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