The Avengers: Age of Ultron falls into the mode of sequels darker than the original. I’m not sure why they keep making sequels this way since no one seems to like a darker sequel (except for Franchise Fred!), but this is Joss Whedon’s riff on the trope of a darker sequel. Joss Whedon never met a cliche he couldn’t deconstruct so this is a wonderful approach to a shared universe superhero team up.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has learned nothing from Extremis or any of his other dangerously failed experiments, so he creates Ultron (James Spader), an artificial intelligence that assimilates every asset or information in his path and grows stronger than the combined Avengers can handle.
This is pretty heavy. One of their own has created an enemy more powerful than the entire universe threw at them last time. To literally embrace that dark tone, they fight Ultron at night and in a dark, dank factory. Even the introductory set piece is in a gloomy winter castle but Whedon undercuts the darkness with absurdly giddy jokes about the cliches of action movies and villains lairs. Then it actually opens up into a bright sunny Marvel movie again. So you can place your heroes in new, darker environments without sacrificing what makes them distinct in the first place. We are talking about the inherent dangers of preventative warfare though. Exploring that with jokes about Tony’s ego is pretty great.
I was worried that a sequel to The Avengers would just be a normal superhero movie, since the fun of The Avengers was that they don’t really get along. Once they’re a team, what makes them different than any superheroes fighting monsters? Well, now they have inside jokes, and now they know how to play off each other’s strengths. Their celebrity is almost a greater super power than their super powers. The best jokes in the movie are just mumbled excitement over fulfilling genre cliches or the moaning bad guys laid waste in their paths.
The cameos create the Marvel world, and references to those absent are merely to explain they didn’t just forget about them. We don’t need every single character. The ones included are great, although I think the two actors in the barn filmed that scene on separate days, Expendables style. (Why am I blaming The Expendables for that. It’s Sin City/Machete style,) My point about what the cameos add is that sense of treating the superheroes as people who have lives and who may get along sometimes but still have differences. A group scene with Thor (Chris Hemsworth)’s hammer articulates the fun you can have even in a harmonious scene. Although Stark makes a Prima Nocta joke. Prima Nocta was a policy where kings allowed their nobles to rape women on their wedding night. Not cool.
It’s true, the opening action scene looks unfinished. The character introductions are so busy I didn’t even know what I was watching. Some old school visual effects are downright sloppy, like a forced perspective of The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) that doesn’t even look like they have the right eye lines, let alone are positioned right for that effect to work. Captain America (Chris Evans) gets a cool motorcycle flip in that sequence though and once they get to the castle it has some of the best lines in the movie.
While that scene looks under choreographed, the rest of the film’s action seems carefully designed to maximize the team. The filmmakers crafted beautiful, intricate chains of destruction that are a joy for audiences. The finale is better than the generic alien fight of the first Avengers. Did anyone notice Black Widow’s comment about the view is eerily similar to Steve Buscemi’s in Armageddon? Age of Ultron also takes the time to pause on some moments of beauty.
There is some exposition about the Infinity Stones and we know that Infinity War is the big Avengers two parter. I really didn’t feel it distracted from any of the scenes in which it was mentioned. A few lines of dialogue to keep the next film in continuity are okay by Franchise Fred. I was more distracted by the romantic subplot between Bruce Banner and Black Widow. It’s not the worst age difference in a movie, but are we just okay with another one of those? Am I getting too social? I mean, maybe that’s another Hollywood trope on which Whedon is riffing too, but I don’t think so because it’s not satirized. Unless Banner turning into Hulk is his rage at ageist Hollywood stereotypes.
I loved Spader’s tone of voice as Ultron. I preferred his more primitive form to when he fixes himself up. It just had more personality when he was jittery and glitchy, but that too demonstrates the emotional flaw in his obsession with a perfect system. The messy one is more fun. Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) are great additions with body language that really sells all the flashing lights around them. The Vision (Paul Bettany) is a soothing presence too.
A few other subplots go nowhere, like a particular hostage taking that is resolved without hindering the plan in the slightest. Everyone proves a vital part of not just the Avengers team, but the current film they are in. Even Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is given not only a backstory, but a chance to become my favorite Avenger.