Avengers: Age of Ultron Review

Age of Ultron, the 2015 follow-up to The Avengers, is an interesting movie, but not always for the right reasons. While 2012’s Avengers was a simple, focused showcase of action and fanservice, Age of Ultron seems unsure of what it wants to be. The Avengers movies should be the apex of their respective “phases” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, culminating the individual story arcs of the heroes of the preceding films, and giving a justifiable reason for them to collectively close those chapters of their stories. Age of Ultron, however, rarely seems like the follow-up to what its predecessors were building towards, and often seems preoccupied with hyping up the movies to come. Combine that with a villain’s story arc that feels rushed into the proceedings, and Age of Ultron is the Avengers film that feels all over the place.

Age of Ultron reunites the Avengers: Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Bruce Banner/the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). They’ve successfully raided the fortress of the Hydra commander Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, who was in possession of Loki’s staff (spear, scepter, whatever) from the first Avengers film. It’s here that the Avengers first encounter Wanda and Pietro Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson), twins who have been given superhuman powers by the experimentations of Strucker (Wanda has telepathic/energy powers, and Pietro can run at super speeds).

Later, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner discover that the gem on Lok’s staff possesses an artificial intelligence, and in secret from the rest of the team, decide to utilize it to finish Tony Stark’s dream of the “Ultron” global defense system.

Things don’t go as planned, however, and Ultron gains a sentience that – after instantaneously developing knowledge of the world via the internet and various databases and archives – determines that humans are in need of extinction. Ultron destroys Stark’s beloved AI, J.A.R.V.I.S. (Paul Bettany), and takes control of many of Stark’s machines, creating an army of robot bodies for himself. Ultron (James Spader) sets out to bring about human extinction, and recruits Wanda and Pietro – who only wish to defeat the Avengers and are unaware of Ultron’s true intentions – to his cause. Naturally, it’s up to the combined efforts of the Avengers to put a stop to Ultron’s evil plot.

The idea that the Avengers needing to save the world from an evil robot may not sound too complex of a plot, but thanks to a few creative missteps, Age of Ultron ends up feeling overstuffed and confused as to where it wants to go. There’s still entertainment to be had with Age of Ultron, but it falls considerably short of its predecessor by not studying what made the first Avengers work so well.

The first of Age of Ultron’s great sins is Ultron himself. Though Spader gives a good performance – adding a touch of humor to the mad machine’s menace – the character often feels lost in the shuffle. The original Avengers worked so well largely because it resurrected an established villain. Loki had his introduction in Thor. His character, motivation and power were all introduced in that film. By bringing Loki back for The Avengers, the film didn’t need to take the time to establish him as a threat, and instead could focus almost entirely on the idea of the heroes teaming up to stop him.

By contrast, Ultron’s introduction in his titular movie feels insanely rushed. At no prior point in the MCU was Stark’s idea for any global defense system (let alone one named ‘Ultron’) ever brought up. Age of Ultron rapidly presents the idea as something Stark and Banner have discussed before, sees them create the AI, and shows Ultron gain sentience and go berserk all in a single scene. The film then scrambles to make Ultron a viable threat that warrants the necessity of the Avengers to reunite.

Ultron would have worked so much better as a villain if he had a proper build. Perhaps if Stark’s idea for Ultron – and his and Banner’s work on the project – were established in a previous film, then Age of Ultron could have simply seen the AI go rogue and become the villainous robot he was destined to be. As it is, Ultron’s very presence feels rushed into the film, and because his entire arc is presented in a film that already had to continue the arcs of each Avenger (in addition to introducing Wanda and Pietro, as well as Vision, an artificial super being with J.A.R.V.I.S.’s conscience), it makes Age of Ultron feel more bloated than epic.

The other big issue with Age of Ultron is that much of it is sidetracked with hyping up the future of the MCU. Every MCU film hints and teases at what’s to come in the mega-franchise, but the Avengers films should serve as some form of closure. Sure, the original Avengers brought us the initial glimpses of the MCU’s big bad in the form of Loki’s cosmic benefactor, but it did so on the side. The Avengers linked to the greater mythology of the MCU through that one element, but it was underplayed, with the film otherwise bringing a sense of closure to “Phase One” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Age of Ultron, by contrast, features an entire subplot of Thor having visions of the Infinity Stones, and the big bad who wishes to claim them. We even get a few teases of Black Panther with the presence of Ulysses Klaw (Andy Serkis) and several Wakanda name drops.

2012’s Avengers wrapped up everything that preceded it with a nice little bow, while giving a small hint of the future. Age of Ultron, unfortunately, is so preoccupied with hyping future installments that it’s own story – which already didn’t have the luxury of being built up in previous films – flounders because of it.

With all this said, Avengers: Age of Ultron isn’t an all-out bad movie. It still contains some top notch action set pieces that should satisfy any super hero fan (though none of the action scenes here match up to those of the original Avengers). And the returning Avengers still have their distinct personalities, with plenty of fun quips and one-liners still present (one particularly funny running gag involves the technicalities of Thor’s hammer, and how only the “worthy” can lift it).

