When you have a movie that’s so universally beloved as “The Avengers,” how do you follow that up?
Joss Whedon’s answer: You make a movie that’s funnier, more human, and more challenging — not just for the characters on screen, but for the audience as well.
“Age of Ultron” provides two big meals to digest: One for the eyes, a visual masterpiece brimming with special effects that add meaning to the picture, not just noise; and one for the mind, where questions about concepts in the film will linger with you long after the credits roll.
Should we ever try to stop wars before they start? Should we “meddle” with artificial intelligence? What happens if intelligent robots decide that humans are obstacles, not tools, to making the world a better place? These are just some of the questions that we, and The Avengers, must grapple with, even after the movie ends.
Whedon’s Avengers are more cooperative in the sequel than the original, but that doesn’t mean they agree all the time. Captain America, for example, having lived through World War II, is strongly against wars of all kinds — he just wants to go home. Tony Stark, on the other hand, with his Iron Man suit and endless technological resources, believes he has the power to prevent future wars — but that involves creating weapons that occasionally backfire, like his “Ultron.”
(This political tension will come to fruition in next year’s Marvel film, “Captain America: Civil War,” where Captain America and Iron Man famously go at it after legislation is passed requiring all superheroes register their identities with the government.)
Taking stances on these big issues is inherent to The Avengers’ various personalities, and it’s another big reason why “Age of Ultron” exceeds the original: The characters are much more opinionated, more human, and therefore likable. Some of the film’s quieter moments offer glimpses into these characters we’ve never seen before — and it helps us understand why they’re heroic, not just superpowered.
The film is, in general, much funnier than previous Marvel films, too, and up to par with “Guardians of the Galaxy” in terms of jerky humour, particularly when it comes to dialogue. This is where Whedon really shines: Banter feels realistic but screwbally at the same time, which helps keep the film fresh throughout its 2 hour, 21-minute run time. Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye is a particular standout.
Of course, this isn’t to say the movie is perfect. It’s quite disjointed at times, and some characters leave you wanting more, and not really in a good way. But by and large, this film is a major accomplishment: It’s well-paced and rarely boring, consistently funny, and offers plenty of references to past and future movies for Marvel fans to gobble up. And with so much going on, this should theoretically make it ideal for multiple viewings — I’ll be interested to see how the film holds up after a second time.
In my opinion, “Avengers: Age Of Ultron” is a masterful film that feels jam-packed without being overwhelming. There’s plenty of action, but the action sequences are used as tools to keep the film moving forward — this isn’t about explosions for the sake of explosions. That said, the film thankfully never takes itself too seriously, despite all the issues we must contend with.
Between acting, the superb writing, the visuals, and its importance as a bridge to “Phase Three” of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, Whedon has pulled off a strange, funny, horrifying, and passionate love letter to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, that, to me, is even better than the first one in 2012. Let’s hope the Russo brothers can keep Whedon’s tradition going with “Avengers: Infinity War Part 1,” due in 2018.
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