Avengers: Age of Ultron
The mark of a good movie is that you feel sad when it ends, and are eager to see more. Even after running for almost two and a half hours, Avengers: Age of Ultron leaves viewers hungry to see what happens next in the Marvel Universe, and starts off the 2015 summer movie season with a beautiful bang. The movie gloriously matches and goes beyond viewers’ expectations that were already high from the 2012 Avengers film, and sets even more massive anticipation for the future of the Avengers franchise. The great accomplishment of this movie is not that it is an absolute joy to watch, but that it justifies the need to continue its story. Watching Ultron is a culmination of all of the plots of the last seven years of Marvel superhero films, and feels like the pinnacle of superhero cinema, with Infinity War promising to scale an even higher peak. 2018 can’t come soon enough.
As in the real world, three years have passed since we left the Avengers eating shawarma, and we rejoin them as they launch an assault against HYDRA. Tony Stark engages in some quiet tinkering without informing his allies, inadvertently releasing supervillain Ultron. The Avengers must face against a new world-conquering threat, and their enemy is not just Ultron, but sometimes each other. In his attempt to create a sentient being that will protect the world and relieve the Avengers of their jobs, Tony puts humanity in jeopardy and leaves some of his fellow heroes, particularly Thor and Captain America, understandably enraged. The increasingly obvious rifts between Captain America and Iron Man, besides foreshadowing Captain America: Civil War, speak to the inevitability of conflict when a large group of intelligent and powerful people unite to work on a common cause. Iron Man favors a more militaristic solution, while Captain America is more skeptical and cautious, and this tug-of-war between war and peace hints to modern concerns about terrorism and the difficulty of achieving peace in a world filled with war. Hoping to give the Avengers a much-needed break, Tony works on a program that instead gives birth to a monster, matching Ultron’s declaration that “everyone creates the thing they fear.” There are always new monsters to deal with, and something that at first looks like a savior can be a menace, or even both.
The film most prominently shows its heart with the Hulk and Black Widow, who are becoming more than just friends. Natasha wants to get closer to Bruce, but he has always stayed far away from others, fearing and hating his alter ego. The Hulk is unique in this film as a superhero who cannot stand himself and is never proud of his other half. While the other Avengers boldly wear their superhero identities and leap into every fight, Bruce Banner stays back until he is called in to reluctantly morph. His powers that make him a hero also make him a danger to everyone around him, shown in devastating detail when he is manipulated by Scarlet Witch to rampage through a city. Even in Hulk form, Bruce Banner is distraught at the buildings and lives he has wrecked. The final scene of him in the movie is the most tragic part in a movie that is already very sorrowful. For her part, Black Widow is a heroine at the cost of ever having a personal life. As the only Avenger able to calm Hulk down, she is the beauty to Hulk’s beast. The two of them complement one another and prosper together, yet it is still difficult for them to stay together. Loneliness is the lot of many superheroes, in spite of the cool things they do, and Black Widow is deprived of being able to leave her life as a superhero. Ultron makes it painfully clear that saving the world demands very high sacrifices.
Don’t let the science fiction deceive you; this movie deals with many down-to-earth issues. Ultron brings up some troubling side effects of life as a superhero; the powers and fights are cool, but they leave innocent people dead, even when superheroes don’t mean to. Departing from many other superhero films, the Avengers spend a lot of their time and energy in this movie saving bystanders to ensure that they hurt only their enemies. An awareness of the danger of superpowers and trying to be heroes rather than gods permeates the film. This concern for the welfare of ordinary people is what makes Ultron a very humanistic film, differentiating it from the coldness prevalent in Man of Steel. Through its depiction of love, personal demons, and collateral damage, Ultron elucidates the dilemmas of being human and superhuman, juggling chaos and order, and coming to terms with the fact that nothing lasts forever.
Even if it were just for its visual effects that gush adrenaline, like a city rising into the sky, Hawkeye shooting robots with arrows, or the Hulk fighting a beefed-up Iron Man, Ultron would qualify as one of the best superhero movies ever. Instead, it injects unimagined amounts of humor and drama into its story, exploring the pitfalls and the prices one pays to be a hero. It has the emotional sophistication of The Dark Knight blended with the sarcastic wit of Guardians of the Galaxy. The jokes are evenly distributed throughout the film and appear frequently even during the darkest moments, yet never feel out of place. What is even more impressive is that virtually all of them are hilarious. Whether it’s two people taking a selfie with Tony Stark as he works or Black Widow and Hawkeye discussing home improvement while saving the world, Ultron exhibits an ingenious and original sense of humor most comedies don’t even have. Few films have created a more balanced and diverse ensemble cast. Brash entrepreneur Iron Man, patriotic soldier Captain America, wisecracking family man Hawkeye, authoritative god Thor, secretive assassin Black Widow, and shy scientist Hulk all represent various types of heroes, and all deal with varying issues that arise from being unique. They are all enjoyable to spend time with, and all play crucial roles.
Ultron incorporates plenty of characters and stories from all of the other Marvel films, rewarding passionate Marvel comics fans, so it helps to have familiarity with previous superhero movies besides only The Avengers. That said, it is still accessible and immediately draws in viewers. While it builds on its predecessor and previous Marvel films, Ultron continues to display the same shortcomings as The Avengers. With all the thrilling action and rapid-fire dialogue flying by, it becomes a challenge to keep up with the fine details of all the plot devices, and some scenes will certainly be confusing and too fast to digest everything. In the later stages of the film, a new superhero is introduced, and his participation in the plot remains somewhat wanting, although he will no doubt be back in the sequels. The most prominent flaw lies in Ultron, the titular villain. From the title and the trailers, he initially appears to be fiendishly formidable and will threaten the Avengers for a long time to come. For all the trials and tribulations Ultron puts the protagonists through, as well as the dangerous degree of foresight and cunning he possesses, the film ties things up too neatly in preparation for the introduction of the villain who has so far been glimpsed at in The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy, which will make more than a few moviegoers sigh in fatigue at this repetition. In this respect, Ultron comes up short due to having another disposable villain who makes a dramatic entrance and unceremoniously exits. More memorable and enduring villains like Loki or the Joker show up multiple times and pose truly intimidating threats to the heroes, but Ultron is more of a placeholder for the even bigger antagonist promised for the future.
This is a rare sequel that manages to surpass the elements that made The Avengers so terrific. It feels like a bridge between The Avengers and The Avengers: Infinity War, perhaps explaining why most of the major dilemmas arrive at a clean resolution and why there is not a huge deal of suspense. It still is, however, a phenomenal bridge. The bar is now raised even higher for Infinity War, arriving in two parts in 2018 and 2019. They promise to involve virtually every character featured in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and will weave all the threads of the Guardians of the Galaxy, Spiderman, and the Avengers into one gorgeous tapestry. Joss Whedon is not returning to direct those films, but they will be in the able hands of Anthony and Joe Russo. Even as Avengers: Age of Ultron has proven itself to be one of the best films of 2015 and one of the best superhero films, it is likely that the sequels will be even greater.