MINI-SPOILER MARK: Minor plot details discussed. No major spoilers revealed, except for one.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: They might have saved the world from invading aliens, but The Avengers’ work is far from done. After the team goes through much effort and pain – though they thoroughly enjoy the process – to retrieve Loki’s sceptre, Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr,) decides to examine the literally otherworldly device for a few days. In the process, he discovers what might be the key to artificial intelligence, and he and fellow Avenger Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) attempt to apply it to the Ultron programme that is intended to defend all of humanity. Naturally, the rest of the Avengers (Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner) are kept in the dark, but they quickly learn about the dangerous experiment when Ultron (James Spader) unexpectedly comes to life. When Ultron decides to destroy mankind in order to save the world, The Avengers must find a way to defeat an enemy that grows infinitely more powerful by the minute.
WHY WATCH IT: They came, they fought, they conquered (or “avenged”, as they repeatedly call it). That was three years ago. But we have learnt by now that superheroes can never catch a break, and so cinema’s most popular vigilante collective return to the big screen with necessary upgrades. And these upgrades certainly pay off; character-wise, Avengers two-point-oh shows us that we ain’t seen nothin’ yet with the first movie.
As it so happens, The Avengers: Age of Ultron‘s biggest upgrade is fittingly the self-improving titular villain, Ultron. He is menacing, in a strangely humane way. Rather than being frightening, he is enthralling, and this seems to work perfectly well. Much credit must be given to Spader, whose performance and compelling take on the character are easily visible beyond the special effects and motion capture. One look at Ultron, and you instantly see Spader, who is undeniably enjoyable to watch as the villain. It is fitting that the movie’s title includes Ultron, for the character is what sets this film apart from its predecessor; Loki might have been one of the most likeable villains onscreen, but his alien-army-invasion-scheme was sinfully overdone and downright bland. With Ultron, the mission itself becomes more interesting, even if predictable.
Keeping things fresh, plenty of exciting additions join the avenging pack. The main newbies are the Maximoff twins, Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). Admittedly, they are not at all interesting in their own right, but they certainly add more fire power (perhaps literally) and some “wow”-ish factor to tickle our child-like fascinations. There’s also South Korean actress Claudia Kim as Dr. Helen Cho, who does play a pretty significant role in setting the film’s events in motion.
[FULL SPOILER ALERT] But the newbie whose entrance will attract the most chatter is certainly Vision, played by Paul Bettany (who also voiced JARVIS in this movie and all of the previous films in which his character appeared). Vision is strategically downplayed – even left out where possible – during the film’s promotion, and this was crucial in giving the character a more memorable impact when the time finally came to introduce him. [END OF SPOILER]
WHY SKIP IT: It’s bigger and it’s badder, no doubt about that. But is it necessarily better? The novelty of the first movie has certainly worn off, and this is not aided by the fact that Age of Ultron‘s upgrades are limited to their new characters. Where the returning characters are concerned, there is virtually no significant development in terms of storyline or individual dimensionality. Sure, there are some awkwardly placed and forced attempts at adding more depth to the Hulk and Black Widow (and arguably, Hawkeye), which really did not do much for the movie. To make things worse, the Hulk and Black Widow are dragged into a completely unnecessary romance that we will try to forget ever happened. But all in all, every returning character remained stagnant, and we were certainly not more attached to any of them. Not even as a group.
One can also develop a love-hate relationship with the action scenes in Age of Ultron. Stylistically, they have upped their game, and there are certain sequences that looked like they jumped right out of a slick graphic novel. But in the grand scheme of things, the overall battles are comparatively messier than in the first movie. Disappointingly, we are never at the edge of our seats, for Age of Ultron is low on any urgency and meaningful tension that its predecessor had.
Ultimately, none of these flaws will harm Age of Ultron significantly, for the movie soars primarily with the new additions in its arsenal.
The film knows how to appeal to both fans of the Marvel films and of the original comic books, with its reunion of various previous characters and creative weaving of the new characters into the existing storyline. But most importantly, Age of Ultron gives its audience the thoroughly entertaining action-packed adventure that they want. It more than succeeds at being a superhero movie in its own right, let alone a worthy sequel.
Rating: 3.5/5 (TALK-o-meter: “Good, not great.”)