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New Release Review - Avengers: Age of Ultron

When Tony Stark unwittingly unleashes Ultron, a villainous artificial intelligence, it's up to the Avengers to foil his plans for world domination.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Joss Whedon

Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Samuel L Jackson, Linda Cardellini, Hayley Atwell, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Cobie Smulders, Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba, Paul Bettany, Stellan Skarsgard, Andy Serkis, Don Cheadle, Anthony Mackie, Julie Delpy, Thomas Kretschmann




"Sexual tension, cinematic visuals and heroes directly aiding civilians are all fresh and welcome additions to the Marvel universe, but why oh why can't they find a way to end these movies other than a boring brawl?"







"The city is flying, we're fighting an army of robots, and I've got a bow and arrow! None of this makes any sense!" So says Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye in the midst of the latest Marvel blockbuster's climactic set-piece. It's a statement that encapsulates both the good and bad of Avengers: Age of Ultron. The good - the movie knows how ridiculous the whole scenario is and is willing to have fun with it. The bad - yet another Marvel movie climaxes with its protagonists battling an army of robots while a giant structure floats in the air.
Of all Marvel's movies, this is the one that has the least reason to end in such an uninventive manner. The biggest problem with the studio's previous efforts has been the lack of an interesting antagonist. Age of Ultron gives us a trio of adversaries, all with great potential, but all three are resolutely squandered. First off there's Ultron (voiced by James Spader), a maniacal piece of artificial intelligence unwittingly unleashed on the world by the well-meaning experiments of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). We're told Ultron can inhabit the internet, not unlike Johnny Depp in last year's flop Transcendence, but in the hands of writer-director Joss Whedon the being simply becomes a giant robot, leading an army of smaller robots. 
Then we have the twins; Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor Johnson). The former has the intriguing power of being able to both read and meddle with minds, but apart from an early encounter with our heroes, she mainly uses her other power, the ability to throw stuff around, because in Marvel movies there's always a need to throw stuff around. We saw another iteration of her brother, Quicksilver, in last year's X-Men: Days of Future Past, where the character provided the film with its most inventive moments. Bryan Singer threw down the Quicksilver gauntlet but Joss Whedon doesn't even attempt to pick it up, as though it were Thor's hammer, giving the character nothing remotely interesting to do.
If Whedon squanders his villains, the same can't be said for his protagonists. The Avengers are all interesting and developed characters here, all that is except Captain America (Chris Evans), who has become the Wesley Crusher of the Marvel universe ("The most powerful material in the world and you use it to make a frisbee," Ultron mockingly snarls at one point). Hawkeye, who merely hung around in the background of the previous film, is given a central role here, and Whedon does a great job with a character who seems to have no real place in this group. In the first instance of sexual tension in the formerly asexual Marvel world, Scarlet Johansson's Black Widow spends most of the movie trying to bang The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). I guess size matters! Tony Stark/Iron Man isn't allowed to steal the show as he was previously, but still gets most of the best lines. Even the big lug Thor (Chris Hemsworth) plays a fun role here, especially in an early scene in which his buddies attempt to outdo each other in their attempts to lift his hammer.
It's clear from Age of Ultron that Whedon has listened to the critics of both his previous Marvel outing, and contemporary blockbusters in general. One of the biggest criticisms of Marvel has focussed on how visually homogenised their movies are, thanks in no small part to their recruiting of directors with primarily TV or writing backgrounds. In his fascinating Every Frame a Painting video essay on Kurosawa, Tony Zhou used Whedon's work on the first Avengers as an example of bland staging. In attempting to answer those criticisms, Whedon has delivered the most visually exciting Marvel movie to date. The opening set piece begins with an elaborately staged tracking shot that brilliantly introduces each member of the team in their own unique manner. Even Captain America gets to do something impressive here, using his motorbike as a weapon in one of the movie's standout moments.
The other great complaint of Hollywood action movies is the blatant disregard of collateral damage. In movies like Die Hard 5, Furious 6, and most egregiously of all, Man of Steel, the so-called heroes have contributed to a staggering loss of life among the civilian population. Whedon goes out of his way to address this in Age of Ultron. When Hulk goes on a smashing spree in a crowded African city, Iron Man makes a point of trying to lead him away from the downtown area. For the movie's climactic brawl, our heroes attempt to evacuate the city before all hell breaks loose.
Sexual tension, cinematic visuals and heroes directly aiding civilians are all fresh and welcome additions to the Marvel universe, but why oh why can't they find a way to end these movies other than a boring brawl? The more things change, the more they stay the same.




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