The Bock’s Office: ‘Age of Ultron’ a super sequel as Marvel keeps going strong
How do you top the biggest superhero moneymaker of all time? Can it be done? Should it be done?
In reverse order, no, yes, and in the instance of “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” it shouldn’t be about being bigger and better, because that’s where so many have run into trouble before.
But, since when has that ever stopped Hollywood?
If you go…
“Avengers: Age of Ultron,” rated PG-13
Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars
Running time: 141 minutes
Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson and James Spader
Earth’s mightiest heroes are back in action!
The Avengers lineup of Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) are more than enough to keep the world safe, but teammate and financier Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is convinced even his teammates and his Iron Man artillery need some kind of additional assistance against dangers they have yet to even imagine.
When he and Hulk’s alter ego, Bruce Banner, collaborate on an artificial intelligence system that could provide global security, the result works all too well. The program known as Ultron (James Spader) takes on a mind — and body — of its own and determines that the Avengers and the majority of humanity are the greatest threats to the world’s safety and sets about remedying that problem.
With their loyalties to each other at the breaking point thanks to this development, the group focuses on the big picture, going after the malevolent robot, which has allied itself with super-powered siblings Wanda and Pietro Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson) for a plot that could destroy the Avengers and all they’ve worked to achieve.
Downey never gets tiresome to watch as Stark, but it’s clear to us and his circle of friends that he may have gone too far this time, regardless of his good intentions. Yes, some precautionary measures are necessary, like a secondary suit of armor that can — almost — go toe to toe against a certain big, green battering ram, but you can only tinker so much before you make something you can’t fix.
Ruffalo’s Banner has a larger role now, and we’re not just talking about the angry behemoth he keeps internalized. Knowing firsthand how science can go awry, he’s the first to tell Tony he may be making a big mistake, but sometimes a fist the size of a boulder speaks louder than words.
If you can imagine Tony Stark with twice the arrogance and none of the heart, you’ve got an idea of Spader’s villainous outing, the towering Ultron, dripping with sarcasm and no regard for people with flesh — a sinister Pinocchio, an intellectual Frankenstein’s monster, an Oedipus with greater awareness of who shapes his own fate with no moral hang-ups.
And, just like Adobe software, the true evil lies in his ongoing quest to upgrade and evolve to new realms.
As for the rest of the major players, Cap’s standing idly by as the kind of totalitarianism he was created to fight rears its head, the Widow’s ready to shed the lifestyle, Hawkeye’s got his mind elsewhere and Thor’s hallucinating about things beyond our mortal understanding.
Stay tuned for plenty more sequels…
The first ‘Avengers’ film introduced us to the many moving parts within this collection of people who have the potential to do great things but can’t always get it right. It’s that inner conflict that’s better expressed here, the lack of trust that never seems to go away and will cause a schism one of these days.
Writer-director Joss Whedon takes on a lot once again, shaping the story from decades of Marvel Comics lore, many of his changes a matter of inevitability, such as shifting Ultron’s creation origins — don’t worry, you’ll see that guy later this summer — and reworking the characters of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch so as to not overstep his bounds with other franchises.
Taylor-Johnson and Olsen are great, no doubt, but the fact that the lightning-fast runner was already played by a different actor with better camera effects in “X-Men: Days of Future Past” hurts him here, while his sister’s notorious hex powers are altered so that she’s too much like Jean Grey with darker hair and an Eastern European accent.
Comic book aficionados may bemoan these details, but they’ll be delighted by the oodles of small, but important, hints at future movies in the continuing arc of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, not even close to complete yet.
“Age of Ultron” has a few glitches in trying to expand on its predecessor, yet with more and more developments going with Marvel films and TV shows, its goal of moving along the unending narrative is reached. The best comics are the ones that are part of a set, and even if we have to wait three years instead of one month to see what comes next, it looks like it’ll be worth it.
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