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“Avengers: Age of Ultron” movie review

By Jeff Boudreaux  

Ultron

 

The latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” starts the 2015 summer blockbuster season with an absolute bang. For the second film in the Avengers franchise, writer/director Joss Whedon presents a more fluid and action-oriented film than its predecessor, the third highest-grossing film in U.S. History.

 

Our story opens with “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” taking down the evil organization of Hydra, led by Baron Wolfgang von Strucker. The Baron had been conducting experiments using that oft-passed around scepter that once belonged to Loki. Two of his subjects – twins Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, a.k.a. Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen) escape from the clutches of the Avengers. Now in possession of the scepter, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), along with the help of Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), discovers an artificial intelligence living in the scepter’s stone. They then decide that the A.I. would be perfect for “Ultron,” a new method of defense created by Stark. After uploading the consciousness, the two men, along with the rest of the Avengers, are soon celebrating their recent victory with a party at headquarters. This is where we become aware of Ultron’s sinister nature as he uses a pastiche of android parts as his bodily frame and seemingly destroys Stark’s computerized companion J.A.R.V.I.S., while attacking the Avengers at their most vulnerable.

 

Now in possession of the scepter, Ultron (James Spader) sets about to create an army of robotic drones and enlists the help of the two mutants from Hydra. Scarlet Witch proves to be an effective foe for the Avengers as she is able to cause hallucinatory visions for Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans) and Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson). Although she becomes subdued by Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), the damage is already done and the Hulk goes on the obligatory rampage, before he is stopped by Iron Man’s “Hulkbuster” suit of armor. Battered and in desperate need of a regroup, our favorite superheroes “take it on the run” and hide-out at Hawkeye’s farmhouse. With a little coercion from Sgt. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the Avengers devise a plan to stop Ultron. Meanwhile, Ultron forces Dr. Helen Cho to create a synthetic body for him, fashioned from that precious stone from Loki’s scepter. As Ultron attempts to upload himself into the new body, the Scarlet Witch is able to read his mind, and discover his true, diabolical intention – death to mankind!

 

It is here that the ranks of the Avengers get, shall we say, quite the upgrade! The twins defect to the Avengers when the team arrives to steal the body, and once we find out that J.A.R.V.I.S. isn’t really gone (just a little scattered), Tony Stark uploads HIS artificial intelligence into the body. Add some help from Thor’s lightning and we are given “The Vision” (Paul Bettany), one of the most highly-anticipated characters in Avengers history! Throw in Stark’s friend War Machine (Don Cheadle) for good measure and we can truly say that Whedon has presented his audience with a superhero team-up for the ages. Unfortunately, the mere sight of these “ultimate” Avengers isn’t enough to sway the mad Ultron from his master plan and the battle is on for the fate of humanity.

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This film was a real joy to watch and never really dragged. The top-notch action sequences were present from start until finish, and lest we forget, the Avengers have matured as a team since the first film and are now operating on all cylinders. They display better teamwork this time around and have some pretty effective combos with their collective artillery, such as when Mjölnir meets Cap’s shield! I also liked how we were treated to an unexpected glimpse at one of the heroes’ family life, when the Avengers seek a temporary safe haven at the farm of Clint Barton, where we get to meet his lovely children, and a wife who is naturally concerned for his safety. This really was a nice touch to a film genre that so often goes only in one direction. There was also a great deal of humor, some which worked – such as when each of The Avengers took turns at attempting to lift Thor’s hammer, and some misplaced due to a suddenly less menacing Ultron, who seemed at times to be doubling for a stand-up comedian version of “The Terminator.” Anyone who wishes to revisit the original teaser trailer that surfaced six months ago will probably agree that he appeared a lot more diabolical, even voice-wise, in that 2-minute montage. I don’t think that it classifies as a bait and switch situation, but they obviously showcased the creepiest antics of this mega-villain in that preview.

 

There is also an attraction forced down our throats, between Black Widow and Bruce Banner (this even applies to his “Frankenstein’s monster on steroids” alter ego). You’ll get that statement when you see the interactions between beauty and beast. I didn’t really buy the pairing of these two, I felt a definite greater chemistry between her and Steve Rogers (due to their terrific scenes together in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”). Nevertheless, it is an attempt at showcasing a softer, more sensitive side to the Hulk; I just don’t think Natasha Romanoff is the right choice for those affections.

 

I can’t begin to describe what a revelation Scarlet Witch was, thanks to a definite breakout performance by Elizabeth Olsen. This character can quickly become one of my favorites. Quicksilver was also entertaining, but his sister stole the show – at least in terms of their scenes together. And what a great way to introduce The Vision, a longtime favorite in the comics, to the movie-going audience?! He is a dynamic character who is long overdue for some onscreen representation. In fact, I believe that Marvel Studios has done a tremendous job of throwing a nice succession of bones to the fans, especially by keeping the ongoing saga of the “infinity stones” in the public’s consciousness (one of which is firmly implanted in the Vision’s brow)! Trust me, there are some great things in store for this storyline, and I for one cannot wait until “Ant-Man” in July, much less “Captain America: Civil War” in 2016.

 

 

*** (three out of four stars)

 

 

 

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