Avengers: Age of Ultron

Directed By: Joss Whedon

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Anthony Mackie, Hayley Atwell, Idris Elba, Stellan Skarsgård, James Spader, and Samuel L. Jackson

"When the Earth starts to settle, God throws a stone at it.  And believe me.  He's winding up."
-Ultron (James Spader)

It's time to initiate the Theta Protocol.  It's time for the summer blockbuster season.  It's time for the Avengers to assemble once again!  It's been three short years since the first Avengers movie blazed a path into cinematic history, but the comic book entertainment landscape has certainly changed quite a bit in that time, mostly thanks to The Avengers.  With the likes of Arrow, Flash, and Daredevil, superhero shows are popping up all over television.  The successes of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, and X-Men: Days of Future Past have (re)energized several series.  The mixed performances of Man of Steel and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 have not exactly forebode great things for either cinematic universe and has, in fact, ended one of them.  Yes, a lot has happened in three short years.  All the while, The Avengers remains the gold standard for superhero movies that are pure popcorn fare.  Now, Ultron is winding up, and I can say that this second entry into the immensely popular series is certainly a worthy entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Picking up where Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. left off just earlier this week, Earth's mightiest heroes are after HYDRA's very own Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) and the alien scepter in his possession.  It just so happens to be the very scepter Loki used to invade New York several years ago with an army of Chitauri.  Led by Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Avengers Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) assault HYDRA’s facility and undoubtedly get their hands on the scepter.  In the process, however, enhanced Maximoff twins Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) get their hands on the Avengers.  More specifically, Scarlet Witch taps into Tony Stark's fear of failing his friends and the world at large.

Back at the Avengers Tower in New York, an “enlightened” Tony rekindles an effort to build a suit of armor around the world.  Putting Loki's scepter to use with the help of his science brother Bruce Banner, Tony begins to build artificial intelligence with something he's written known as the Ultron program (Spader).  The tests to develop Ultron initially fail, and Tony and Bruce go to a party with many of their friends.  While Tony is having fun with familiar faces like War Machine (Don Cheadle), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), his Ultron program is coming to life.  Unfortunately, Ultron is not the peacekeeping A.I. that Tony intended to build.  No, Ultron is bent on the extinction of the Avengers and the humans they protect.  He's a serious challenge who will put Tony and the team to the test.  Meanwhile, romance blooms between Hulk and Black Widow.

You all know I love the Avengers.  They kick ass and make me laugh in the process.  They certainly haven't stopped doing this either.  While Avengers: Age of Ultron is a worthy sequel to the 2012 original, I can't in good faith give it the sober rating.  Though the stakes are raised and the ante is certainly upped, the film just doesn't reach the heights of its predecessor.  There's a lot going on here, and I understand the argument that detractors will bring forth that the film is bloated.  However, that's not exactly the reason I would hold back on giving Age of Ultron the sober rating.  MCU films are built to be overloaded with all sorts of worlds and the colorful characters to fill them.  I would hold back on doing so because it takes more than one viewing to truly appreciate the details of this second outing of Earth's mightiest heroes.  There are also some tonal imbalances, especially given Hulk and Black Widow’s totally unnecessary love life.

By far, Age of Ultron is the most expansive film to date in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Joss Whedon brings back the six iconic heroes we all know and love while introducing several new Avengers including the highly anticipated Vision (Paul Bettany).  Whedon also puts the spotlight on ancillary characters from the individual franchises such as War Machine, Falcon, and Dr. Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård).  Practically speaking, this is an incredible ensemble for even Whedon to showcase in the film.  At the same time, it's akin to the nature of an actual comic book with storylines and worlds meshing together in a very hectic way.  While this isn't something that always translates to the screen perfectly, there's no doubt that Whedon does this quite impressively.  With a cast of this size, however, it's never going to be quite perfect.

Whedon remembers the important things that make an MCU film work, its funny bone and its glut of action.  Egos are on full display in Age of Ultron, and it shows on the film's comedic front.  The central fuel driving this movie's humor is trash talking, and there's certainly an abundance of it.  The action is second to none as well.  Simply put, they have a Hulk, and he won't go to sleep even with Veronica — the Hulkbuster armor.  Seriously though, the film manages to mix eye-popping visual aesthetics fueled by CGI with some rather explosive fight choreography.  Catering to each individual hero's combat style, Age of Ultron offers a medley of action that gives everyone (but Falcon) plenty of moments in the sun.

Despite all the characters featured in Avengers: Age of Ultron, it's still all about our core six Avengers.  It's certainly a delight to see them assembling again.  For his part as Iron Man, Robert Downey, Jr. flies back into action with all his trademark wit and style.  Not watching his language for his part as the badass Captain America, Chris Evans spends his two and a half hours walking off death and being the old man we know and love.  For his part as Thor, Chris Hemsworth spends the movie amusingly proving everyone else is just not worthy, or so he thinks.  It suffices to say that hell is filled with the screams of the victims of Mark Ruffalo's green rage machine Hulk.  Finally, we have Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye who bring maturity and humanity to the group.  It’s definitely intriguing to learn more about their individual backstories.

The film's greatest asset is not the action, the comedy, or even its glut of new characters.  It's the villainy.  It's Ultron.  The opening quote from the artificially intelligent robot says it all.  The only path to peace in this being's eyes is extinction, and he makes that clear in the most deliciously evil way possible.  Oddly enough, James Spader's persona reminds me quite a bit of Hugo Weaving's performances as Agent Smith in The Matrix trilogy with an extra shot of menace.  Popping up everywhere with money quotes on the inevitability of his peacekeeping mission, Spader oozes with malice in every move he makes and every step he takes.  The pacing and delivery of his lines perfectly align with the imposing physical presence of a figure like Ultron.  With this terrific performance, James Spader easily cements his place as one of the great comic book supervillains of all time.

I could spend an eternity dissecting Avengers: Age of Ultron.  Reuniting our core team, delving into the backstories of Hawkeye and Black Widow, introducing new Avengers, setting the stage for the Infinity War films with Thanos, and of course featuring the utterly menacing Ultron, there's just so much crammed into its two and a half hour runtime.  It may just be too much for one movie.  Still, it's one hell of a ride and a great way to get the summer movie season started.  Using the same formula but once again changing the game, there are no strings on the Marvel Cinematic Universe anymore.  Avengers: Age of Ultron gets a 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.