Finally, a superhero movie that actually feels like a comic book came to life! This is not meant to be an insult to other caped crusaders put to film (I’m looking at you, Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder), but “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is a clear payoff the cinematic universe Marvel Studios has been building over the past seven years. It is a piece of work that emulates the same universe that was created by Marvel Comics all those years ago. A universe inhabited by a cavalcade of heroes who can be called upon at a moment’s notice. In a word, this Joss Whedon directed sequel is incredible … and I’m not just talking about the Hulk.
It’s taken three years to see a follow-up to 2012’s “The Avengers,” and it was worth the wait. The movie opens on “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” battling the forces of Hydra agent Baron Von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) in the snowy forests of the fictional eastern European country of Sokovia. And the action only builds on its epic opening over the two hour and 20 minute run time.
In a globe-trotting adventure that would spin the fedora on Indiana Jones, The Avengers face their most dastardly villain yet in the form Ultron. Voiced by the wonderfully creepy James Spader (“The Blacklist”), he’s an artificially intelligent robot created by Tony Stark to protect the world. The only catch: Ultron feels the only way to protect the human race is to destroy it. Needless to say, shenanigans ensue. Spader is truly remarkable as he can switch from innocent to menacing before you can say, “Infinity Gauntlet.”
Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) reunite to kick some robot butt. However, you’ll also see a few new faces from the comics like the sibling duo of super fast Quicksilver (I prefer the “X-Men” model from last year, but Aaron Taylor-Johnson does a fine job) and the telekinetic Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). And some new faces return as well from the ghosts of Marvel movies past. So many stars are featured that you’ll wonder how there was any money left in the budget for special effects after paying all their salaries.
No need to the worry on that front. The action scenes contain enough explosions and PG-13 violence to satisfy the desensitized kid in you. There are numerous sequences that will have you squealing with delight, like an all-out battle between The Hulk and a Hulk-sized Iron Man suit innocently named “Veronica” or a chase through Seoul, South Korea. The final battle is something to behold: chock full of our favorite do-gooders, old and new who just keep popping out of nowhere. It’s awesome!
In true Whedon fashion, the tone shifts seamlessly from serious to light-hearted. His script — with no shortage of one-liners — is often hilarious and can make you laugh even in the tensest of moments. For instance, a party at Avengers HQ in New York City features a great Stan Lee cameo (as usual) and a contest where the gang attempts to pick up Thor’s hammer Mjolnir for much comedic effect.
The movie also does a lot more expanding of the wider Marvel universe, probably more than any film we’ve seen from the studio so far. It sets the stage for upcoming movies with the introduction of new characters, plot devices and blase remarks that hold tons of significance for any comic book nerd in the audience. The 30-second credits sequence alone will get you pumped for a big baddy down the road. Moreover, the movie improves on its predecessor not just in its sheer size but in its deeper exploration of the characters. Through some mind games, we learn a lot about what makes these heroes tick and what frightens them most. I know Hawkeye seems like a boring Robin Hood type, but revelations about the man made him one of my favorites by the end. And the Hulk? Let’s just say there’s a lot more behind the green skin and purple pants.
With Marvel nearing the end of its “Phase Two” films (July’s “Ant-Man” will close it out), DC may be kicking itself for not having the momentum to catch up. While a “Justice League” is in the works, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” seems like a way to speed the process along, introducing a new Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck or “Batfleck”) without taking the time to mature its cinematic universe.
Since 2008, we’ve come to love the various Marvel franchises because they gave us a reason to care. They didn’t rush it and the influence has spread beyond the silver screen. Television shows like “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” “Agent Carter,” and “Daredevil” all take place and have their own impact in the MCU. Even “Spider-Man” will be joining the fray soon! Is it too much to hope for the X-Men as well?
I honestly cannot wait for “Phrase Three” titles like “Captain America: Civil War” and “Avengers: Infinity War” (Parts I & II) because this world of heroes and villains is like the gift that keeps on giving. Some may say that the climax of “Ultron” bares a slight resemblance to the first movie, that it’s just too unrealistic to take seriously or that there is never a real sense of danger. In reality, the film is a spectacular form of early summer escapism and that’s reason enough to assemble in your local theater for a super experience you won’t soon forget.