********* 8 out of 10 *********
Director: Joss Whedon
Actors: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, James Spader, Mark Ruffalo
In 2012, when the Avengers assembled for the first time on the big screen, they were still relatively new to us. Iron Man was an acknowledged star, but the rest of the pack weren’t amongst the ‘Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ till then. With Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, everything changed. We accepted each one of them, we loved them, we rooted for them, and we would have willingly gone into battle with them. The Avengers was not only a massive box-office winner, but a masterpiece, a game-changer. In the next three years, Marvel came out with more triumphant movies, and we got to see and learn more on those who were part of the Avengers. So Joss Whedon had a really tough task at hand with Avengers: Age of Ultron, which involved meeting the high expectations he himself had set for the audience, and also giving them something more in terms of story and characters that had not been consumed already. It was always going to be a tough battle between the current Whedon and his three-year younger self, and for most parts of Avengers: Age of Ultron it feels that Whedon of now cannot eclipse his younger version. But he still delivers something spectacular in terms of cinematic viewing, something gigantic in terms of entertainment, and something worthy of taking the Marvel story forward into Phase-III.
Avengers: Age of Ultron does not waste any time in assembling the Avengers. The movie begins with the Avengers striking a Hydra outpost in the Eastern European country of Sokovia in search for Loki’s scepter. That is where they encounter the Maximoff twins for the first time – Pietro / Quicksilver and Wanda / Scarlet Witch. Tony Stark discovers an artificial intelligence within the scepter’s gem which he wants to harness to build his global defensive program, ‘Ultron’. But what emerges from his experiments is a more sentient being with his own ideas on how to protect Earth which run contradictory to the Avengers’ line of thinking. And thus begins a mighty test for the Avengers as they fight a smarter and stronger form while at the same time, working on not breaking from within.
Director Joss Whedon’s piece of work is once more highly imaginative and has a larger-than-life feel to it. Dealing with so many characters in a single movie is a tough task, but Whedon manages to make it work somehow, treating each one of the Avengers as an important piece in a bigger machinery. But Whedon’s screenplay is not as cohesive as his previous movie, and that is a bit of a letdown. In 2012’s The Avengers, there would hardly be a single frame that did not add value to the larger picture. But in Avengers: Age of Ultron, there are scenes that seem to have been added just to give a cool dialogue to an actor, or to add a humorous moment that could have been done without. The differences between Iron Man and Captain America are less feisty than last time, the romantic angle between Hulk and Black Widow lacks chemistry and comes across as awkward, and once it is even mentioned that Hawkeye holds the group together which seems way off the mark.
But one needs to ignore the comparisons with the 2012 movie, for a film of such proportions does not come to our doorstep everyday. Avengers: Age of Ultron lives upto all the buildup, the hype, the excitement, the curiosity of the last three years. Joss Whedon does not hold back his imagination, fueled by the power of the innumerable comics written on these superheroes. In Ultron, he has created a threat equivalent to what mankind faced three years back, and so justified getting his Avengers together again. He has shown them as vulnerable, even unsure, and worked on bringing out the human underneath their costumers. I loved how he integrated the Maximoff twins into the story, giving them ample screen time, and making them a necessary part of the plot. And once again, a Marvel movie has delivered spectacularly in the visual effects department. With Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel was already moving up the ladder in terms of CGI. It moves a notch further up with Avengers: Age of Ultron. The fight scenes are spell-binding, and some of them alone could be worth the Imax ticket price. The fight between Iron Man and Hulk, and Iron Man and Ultron stand out, but then everything pales in comparison to the battle at the finale. There is one scene, much like Whedon’s previous Avengers flick, where all the superheroes come together and stand guard in a circle. And then fight! Oh boy, it needs some creative skill set to develop that idea in your head and then execute it to such perfection. Take a bow, Joss Whedon!
As for the actors, each one of the original Avengers has been around long enough now to wear their costumes as if putting on their own skins. Robert Downey Jr. is charismatic as ever with some of the best lines in the film, Chris Evans is once again in his stern and disciplined avatar, Chris Hemsworth has a great screen presence as Thor but is a bit overshadowed in this movie, Mark Ruffalo is excellent again as the mild professor with temper issues, Scarlett Johansson kicks ass and is ultra-cool as Black Widow, and Jeremy Renner delivers another steady performance and plays a bigger part in this sequel which I liked. Samuel Jackson’s return as Nick Fury is always applauded for it brings the group together. These movies could do a bit more with Cobbie Smulders’ character though. Joss Whedon has got a lot of actors from the Marvel universe to make this movie much more gigantic; so there are cameos from Don Cheadle, Idris Elba, Anthony Mackie, Hayley Atwell, and Stellan Skarsgård, each one of them making us realise how huge and impressive Marvel’s cinematic world indeed is. Cameos from Andy Serkis and Julie Delpy add to the already impressive cast. And Paul Bettany, the voice of JARVIS, gets a lot more to do in this movie, which you will love.
The newcomers though are the ones who steal the show. James Spader voices Ultron, and what a mix of soothing and chilling performance he delivers! Spader turns Ultron into one of the most impressive villains of the Marvel universe, an intelligent being, confident of himself, whose primary aim is to destroy the Avengers. Ultron is cheeky at times, a bit short-tempered too, can deliver the menacing lines with ease, and a formidable foe, all thanks to James Spader playing his part excellently. To assist him initially are the Maximoff twins, played by Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Both have an excellent brother-sister chemistry between them. They do a fantastic job in playing the roles of youngsters who are still grappling with their powers, who have seen tough times that made them take the wrong path. I have admired the character of Scarlet Witch from a younger age and so saw her appearance on the big screen more critically. I was totally impressed by Elisabeth Olsen’s take on the character, as she showed her vulnerable side in the movie, someone who still has to learn on how and where to use her powers. And when she does, she is explosive!
We are headed into Phase-III now, which is going to be longer and more elaborate than the previous two Marvel phases. Joss Whedon has taken his final bow from the Marvel universe with Avengers: Age of Ultron which sets the stage for new superheroes to come in the picture. He has been a big figure behind the scenes in each of the Marvel movies, getting them aligned in one direction, which has now reached only mid-way with Avengers: Age of Ultron. Joss Whedon leaves the franchise in a very strong position, both financially and creatively. It is time for the others to step up and deliver quality movies. Because Joss Whedon has spoiled us in expecting nothing less than cinematic marvels when the Avengers come on stage!