I was a bit worried going into Age of Ultron. The Avengers, it’s predecessor, was of course great and all the trailers for this film looked like similar fun. But we’ve all been burned by trailers before. For me, the biggest recent disappointment was Man of Steel — what if this turned out to be like that? What if this turned out to be a big, overblown, overhyped, bag of hyperkinetic hot air with a confused structure, dopey characterization, and a lame-brain plot? What if it, you know, was terrible?
So I steeled myself a bit in the hours before I went. I reminded myself that even if it wasn’t good, that wouldn’t really have any lasting impact on my life. Someone else would make another good film about something, some day. And until then, I’d still have other good movies, like Summer Time Machine Blues and Coherence. And also, real life.
Fortunately, my fears were largely unfounded. The Avengers: Age of Ultron was full of the humor and engaging character interactions that marked the first gathering of Earth’s mightiest heroes. It was jammed full of spectacular action sequences and heroics. It debuted a bunch of impressive new characters, while keeping a wide array of existing ones in balance. It featured a menacing villain who feels like a genuine threat, without just rehashing Loki from the first film. It told its potentially confusing fight scenes with clarity and ease and exhilaration.
In short, it was sort of awesome.
It is, however, the same sort of awesome that we’ve seen before, in Marvel’s films and in others. So while I fully enjoyed it and will probably see it again, I can’t say that this film really took me anyplace new, in the way that, say, Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: The Winter Soldier or the original Avengers all did. I’m not sure what I could have hoped for, but it was like I was missing those standout moments from the first film that really defined the characters–eg. Tony Stark threatening Loki over drinks, or Captain America jumping out of the plan after Iron Man & Thor, or the Hulk giving the beat-down on Loki. Not that I wanted those moments replayed, but something else that would also be so memorable.
The most engaging aspect of the movie is certainly Ultron himself, who is voiced brilliantly by James Spader, somehow making use of his trademark snark in a way that fits with the enraged and murderous robot. The guy has a very strong presence and is a definite contender for Marvel’s best villain–really, his only competition is Loki, and overall I found Ultron more interesting to watch (and listen to).
There are some minor dopey things that one has to forgive. The biggest one is the stupidity of Ultron illogically refusing to kill one of his captives at one point in the film, an action that allows the Avengers to find him and leads to the movie’s climax. Also, the Scarlet Witch’s hand gestures as she is using her powers look a little silly. And the Falcon’s wings, which worked well in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, somehow look a bit goofy in the 2 seconds they are shown in this film.
I was also pretty worried about the way the film strongly set up the potential death of one of its heroes. Without giving too much away, the plot point was so strongly telegraphed that I couldn’t believe that it could be any good, but the payoff (whether the character dies or doesn’t) ended up working pretty well.
So in the end, I liked Age of Ultron, and I don’t see any reason that you wouldn’t like it if you think you want to see an Avengers movie. It had a lot of fun inside the familiar Marvel super-hero envelope. It just didn’t do much to expand that envelope.
PS. Post-credit scene spoiler: there is no post-credit scene! There is a mid-credit one, but nothing at the end except for some text telling us the Avengers will return. However, if you stay for all the credits you can look for the one that mentions my friend Beth Senn who did some work with one of the companies that did the movie’s special effects. My friends and I caught that, and it was a bit of a thrill.