Avengers: Age of Ultron, the next big thing in the Marvel franchise. The scary part for my nerdy self is there's still Mad Max, Jurassic World, Spectre, Mission: Impossible, Terminator, and of course, Star Wars to come in theaters. I loved Furious 7 and wouldn't you know it? I loved Avengers too.
In the Eastern European country of Sokovia, the Avengers -- Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) -- are able to fight their way into a Hydra outpost to recover Loki's all-powerful scepter. Back at the Avengers base, Tony Stark wants to use this power for good, using the scepter's power to create a brand of artificial intelligence that could shield the world, to protect it from all threats. Nothing goes quite to plan though as the artificial intelligence uses its ridiculous amount of pressure, calling itself Ultron (voice of James Spader), and escapes across the world's technology intent on destroying the Avengers and ultimately ruling the world. Can this ultra-powerful tool and weapon be stopped? At what cost? Once again, it comes down to the Avengers putting their differences aside to pull off a seemingly impossible mission.
It's been three years since the first Avengers movie hit theaters and tore apart the box office, earning $1.5 billion worldwide. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a franchise that continues to pile up the money, and typically, positive reviews. Fans love them -- for the most part -- and I include myself in that list. These Avengers movies have become the perfect blockbuster, huge, sprawling action adventures with a crazy cast and crazier action. Director Joss Whedon returns to helm this sequel, and even he admits the work that goes into making these movies (Read...the intense, soul-crushing PRESSURE) is brutally tough. Whedon even wrote this daunting screenplay. Potential world-ending villains, double-digit MAIN characters, countless quick, cameo appearances, and the high expectations of the franchise's countless fans, man, that is a TON of pressure.
So yeah, reviews were a little more mixed here than with the first flick. Sure, there are some flaws and hiccups along the way. None of those flaw/hiccups proves to be too big a problem simply because these movies are so damn fun. Like all the franchise entries, there is a certain formula to follow, but 'Ultron' is able to tweak that formula a bit. All the characters are there, the witty banter, the great villains, the world-shattering action. The F-U-N. The story doesn't always make a ton of sense, but it becomes an issue of...well, does it really matter? You sit back, eat some popcorn and go for the ride. It's a relatively long movie at 141 minutes, but it never feels long. Things are moving too fast and there's too many moving pieces for this money-raking sequel to actually slow down.
The biggest appeal for me with the Avengers flicks above the action or the villains or all the craziness is the ridiculous cast. These casts, my goodness, they're epic. With so many characters, we don't always get the depth/development/background you might want, but Whedon's script certainly goes for it. We continue to see the budding rivalry between Iron Man and Captain America, the budding lovey-dovey relationship between Bruce Banner and Black Widow, and I thought the coolest part, getting to know the most-human members of the Avengers, Hawkeye and a secret he's been holding onto and Black Widow and her past as an assassin trained by the KGB. There's so much to cover, a movie clocking in at 141 simply can't give too much character development. These are all characters capable of carrying a movie on their own -- and many of them have -- so when you combine them, it comes together pretty perfectly. There's almost too much talent for it NOT to work.
That cast, that ridiculous list of stars though, it simply isn't enough. Right? Right?!? We need more characters!!! James Spader is perfectly voice-cast as Ultron, the artificial intelligence hell-bent on destroying the world. Spader's voice is silky and smooth and droll and dripping with intimidation. Without ever appearing on-screen, Spader is a scene-stealer. Also joining him in the villains department are Aaron-Taylor Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen as the Twins, a Russian brother and sister with special powers, Pietro with super speed and Wanda with mental manipulation. Quite the interesting trio. Also appearing in smaller parts -- but necessary ones -- are Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury and Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill, Because of the behemoth that is the Marvel universe, there's also Don Cheadle, Anthony Mackie, Idris Elba, Hayley Atwell, Stellan Skarsgard, Thomas Kretschmann, and because that wasn't enough, more characters including Linda Cardellini, Claudia Kim, Andy Serkis, and an expanded role -- a very cool one -- for Paul Bettany as Jarvis.
This may come as a bit of sacrilege, but I thought the weakest part of this money-raking sequel is actually the action itself. Look, here's my thoughts. It looks great. It looks polished. It looks CRAZY at times, but you just know none of it is real. It is all CGI to the point you get lost in it. There's not as much emotional punch. Action movies have become so reliant on this stuff that is becomes a crippling crutch. I haven't seen it yet but Mad Max: Fury Road is getting ridiculously positive reviews because the action is real. They went out and filmed it and did the stunts. To a certain extent, the same for Furious 7. The action is great and shown on a huge, world-shattering scale, but it's almost too polished. The exception is the destruction-riddled finale, an incredibly put-together extended action sequence that is able to blend the CGI with the characters and their bonds (and some twists along the way) in an extravaganza of fights and stunts and destruction.
Yeah, there are issues. With this much going on, it would be near impossible for there not to be issues. But by the time you get to the scene where the Avengers -- and some surprising reinforcements -- dig their heels in for a last stand against Ultron's minions, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance, and it's all in slow motion...........oh man, fan boy moment! It's hard not to go along for the ride. It isn't perfect, and I liked the first Avengers more, but this is about as entertaining as anything you could ask for. Quite the daunting task taken on by Whedon and his script, but I'll call it booming, flawed gem of a success. Now onto other Marvel films....and there will be tons! The ending especially sets things up nicely for the next Captain America movie, set for release in 2016. Bring it on!
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015): *** 1/2 /****