Surprisingly, yes. I don't think AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON was as good as the THE AVENGERS, but I did have a smile on my face for most of the two-and-a-half-hour running time. If I had to be specific and point to why it wasn't as good as the original, I'd probably say it was because the first film was something that I had, as a lifelong comic-book fan, wished to see all my life, but knew could never possibly happen. And to see it happen, and to watch Marvel pull together all of these dangling threads and weave them into an entertaining, crowd-pleasing film, was nothing short of magical. (Plus, there was Tom Hiddleston's Loki, who should be in every film, period. Not just every Marvel film, but EVERY FILM.) This time out, we know what to expect. And while writer/director Joss Whedon delivers, the newness has worn off. This was a great film, but I didn't give me that same feeling of awe I had three years ago. But there was plenty to love, awe or no.
First off, I have to give a SPOILER ALERT!!!!!! I will be discussing plot points you may not want divulged if you haven't seen the film, so proceed at your own risk, OK? OK. Scroll down, you've been warned.....
The film starts off with a bang, as The Avengers invade some Eastern European HYDRA base in search of Loki's scepter. As we know from the post-credits CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER scene, this HYDRA base is where Baron Von Strucker is holding "The twins", Wanda and Pietro Maximoff,
A.K.A. The Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, super-powered siblings with a mad-on for Tony Stark, who they blame for the death of their parents. The Avengers succeed in acquiring Loki's staff, but are roundly defeated by The Maximoff twins, who escape.
While analyzing the staff, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner discover a template for artificial intelligence, which Tony decides to appropriate and merge with his own aborted AI, in order to, as he puts it, "put a suit of armor around the world". (Remember, Tony's worst fear is a return visit from The Chitauri....)
As anyone who has ever read a comic-book can tell you, creating artificial intelligence never works out, and
this time is no exception, as Tony's protective little program comes to life and determines that the best way to save the world is to wipe out humanity. Good job, Tony.
The rest of the film is the team philosophizing and fighting. And as we've already seen in IRON MAN 2, IRON MAN 3, and THE AVENGERS, they fight wave after wave of faceless, robotic enemies who really don't stand a chance.
I though James Spader did a good job as the villain, but he didn't really seem like Ultron to me. Spader's Ultron jokes around, pouts, sulks, and speaks like a normal person. I would have preferred a more robotic Ultron, as opposed to the almost human one we have here. I was also kind of disappointed in his look, especially his head, which has curvy side-antlers which make him look like a goat.
The Avengers themselves all do fine, as you would expect. The actors all have these parts down pat, and the jokes and banter all seem perfectly natural and organic. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen were both excellent as Pietro and Wanda, and it was great to see War Machine and The Falcon incorporated into the team, even if it was for too short a time. I loved seeing Andy Serkis being set up for his role as Klaw in the Black Panther film. The entire finale, where The Avengers bust their asses to save every single resident of Sokovia, was just a massive FU to DC's MAN OF STEEL, where Superman pretty much destroyed Metropolis fighting Zod, consequences be damned. I also enjoyed Paul Bettany's turn as The Vision, and I loved how he gets his name. Bettany also has, hands-down, the most crowd-pleasing moment in the entire film.
It was nice to see Hawkeye and The Black Widow take a larger role this time out, and I enjoyed the glimpses into Natasha's past. There a beefy Thor subplot that probably goes on too long, but it nicely foreshadowed events to come, both on Earth and in Asgard, and if it allows the filmmakers to squeeze in Erik Selvig, then it's all good.
On the down side.....there's no after-credit sequence, and the mid-credit sequence could have been a little longer. It seemed to go by in seconds. I was surprised by how bad some of the effects were, especially in the opening sequence.....There's a few frames of Thor in action against Strucker's troops that had TV-level CGI, and the scene where Natasha calms down The Hulk was just bad....The figures seemed to be on two totally different planes, and the fakeness of it really took me out of the scene. For the most part, the CGI was great....But those two segments, and a few others throughout the film, could have really used some tightening up. And I was pissed that Quicksilver died...I really liked him, and was hoping the rumnors of his death were unfounded. Also, this movie has what I call "Big-name-actor-superhero-syndrome"......That's where, as the sequels go on and on, the actor portraying the superhero demands less and less time under the mask with each successive film. Witness how much time Tobey Maguire spent letting every fucking person in New York see him in costume as Spider-man WITHOUT HIS MASK in the last two Raimi Spider-Man films. Witness the virtually Iron Man-free IRON MAN 3. Here we have Robert Downey Jr., who gets plenty of face time, thanks to the clever conceit of Iron Man's in-mask heads-up-display, LEAVING HIS SUIT OF ARMOR IN THE MIDDLE OF A MASSIVE BATTLE TO WALK AROUND IN STREET CLOTHES. And he gets attacked by The Scarlet Witch and mind-controlled. Serves you right, asshole! Plus, Captain America, a trained soldier, takes off his protective headgear in the climactic battle. Ugh.
Another beef is the music...Danny Elfman did...something...for this film, but I'll be damned if I know what. One thing Marvel has always been missing is a recognizable theme for each of its heroes, and I was hoping to see that rectified here. Alan Silvestri's Avengers Theme gets a lot of use, but Silvestri has been replaced by Tyler Bates, who contributes nothing at all memorable. I heard Elfman was hired to do some themes, but, if he did, I didn't pick up on them at all. More generic action music that could have been from any summer blockbuster.
Theory I'm surprised I haven't heard anyone but me mention: The Hulk goes off in a quinjet at the end, and no one knows where. The internet was speculating last year that he might be going off into a PLANET HULK film, but recent events have me thinking otherwise. Leaked Sony documents have revealed that Drew Goddard was hot to use The Savage Land in his aborted SINISTER SIX film, and now that he's being tapped for Marvel/Sony's new SPIDER-MAN reboot, it's looking like he's going to use The Savage Land in that film, instead. Joss Whedon and Kevin Feige were recently asked about the possibility of a new solo Hulk film, and they said no solo film was in the works, but they also repeatedly said that the future of The Hulk looked "Amazing!" Couple that with a recent Bleeding Cool article about Sony film folks buying up copies of a '90's Spider-Man arc that featured Spidey, Ka-Zar, and The Hulk in The Savage Land.....I think Hulk is headed to The Savage Land, and Spidey's solo film will be a Hulk rescue mission. I'm calling it!
Overall, AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON , was, like the original, a fun time at the movies. I had a blast. My wife, who can take or leave superhero films thought it was "OK...too long." (She said that THE AVENGERS was "One of the best movies I've ever seen!", so this was a letdown for her.) Joss Whedon is getting off the Marvel movie train, and CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER directors The Russo Brothers will be taking over The Avengers when they return in 2018. I thought they killed it on CAP 2, so I'm all for it. Next up from Marvel is Ant-Man, which looks like fun. It'll be interesting to see if audiences embrace such a small, no pun intended, adventure after the excess of this film. Stay tuned......