By Julia Woolever
“Avengers: Age of Ultron” is a monumental movie on every level. Everything is bigger than it has been in previous Marvel movies and the majority of the time, this is what makes it better. The movie has some serious flaws, but the amazing action sequences, sharp humor and general heart make it truly marvelous.
The film is a sequel to 2012’s “The Avengers,” yet it has seven years of film material to tie together as it is the 11th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which began with 2008’s “Iron Man.” The first scene of “Age of Ultron” makes it apparent just how intricate this universe has become — we meet the Avengers mid-attack, as they storm a HYDRA base where Loki’s scepter is being held. The scepter is powered by one of the six Infinity Stones, which power the mythical Infinity Gauntlet. This setup is based entirely on events from previous movies and will be unintelligible to any newcomers to the series.
This interconnectedness is both one of the best and worst things about “Age of Ultron” and the Marvel Cinematic Universe in general. For longtime fans, it’s a blast to see characters from past films make guest appearances and interact with other members of the team. But the sheer number of characters involved can make things confusing for even the most devoted of audiences.
“Age of Ultron” does double duty, as it wraps up some of the loose ends left in previous movies and lays the foundation for future movies. As a result, some scenes feel contrived and take away from the core plot, which is a bit muddled to begin with.
The film follows the Avengers as they battle Ultron, a self-aware robot who is hell-bent on saving the world by wiping out the human race and starting over again. Ultron is especially devastating to the team because he was created by Robert Downey Jr.’s character, Iron Man, with the intent of becoming a peacekeeping police force for good. Ultron’s quick descent into evil sparks a major ethical debate within the team and provides them with their biggest challenge yet.
Ultron, voiced by James Spader, is certainly a menacing villain, but he isn’t particularly threatening. He bears a strong resemblance to “Harry Potter’s” Voldemort and has a passion for sarcasm, which is noteworthy in a franchise known for its witty banter.
Perhaps it is the knowledge that all of the Avengers are scheduled to appear in future Marvel films that makes it difficult to see Ultron as a real threat to the team. Comparing Ultron to Loki, the beloved villain of “Thor” and “The Avengers,” won’t help matters either, as Ultron can’t hold a candle to Loki’s charisma, looks and general fabulosity.
Three new superheroes are introduced in the battle against Ultron. Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch are orphans whose powers are a result of biological experimentations by HYDRA. Played by Aaron Taylor-Johnston and Elizabeth Olsen, respectively, the twins are a welcomed addition to the team. The coolest newcomer however, is Vision, played by Paul Bettany. Created by some questionable science involving the pesky Mind Stone, Vision is both powerful and wise. His presence refocuses the struggling Avengers on uniting for the greater good of society and defeating Ultron.
The best surprise of the film is Hawkeye, played by Jeremy Renner, who takes on a new role as the emotional anchor of the team. His primary “power” of archery designates him the least “super” of the Avengers, and puts him at the receiving end of many jokes about a general lack of coolness.
If Hawkeye is the best surprise, then Black Widow is the worst. Played by Scarlett Johansson, who always deserves better, the Black Widow is saddled with yet another romantic subplot. This time, she is thrown together with Mark Ruffalo’s character, the Hulk. Having been half-heartedly paired with both Hawkeye and Captain America in previous films, the romantic attraction between this pair comes out of nowhere and is as unconvincing as Quicksilver’s Eastern European accent. The beauty and the beast routine is an outdated plot for a damsel in distress, which certainly does not apply to the Black Widow.
Lead by Hawkeye, there is a new level of humanity infused in the film that previous Marvel movies have lacked. In the dramatic final act, the amount of time devoted to showing the Avengers’ efforts to get citizens to safety is nearly equal to the time devoted to actually battling the villain. This attention to the double-edged sword of superheroism makes the film feel grounded, and connects the audience to the characters in a new way.
As a standalone film, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is not particularly good. It can’t quite measure up to the novelty and sheer awesomeness of the original “Avengers.” But when putting it in context as the culmination of so many events in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the harbinger of things to come, it is a worthy entry in a franchise that has changed the movie industry and established an incredible cultural legacy.