There’s still fun to be had with Age of Ultron. There are plenty of moments that provide some good, solid entertainment. But when it faces the inevitable comparison to its predecessor, it falls considerably short. The first Avengers could have been a disaster with all the elements it had to juggle, but it miraculously weaved them all together in a way that delivered a satisfying coming-together sequel of all its involved parties. Age of Ultron simply didn’t repeat what made its predecessor such a roaring success.

The Avengers films should be the culmination of what all the preceding MCU features build towards. But Age of Ultron doesn’t continue what any of its predecessors started, and is so busy being a hype machine for future MCU installments, that it simply doesn’t live up to its status as an Avengers film.

 

5

Ant-Man

Ant-Man

Ant-Man, the newest release in Marvel’s seemingly endless canon of super hero movies, is now in theaters. The good news is it’s mostly enjoyable.

I say “mostly” because I still think the movie had some big problems in regard to its villain, who simply couldn’t have been more cartoonish (what is up with these recent Marvel movies and lame villains? Even Guardians of the Galaxy, great as it was, had a disappointing bad guy). And I admit a lot of the movie felt like it was simply going through the motions (if you’ve seen one super hero origin story you’ve pretty much seen them all). But overall I thought it was a lot of fun.

Ayyyyy!
Ayyyyy!

Ant-Man is, appropriately, a much smaller movie than Avengers: Age of Ultron, and I really liked that about it. It seems like every super hero movie these days is aiming for bigger, louder, and more destructive. I really enjoyed that Ant-Man was a relatively small movie, and I liked that its hero became more by becoming less, which is the exact opposite of every other Marvel hero we’ve seen on screen thus far.

Also, unlike Age of Ultron, Ant-Man also has a rather straightforward plot. I kind of grew impatient with Age of Ultron’s comic book gobbledygook. It just got more and more convoluted as it went on. Not so with Ant-Man, which sets things up simply and just builds on its (often ridiculous but consistently fun) premise.

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a thief who has spent time in jail and is separated from his wife and daughter. Scott wants nothing more than to spend time with his daughter, but finding (and keeping) work with his criminal record isn’t easy, so he isn’t able to pay child support, and thus is unable to see his daughter. In desperation, he returns to his criminal ways to make some quick cash, only for his big score to end up being a setup by a reclusive scientist named Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who needs Scott’s special skills to become the Ant-Man via a shrinking suit of Pym’s invention.

"Did I just rob a cosplayer's secret vault?"
“Did I just rob a cosplayer’s secret vault?”

I liked the story for three primary reasons: The first is that Ant-Man changes up the usual super hero formula by turning it into more of a heist movie than the usual action-based setup of Marvel’s movies. There are still fight scenes and a few action spectacles, but it’s all built around the Ant-Man sneaking into the stereotypical bad guy corporation’s building and destroying data files on a deadly formula. And when it finally delivers its action-packed finale, it’s one of the more original to be found in the Marvel Universe, as it takes place in a child’s toy-filled room.

"He's like Captain Olimar... but with Ants."
“He’s like Captain Olimar… but with Ants.”

The second reason is that Ant-Man is a ridiculous concept by definition, but the movie doesn’t make a complete joke out of it. There’s humor in Ant-Man, of course, but it plays its concept with enough seriousness to be taken seriously. I seem to be in the minority here, but I can’t stand it when movies like this go completely tongue-in-cheeck. Just because the nature of a story may be ridiculous it shouldn’t have to mean it needs to make a joke out of itself. A lot of internet nerds seem to like movies that “make fun of themselves.” I typically don’t. And I like that Ant-Man is with me on this.

The third reason is that, while the characters may not be complex, the movie gives enough attention to them to make you care (if only Age of Ultron had been so wise). Scott Lang having a daughter as his motivation makes him stand out from the other Marvel heroes and makes him sympathetic despite being a thief. Pym and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) have a complicated relationship due to the death of Hope’s mother, but they are put into a situation where they need to work together nonetheless. The obvious exception is the aforementioned villain, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), who fits so squarely into the evil, rich businessman cliche that he just might be a parody of it.

Ant-Man might not be the next greatest super hero movie, but it is one that at least feels refreshing in some areas. I honestly wasn’t expecting too much, and while it still has some Marvel tropes working against it, I thought it was ultimately enjoyable. I’m still a little on the fence with the small army of Marvel movies on the horizon, but at least Ant-Man gives me hope that the Marvel Cinematic Universe still has some life left in it.

The Good and Bad of The Avengers: Age of Ultron

Age of Ultron

The Avengers: Age of Ultron is now one of the highest-grossing movies all time. That’s not too surprising, since it seems like all a movie needs to do to make such a claim these days is have a lot of super heroes and visual effects. But, Age of Ultron is an enjoyable movie, which is more than you can say about most billion-dollar movies. Age of Ultron is more entertaining than more cynical nerds would want to admit (“I found one tiny flaw so now everything about it sucks and it betrayed the comics!”), but it also has its share of problems. Here are the things I loved about Age of Ultron, followed by the things I, well, didn’t.

*Be warned: spoilers ahead!*

Continue reading “The Good and Bad of The Avengers: Age of Ultron”

Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe Movies

With Marvel’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron upon us – bringing an end to “Phase Two” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the process – I figured now is a good time to compile a top ten list of the currently released movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Here’s my ranking of the ten movies from the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s phases one and two from least to greatest. Here they are.

*Caution: Some spoilers ahead!* Continue reading “Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe Movies”