one of the best parts of the movie – not too long, but it really put a human face on why they are fighting, and lead to Black Widow, Captain, Hulk and Iron Man doing some soul-searching. Well, I guess it lead to Thor doing some soul-searching as well, but that whole subplot seemed to be cut from the theatrical version – we pretty much just see him leave.

        • I wouldnt be surprised if more of that is in the extended cut, supposedly this thing was 3 hours long and the studios wanted it cut back and it seems like they cut everything out they could from Thor’s side story to still have it make sense, but one of the trailers show what looks like a woman dropping a robe and looking to step into that pool, could be wrong, but I dont recall that in the movie at all, so there is probably more there, I know Whedon said they filmed scenes with Loki as well but they got taken out, so hopefully all of that gets put back for us fans….kind of like the extended cuts of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit for the die hards 🙂

  15. cardpetree

    Why no scene added at the end of the credits? I thought all Marvel/Disney movies had teaser scenes at the end of the credits?

  16. cardpetree

    Lol, wish I would have checked on that before I made my wife sit through all the credits. She was so ready to go. I was like trust me, there’s gonna be a really cool scene at the end just wait for it. So I got a few sighs and dirty looks from her. Haha, she’ll get over it. Don’t tell her I said that.

    • theHDphantom

      The EXACT same thing happened with my girlfriend too! She was already in a pissy mood though because people in the audience were talking waaaaay too much and it was actually difficult to hear the dialogue in the movie at times. So she was already getting mad and giving the evil-eye to those jerks LOL. Staying longer through the credits listening to all the “nerd talk” didn’t help either…especially when there was no pay-off at the end of the credits.

      • William Henley

        Yeah, my buddy had to really go to the restroom, so ran out at the beginning of the credits. I was like “You should be back in time”. Well, he missed the mid-credits scene, but then he came back and sat with me like another 5 minutes for no pay-off

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