Avengers: Age of Ultron (Joss Whedon, 2015)

The Avengers have been called to the Eastern European country of Sokovia. They are an all-star superhero team consisting of Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Thor, Bruce Banner, Natasha Romanoff, and Clint Barton. They have been asked to raid a facility owned by an elite terrorist organization known as Hydra. The commander’s name is Wolfgang von Stucker. There, they are besieged by two of Stucker’s test subjects: Pietro Maximoff and Wanda Maximoff. The former possesses superhuman speed while the latter is both telepathic and telekinetic. Regardless, the Avengers are able to apprehend Strucker and retrieve what they’ve been looking for: Loki’s scepter.

WARNING: This review will contain spoilers for the series thus far.

Though the Avengers have proven themselves capable as Earth’s guardians time and again, they realize they can’t be everywhere at once. Moreover, they have recently learned S.H.I.E.L.D. had been internally compromised by Hydra for a long time, and their various terrorist activities caused people to begin trading their freedom for security.  With the organization that had the world’s interests at heart revealed to have been corrupted, Stark decides to complete a project he has been working on: the Ultron global defense program. It is an all-seeing program intended seek out threats and stop them before they can bring harm to the citizens.

Fortunately, he is in luck. As it turns out, there is an artificial intelligence within the specter’s gem. Stark and Banner then use it to complete the defense program. However, Ultron suddenly gains sentience and suddenly begins working a little too well. As a program designed to seek out the greatest threat to the planet Earth, he immediately begins targeting the Avengers themselves. It’s still a decidedly extreme course of action considering they’ve tried to save lives, but then again, their actions have caused countless amounts of property damage – possibly leading to the deaths of several innocent people off-screen. As such, if The Avengers was a wild party, Age of Ultron deals with its aftermath.

The longer he’s active, the more unhinged Ultron becomes. When the heroes become more determined to stop him, he defends his actions through increasingly tenuous justifications. He’s the kind of character who would rather destroy a problem, believing it to cause nothing but misery, rather than take a step back and deal with it rationally. Because of this, it is of little surprise that, upon having a synthetic body made of vibranium constructed for him, he builds a machine to lift Sokovia’s capital city in the air with the intent of crashing it into the Earth and causing complete human extinction.

Just like The Avengers, Age of Ultron has no shortage of incredible action sequences. Everything the average fan loved about the original film is present in this installment as well. This ends up being both a blessing and a curse because, at the end of the day, Age of Ultron is just going through the motions of its predecessor. If anything, it’s worse off than its predecessor because of one simple reason: its villain. Ultron isn’t a terrible antagonist, but his motives are generic and boring. Every other film in the franchise leading up to this one attempted to give its villains some degree of depth whether it was Loki fanning the flames of chaos or Ronan the Accuser attempting to backstab his master, Thanos. By comparison, Ultron comes across as a Saturday morning cartoon villain; he wants to destroy the world because it’s there.

His character is quite a bit different from his more familiar comic-book counterpart, and not for the better. In the comics, Ultron is one of the most fearsome villains in the Marvel universe, wishing to cause total human extinction from day one. While in Age of Ultron, he’s still a threat to the world, he isn’t nearly as intimidating, coming across more as an impudent, bratty teenager. This could be explained by the fact that he was, quite literally, born yesterday, but it doesn’t make for a compelling antagonist.

His lack of villainous credibility is punctuated when the film sees fit to introduce the Vision to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Thor informs Stark that the gem extracted from Loki’s scepter is one of the six Infinity Stones, which are the most powerful objects in existence. Stark uploads his suit’s artificial intelligence, J.A.R.V.I.S., to a synthetic body powered by the gem, resulting in the Vision’s creation. Not only does Ultron struggle in a battle with Captain America, he is ultimately overpowered and killed by the Vision.

The final battle overall is a little anticlimactic, though it does have a touching moment when Pietro sacrifices his life to save Batron. Given there were several signs throughout the film that Batron would be killed off, I give Mr. Whedon credit for not traveling down the obvious path. I also have to admit I like the conversation between him and the Vision at the end. Ultron concludes that humanity is doomed. Although the Vision agrees, he tells him things aren’t beautiful because they last, considering it a privilege to walk among them. It’s a shame the rest of the film wasn’t this well-written because it really is a powerful scene.

