It only takes a few minutes for director Joss Whedon to kick Avengers: Age of Ultron fully in gear, immediately throwing us into the action and back into the Marvel cinematic universe. You’re either ready or you’re not. We once again get to see Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) band together for the greater good. These are the characters we know and love, and they’re all together fighting for the same cause. An all-star team of superheroes with the world as their arena. Their adventure begins off in Sokovia, where they’re fighting off Hydra soldiers guarding Loki’s scepter, which Tony Stark wants for his next big experiment. With reluctant assistance from Bruce Banner, Stark has his sights set out to create an artificial intelligence program named Ultron (memorably voiced by James Spader) that will help defend the world against any future threats
If classic sci-fi films have taught us nothing, creating an artificial intelligence program is a dangerous risk, and the creating of Ultron comes to bite Stark, hard. Ultron has a fully formed mind of his own, and his interpretation of saving humans is by saving them from themselves and wiping them off the face of the planet, just as the asteroid did in the dinosaurs. He becomes a whole new sort of threat for not only the Avengers, but the world at large. Joining Ultron are twins, Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), who have a long-standing score to settle with Stark, though they remain naive to the destructive end game that Ultron ultimately has his sights set on.
Age Of Ultron doesn’t quite live up to the first Avengers film, but Whedon does his best to reciprocate its glowing success, and comes a lot closer than I expected. The Avengers crew retains that remarkable chemistry with one another, sharing plenty of witty dialogue, that is undeniably Whedon-esque. This is where Whedon and his team excel, and boy do they ever here. Jokes and discussions that happen early on are returned to later on, and collect all of the well deserved rewards (the crew taking turns “attempting” to lift Thor’s hammer Mjölnir, was a particular highlight). Whedon’s most impressive accomplishment is the balanced amount of screen time that each character gets. Those who were disappointed in the lack of Hawkeye in the previous Avengers film will treasure the amount of focus he is given this time around. Jeremy Renner has a blast with the amount of love Hawkeye got here, and the film is all the better for it. Considering the amount of characters that Whedon had to juggle, it’s all the more impressive that he successfully fit all of these characters into one world.
James Spader gives Ultron a menacing tone that feeds well into the character’s diabolical nature. Chris Evans continues to be the heart of the Marvel entries, serving as the ultimate voice of reason and born leader of the bunch. Despite some inconstant accents from Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen, they’re a welcome addition to the film, along with Paul Bettany, who finally gets to take a physical form as the glowing presence of Vision. There’s also some welcome cameos from Don Cheadle, Samuel L. Jackson, Stellan Skarsgård, and Anthony Mackie, all in the name of continually and future world building. Not to mention the always great Andy Serkis, who makes the most out of every minute give to his grimy character, Ulysses Klaue.
Even with all the entertainment, it is lacking in some areas. While Whedon did his best to make it all work in a somewhat manageable two-and-a-half-hour runtime, there’s so much happening and only enough time to fully flesh it all out with a consistent pace. The romance between Bruce Banner and Romanoff offers some rare moment of solitude (if not somewhat forced), but it disappointing that it’s about all that Romanoff is given to do in the film, considering she’s one of the films only female presence. Ultron starts off captivating and frightening, but like many Marvel villains, loses a bit of steam as the film goes along. Then of course there are the classic failed one-liners that push the comedic element too far, often ruining what are serious or tense moments. They do nail quite a few humorous bits, but when you continue to push the envelope, it takes away from the bits that actually do land swiftly.
At the end of the day, these faults are forgiven because I felt like Ultron ultimately did what it sest out to do and kept me entertained, and enthralled with the Marvel Universe and its characters. Whedon had to take all these various characters storylines, plot points, and commitments to future Marvel plans, and turn them into an entertaining standalone film. He somehow does exactly that, while also throwing in plenty of his own signature stylings, making it very much his own. The future is set for the rest of Marvel’s packed future, but there are plenty of reasons for return trips to Ultron in the meantime.