Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron blasts off into the superhero stratosphere

Marvel movies have transcended what know as cinema today and it will continue to do so for years to come. Where most movies come and go and exist on their own, these behemoths of filmmaking have transformed into something far greater:

They’re the camp fire stories our grandpas tell us as we sit crisscross, hanging on every word before he says “that’s all for now. Off to bed!” Then we lay awake dying to hear what happens next—except here there are lots more explosions.

I can understand how that would come off as a bit pompous or vague and all you’re waiting for me to answer, “Does Hulk smash things?” so I’ll be a bit more direct: In “Avengers: Age of Ultron” Joss Whedon delivers on everything you hope the movie would, creating a milestone in comic book film history that ranks up with “The Dark Knight” and “The Avengers” as the most comic-booky comic book movie ever.

Whedon is smart enough to know what audiences are clamoring for and what they need to see: 1.) The Avengers in a super-sweet action montage and, 2.) Nothing gradual to ease you into these characters because you know who they are.

Hence the intro is a super-sweet action montage that throws you right into these characters because, hey, you already know who they are. The surprise of seeing them finally altogether is gone after the first “Avengers” but Whedon reinvigorates most of it by throwing us right into the deep end.

Everyone is back for this go around, and I won’t list all the names because you should know who’s in these movies by now. If not look around anywhere in the world and you’ll see a massive poster/billboard/blimp that has the info. Either way, the gang is all here and not a single one of them is wasted.

I feel like these movies must be the best possible place an actor can think to work. They get to be in insane action sequences as characters the world loves while also getting to act out rich material the remembers the characters humanity—while wearing tights (like Shakespeare!).

Amongst all the big-budget carnage Whedon, like in the last one, never forgets the characters are people. Between the chaos and collapsing buildings is the trademark banter of any Whedon product that is as equally entertaining as any epic battle.

Who doesn’t love it when Tony gives an impish remark or when they all make fun of Captain America for his intolerance to potty mouths? You just wanna jump right in and start making “yo momma” jokes, and hope Tony likes is so much he makes you an Iron Man suit. Oh to dream, though.

Each one has their demons that need exploring, as well, and this is where the movie capitalizes on the “sequels must be darker” standard. They’re all exposed to their darkest fears that come with being a “superhuman”. Whether its fear of losing all you love, not being to save everyone, never being able to stop fighting or fearing you’ll hurt everyone in a moment of blinding green rage. The most tragic of them all come from Black Widow and Hawkeye, who fear that given their past and lack of powers that they ultimately don’t belong, and will never fit in. As the French would say, it’s a true tragédie.

Being on his toes, Whedon was able to work these developments into his giant web of plot by bringing them to life at the hands of the villain(s). Taking shape in newcomers Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and of course, that baddest of all A.I. bots, Ultron (James Spader). They work together to psychologically damage the team and, like any good villains, push the heroes to do what they do.

Olsen and Johnson make superb use of their time, playing with Russian accents and making the most out what had to be silly physical gyrations on a green-screen. The results, however, are appropriately stupendous additions to what normally would’ve been big guys just smashing things. I love in particular Witch transforms from a naive, susceptible youngster into a complete woman-warrior, complete with a badass entrance into the final battle, not even paying attention to the explosions around her.

But the scene stealer here is Spader as Ultron who was born to play these roles. Like Benedict Cumberbatch with Smaug in “The Hobbit” he relishes each and every line like a bite of villainous chocolate. He immerses himself into the infantile rage of a quickly spawned robot, whose actions mimic a very evil child who doesn’t understand the world around him. Really adds a layer to the “I’m gonna destroy the world” gimmick.

As you watch the movie it becomes apparent Whedon is probably up there with Tarantino and one of the leading writers of dialogue and characters. So rich with personality and humor that you actually look forward to people talking. It makes up for the fact that he has a tendency to over-indulge in destruction to the point where Zack Snyder and Michael Bay have started setting a place for him at their $250 million a plate dinner.

But those moments are brief, and his intelligence shines through, as I have never seen such an expensive movie pay so much attention to the saving of civilian lives that it actually serves as a plot point. Though he surely stumbles, Whedon remains on the side of the angels.

In the end the movie has so much more going on that I couldn’t possibly write enough about it and will surely be seen as flaws to those who have a tendency to nitpick and want fodder to say “see, these aren’t real movies”. The movie sometimes feels rushed, there are a few more characters than expected (which seems impossible after looking at the poster), and it’s never as complex as it wants to be.

But there’s a reason for all of it and all it takes is a careful eye. It’s rushed because there is so much going on (not exactly a validation for it, but still a reason); there are sooo many characters, but none are useless; and it’s not “Dark Knight” complex, but there’s enough there to bring depth and emotion we’ve never seen before and that sets the stage for future installments.

Plus, in the end it all contributes to what makes these movies special, going back to my metaphysical intro. To take on something this intricate, with so many characters each with their own complexities while delivering on the fun is a feat very few would attempt, let alone succeed, as Whedon has done not once, but twice.

Sure the movie is stuffed with characters to the point of implosion, but it (and every Marvel movie that preceded/follows) works as single movie with a beginning, middle and end, but what contributes to the sheer astonishment of each one is knowing that it’s only the tip of the iceberg

“Age of Ultron” supersedes “just a movie” and validates the greater reality started with “Star Wars” and continued with “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings”: These are not just movies; they’re constellations in an ever-growing galaxy of epicness and imagination. And when thinking about the universe outside of your own self it’s foolish to think this is it. There is so much more to come and it will be more beautiful when it comes.

What may seem like negligence in character development is simply foreboding of future conflict; staggering destruction now is a plot-point for latter movies (“Captain America: Civil War”, for instance) and; an inconclusive ending is just a bookmark for a characters next adventure. It may not work for everyone but “Age of Ultron” is a stunning continuation of Marvel’s efforts to bring modern mythology to life with superheroes replacing Greek gods (well, Thor is sort of a literal interpretation) and their stories destined to last for eternity in the hearts and minds of those willing to gather round the camp fire and listen.

GRADE: A

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