Age of Ultron sums up precisely what made the second phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe so inconsistent in terms of quality. It very little idea of what to do or where to go when asked to advance the story. This was evident in how Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World came across as token sequels to their predecessors, offering more fanservice than plot. Going into Age of Ultron, the only universally praised installments were Captain America: The Winter Solider and Guardians of the Galaxy. Both of them succeeded for entirely different reasons. Much of the former’s conflict revolved around Steve Rogers attempting to cope with how much the world had changed since the 1940s. Meanwhile, the latter introduced a new set of characters and incorporated space opera elements into the series, giving it yet another degree of depth.

Age of Ultron, on the other hand, doesn’t elevate the series in any way, which is not good for a film intended to bring together the major players. The Avengers unite to fight off a villain who ultimately isn’t that much more threatening than his predecessor. Watching the characters interact with each other is both heartwarming and humorous, but in spite of the odd curveball here and there, the plot is utterly lacking in suspense. Whether or not you should see it depends on how much you like the series. If you’re invested in the ongoing narrative, it is a serviceable continuation. If you’re only seeking out the series’ highlights, you’re better off reading a synopsis.

Final Score: 5/10

6 thoughts on “Avengers: Age of Ultron (Joss Whedon, 2015)

  1. Ultimately, I had a lot of fun when watching. I think my brain sneakingly turns itself off when I watch blockbuster movies, and maybe that’s a wise decision. But, anyway, it is hard to deny Age of Ultron is pretty flawed when it is dissected, like you did here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I won’t deny it’s a fun film. It’s just that even if you’re going into it with those exceptions, it still falls short in a number of ways. As it stands, Ultron isn’t a particularly memorable villain and the conflict doesn’t raise the stakes in any meaningful way. It does a good job setting up future plot points, but that’s about it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, I feel like Ultron was made a weaker character by being made more human. If he was less relatable, more mechanical, less charming and villain-suave, he would have seemed a bigger threat. As is, he just seemed flawed. And not in the good, interesting way, more in the “why hasn’t he gotten creamed yet” way. I really like this movie more as a prelude to Civil War than anything else, but it can be largely skipped without missing that much except for the action beats.

        Liked by 1 person

        • From what I’ve heard, he is much more formidable and menacing in the comics for the exact reasons you stated. And you’re right in that considering how much the Avengers have improved since their previous team-up, they should’ve squashed Ultron in seconds. Some gave Captain Marvel heat for being a misplaced Phase One film, but I was fine with it because Phase Two has aged worse overall. So many of those films were more interested in setting up plot points for future events than telling their own story. Not surprisingly, the best Phase Two films, Captain America: The Winter Solider, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Ant-Man did the latter. While the payoff was eventually worth it, it was somewhat tedious getting there. So yeah, Age of Ultron. It’s not bad, and there are some good character moments, but it’s not terribly exciting.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Age of Ultron is such a weird movie. This is an Avengers movie, the film all the previous films in that MCU phase are building to, yet it seems sidetracked to foreshadowing future events itself! Also, Ultron should have been introduced in a previous film, before being made into the antagonist here. The first Avengers benefitted from re-using a villain. We already knew his motive, his desires, who he was as a character. No need for introduction. We got a familiar foe and the story was about how all the heroes come together. Infinity War did something similar, albeit Thanos was shrouded in more mystery in the lead up. But we still knew his goal (get all the Infinity Stones), and the film interestingly made him the main character (or the closest thing to it), seeing as that time around, the Avengers were established. So it took its time to flesh out its villain. Age of Ultron is the one Avengers movie that has to concoct its villain, give him motive, and try to establish him as a threat all in the first act, before getting the story and characters together proper. It just feels so overstuffed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s the best way of summing it up; they built up to a work that just ended up building up to more future events. It introduces a lot of vital characters and plot points, but it makes this film a difficult sell because as a standalone experience, it’s lacking. Age of Ultron is really just more foreshadowing to Infinity War, which made the payoff in the latter worth it (or at least so far – we’ll have to see how Endgame pans out). It succeeded in building up Thanos, but Ultron himself comes across as a villain you’d see in an anime that outpaced the manga on which it’s based and the writers needed to come up with new material to allow the latter to catch up. With him, I think Mr. Whedon tried to accomplish too much in too short of a timespan, having to do all of that in the span of 141 minutes. Ultron as a villain didn’t even exist at the start of the film, and his impact on the overarching story has been minimal. Between the last time I saw this film and when I reviewed it, I had completely forgotten what Ultron’s motivation was. I was disappointed when it ended up being “destroy the world” because that’s just not a motivation you see often in this franchise.

      Liked by 1 person

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