Saturday, May 2, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron (Joss Whedon, 2015) Review

Yes, this is my first review for a long, long time however I had to step out of my semi-retirement (not dead just...on hiatus) to talk about one of the biggest films of the year, the sequel to the box office smash that is Avengers Assemble. I loved the first film and Marvel Studios has been on the up since then with the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier proving that they have what it takes to dominate the movie industry. We now have two films under the Avengers name and I couldn't be happier. Let's take a look at the epic sequel: Avengers: Age of Ultron.

The Avengers are reunited to fight what remains of HYDRA after the events of The Winter Soldier and while on the mission, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr,) finds Loki's staff from the first film and realises that the power contained in it is strong enough to create his dream project: Ultron (James Spader), a robot with the aim of protecting the world from alien threat. Ultron is born however he looks at humanity and realises that they are the problem with the world and sets off to destroy the species while remaking himself into his perfect image. The Avengers must fight against Ultron as well as his super powered assistants Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda (Elizabeth Olson) Maximoff.

You know what I'm going to say. It's pretty apparent that this point how big a Marvel fan I am and how much I adore the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Avengers Assemble was my first ever review and I slapped a 10/10 on it (although looking back I would bring it down to a 9/10...maybe 9.5/10) so naturally expectations were exceedingly high for the sequel and I have to delivers. Age of Ultron is a masterpiece of the summer blockbusters. Everything that makes a beautiful action film is here. The witty writing and characters that everyone loved in the first film are back however Age of Ultron has much more of an emotional edge with characters like Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) being given so much more to do (especially Hawkeye. It's his film). The new characters are also wonderful additions to the MCU. Ultron is easily my favourite villain in the series as he is ironically the most human villain they've had. He can be scary, he can be funny and he can even be sympathetic at times. James Spader knocks it out of the park with his wonderful voice giving the character life. The Maximoff twins, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch (never called that in the film though), allow for new possibilities for the franchise. X-Men: Days of Future Past used Quicksilver very well however the Avengers version is a much more fleshed out and likable character (although the slow motion scene in X-Men is still amazing). My favourite character in the film is...hard to talk about. He was in one of the trailers and can be seen in the background of the poster but I still can't talk too much about him. All I can say is that he gives a more psychological edge to the film with some of the best lines and scenes in the film.

In my opinion, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been constantly snubbed in the music department. Iron Man 3 has one of my favourite scores in film history and how can one forget the empowering main theme of Avengers Assemble. I remember every theme in the series (except Iron Man 2) and the music in Age of Ultron is hands down the best aspect of the film. Brian Tyler and Danny Elfman team up to give us nothing shot of phenomenal music. The main theme alone is grand, gorgeous to listen to and fits the tone perfectly and the uses of previous film themes such as Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World being sneaked in adds to the idea that the the Cinematic Universe is a conglomeration of  many films tied together. I was worried that Age of Ultron would just feel like build up for Infinity War and, while Thor's (Chris Hemsworth) subplot does leak into it (admittedly, Thor's subplot is the weakest part of the movie however it does lead to my favourite character's origin so I can't complain about that), the main story about the Avengers against Ultron is its own thing entirely.

One thing that moviegoers took away from Avengers Assemble was just how funny it was. Hulk smashing Loki still gets a laugh even to this day and I can confirm that Age of Ultron manages to be both the darkest Marvel Studios film and also the funniest. Every scene had a great laugh in it with every character (except Scarlet Witch) having at least one funny moment. I'm impressed the film can squeeze in the comedy while still managing to have a strong edge with much needed character development (looking at you, Hawkeye) and the highest stakes the series has seen. You would think that Joss Whedon would h struggle with balancing so many characters however he gives time to those who need it. Iron Man and Captain America do get pushed to the side in the second half however it seems fair enough because it's not their story, Thor has a sideplot leading into Infinity War, Black Widow (Scarlett Johanson) and Bruce Banner have a newly found relationship to build up and Hawkeye...well, I can't dive too much into that without spoilers but let's just say he went from the most expendable Avenger to the most precious. We'll be seeing much more of Iron Man and Captain America in Captain America: Civil War next year and they already have the best MCU films outside of the Avengers films so it's justified.

People complain a lot that comic book films are too dark in recent history and, while it fit the likes of The Dark Knight, some are trying to hard such as Man of Steel. With some amazing cinematography and well written dialogue, Avengers: Age of Ultron feels like a living comic book. With many long takes, wide shots featuring the team and memorable dialogue, Age of Ultron captures the very idea of what adapting a comic book into a big screen production should be. Even through aesthetics and iconography such as the team's new costumes, it looks great. The mix of practical and CGI is also good. I was worried that my favourite character (still a secret) was going to be a motion captured performance however the moment he showed up on screen with an amazing make-up job, I knew that Marvel Studios cared about how to bring their comic characters to life. Ultron's design is also great. I was worried in the build up that he would be too 'obviously evil' and I questioned why a robot needed teeth but the Tony Stark-esque personality and versatile performance from James Spader warrants an emotive face from Ultron. The big CGI fest has to be the Hulkbuster vs. Hulk fight that has been in every trailer. Seeing the two throwing each other around through buildings and making strong use of their environment is the kind of action that we need to see in a standalone Hulk film (seriously Marvel, get on that).

Avengers: Age of Ultron is a cinematic joy that only comes around every couple of years (the last Avengers being the last time). It manages to hit every area of its heroic yet dark and funny tone. The cast pull together once more with great new characters including one of, if not the, best Marvel villains to hit the big screen. It manages to balance that sense of build up towards sequels and self-containment perfectly. I was skeptical that they would fail to get everything in since the running time is shorter than the first films but the sheer awe and complexity of the images on screen and how perfectly everything falls into place means that I cannot reccomend this film enough. What is loses in impact that the first film had, it makes up for in depth, development and a much more appreciated edge. With this track record, it's going to be smooth sailing to Infinity War.

Need I say more?