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Friday, May 01, 2015

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015)

Metal heavy: Ultron (James Spader) gives Earth's mightiest heroes a run for their money.

Three years after the global box office success of MARVEL'S THE AVENGERS, the Earth's mightiest heroes are back and this time the "gathering of the fellowship" stuff is out of the way, so the films drops the audience straight into super-powered action and mayhem. On a mission to the Eastern European country of Skovia, the Avengers take down a Hydra base where the powerful scepter used by Loki in the first film is held by Baron von Strucker and used upon human subjects in experiments intended to generate Hydra-controlled superhumans. Only two humans have survived the testing, twins Pietro and Wanda Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olson), and they utilize their respective gifts of super-speed and mind-control/telekinesis/magic to hinder the Avengers' efforts and grant Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), aka Iron Man, a horrifying vision of his comrades laying defeated and dying as a fleet of extra-terrestrial conquerors head to the Earth through a wormhole in space. That grim tableau greatly rattles Stark and upon retrieving the scepter and taking it back to the opulent Avengers tower in Manhattan, Stark and fellow uber-brain Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) utilize the alien scepter's advanced tech to craft Ultron, an artificial intelligence meant to act as a preemptive defense system for the planet. That quantum leap in A.I. is arrived at without the knowledge of the other Avengers — yes, it's Stark once again proving himself to be an entitled, arrogant prick and a power unto himself, despite being a member of a team — and in no time flat it manifests as a seven-foot chrome megalomaniac whose twisted agenda does indeed amount to solving all of mankind's security issues, though in a way that Stark and Banner absolutely did not foresee. As all hell breaks loose in several international locales, the Avengers must marshal every bit of their skills, powers, wits, and unbridled badassery to handle Ultron and his army of deadly robotic doppelgangers.

Writer/director Joss Whedon pulls off the seemingly impossible by upping the ante from MARVEL'S THE AVENGERS with wall-to-wall action and sequences that give all of the featured characters solid things to do while allowing each to shine as more than just cookie cutter action figures brought to life. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is fleshed-out into more than just "short guy with bow and arrows and bad haircut," glimpses into the back-story of the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) add a poignancy to her fighting proficiency, Captain America (Chris Evans, in the role he was born to play) once again leads the group while butting heads with Stark, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) remains the resident Viking powerhouse, and Bruce Banner's struggle with his "sulky, kinda bulky, kinda Hulky" rage-fueled other half is given and interesting new wrinkle (that I will not spoil). Wanda and Pietro, though never referred to as the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, are a lot of fun, and both War Machine (Don Cheadle) and the Falcon (Anthony Mackie) are along for the mayhem. But the movie is stolen by James Spader's voice performance for Ultron, a character that I never enjoyed in his many comics appearances but whose unexpected interpretation in the movie was a triumph of assured villainy. There have been numerous robotic/A.I. threats throughout cinema history but Ultron comes from out of nowhere to stand among the very best of his antagonistic automaton brethren.

A lot goes on that is best left un-described so the viewer can be caught up in the story's events and surprised by what unfolds, but I will say that it's exactly what I wanted from a super-hero spectacle, and then some. The only complaints I had were with the generic musical score (a problem I had with its predecessor) and the latest design for Iron Man (which all-too-obviously looks like the already available action figure), but those are very minor quibbles that in no way detracted from my enjoyment of the movie. The only other things that I would like to add are the following considerations that you need to know ahead of time:
  • Get all bathroom needs out of the way before the film starts. The movie is two hours and twenty-one minutes long and you won't want to miss any of it. And I don't know if this is how they'll handle it elsewhere but the theater I saw it at listed the showtime as 7pm but made sure to tell all of the ticket holders that the movie proper did not start until 7:20 because there were twenty minutes of trailers. They were not kidding.
  • Do not waste your money on seeing it in 3D. The 3D appeared to have been added in post and it adds absolutely nothing to the film. There is not one sequence that was designed to be seen in three dimensions.
  • Contrary to some early reports, there is an Easter egg at the end of the film, only it comes early during the end credits. Once the list of the cast and the title are out of the way, the Easter egg happens — you can't miss it — and after that you can walk.
  • There's the customary Stan Lee cameo but also look for comedy legend Buck Henry among the guests at a party at the Avengers tower.
  • I advise seeing it during a screening when it is unlikely that very young children will be present. Parents at the show I attended brought kids as little as a few months old, so there was crying, kids asking loud questions, and many cases of parents and kids walking in and out of the theater for bathroom breaks and distracting the audience in the process.

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