Avengers: Age of Ultron review

About a week ago I had the excellent experience of watching “Ex Machina,” a film focused on the myriad of issues surrounding the development of artificial intelligence.  In the review I wrote on that film I mentioned our continuing problem with A.I. and how that struggle is well-documented in our film culture.  I also mentioned that “Avengers: Age of Ultron” would soon be added to that ever growing list.  However, I was in for a surprise for while I was familiar with the story of Ultron, the A.I. designed to help the Avengers save the world by acting as a peacekeeping automaton that goes rogue and instead tries to wipe out all life, I had forgotten about another A.I. storyline that develops concurrently, the story of Vision.  While Ultron represents our standard fears of A.I. coming to wipe us all out, Vision is a vastly different entity and their simultaneous presence, AND their almost twin birth, is a huge strength of this film.

“Avengers: Age of Ultron” feels like an organic continuation of this team’s tale.  This time out there is no spectacle of seeing all these heroes coming together and figuring out how to play nice to attract and keep an audience, and after the wholesale extraterrestrial destruction of New York City this film will have to either deliver something greater or different to capture and entice the audience.  I truly believe that it did.  It did not try to out do the previous film and I applaud that, I don’t think each film needs to up-the-ante.  Instead, what we get is a story about a team that has learned how to function better, is still dealing with the aftermath of the collapse of S.H.I.E.L.D., and now comes up against something new that knows them inside and out.

One element that stood out was how every scene seemed to be integral to the film overall.  Without spoiling anything, a great example is a scene where the Avengers and close friends are gathered and just playing around in the Avenger’s Tower.  Initially, the “Thor’s hammer scene” just feels like a fun, playful scene that allows us to enjoy the jokey side of the heroes before chaos and jeopardy ensues.  As we learn much later though this scene sets up something crucial, therefore reinforcing crucial information.  Almost every scene works like this, even the ones I felt were jammed with too much information to set up further Marvel Cinematic Universe properties like “Black Panther,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” and “Captain America: Civil War.”

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is both a wonderful and frustrating concept.  As a fan of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” this past episode let directly to “Avengers: Age of Ultron’s” opening scene.  It is always a joy to see Lady Sif show up on that show.  “Daredevil” was jawdroppingly amazing and I burned through it in two days.  However, the MCU can be frustrating if you cannot run out on opening weekend and watch S.H.I.E.L.D. get destroyed in “Captain America: Winter Soldier” before tuning into next week’s “Agent’s of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Another frustrating aspect is when characters felt shoehorned into “Age of Ultron,” like Ulysses Claw who seemed like more of a set-up for his future appearance in “Black Panther” than his stated purpose in this film, I do like the interconnectedness of the MCU.  By contrast I am a fan of “The Arrow” and “The Flash” and I believe that DC is missing a huge opportunity by keeping their TV and film universes disconnected.  While it will be easier to just follow the shows and not feel pressure to jump out every opening weekend, it is jarring to read about Flash castings when a perfect Flash is already on my TV every week.

“Age of Ultron” introduces three new characters even as they keep the roster full with ever-growing list.  Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch have been highly publicized and are visually stunning.  The most elusive and philosophically interesting though is Vision, played by the voice of Jarvis, Paul Bettany (“A Knight’s Tale”).  While James Spader’s (“Crash,” 1996) Ultron easily steals the show it is Vision that piques the most interest in the pursuit of A.I. discussion.

POSSIBLE SPOILERS BELOW, IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE FILM YOU MAY NOT WISH TO READ FURTHER.
In the comics and cartoons it is Hank Pym, aka Ant Man, that creates Ultron.  However, Ant Man has yet to be introduced in the MCU so it is Stark and Banner who create Ultron with some extra help.  Basically, born from the same seed is Vision.  One is vicious, filled with rage and genocide.  The other is possessed with introspection and a sense to uphold life.  There are some notable other differences to make note of, but not here, not now.  The key to address is that two notable A.I. are created with vastly different outcomes and presented in the same story.  I highly enjoyed watching Vision and I cannot wait to see more of this character.  Paul Bettany imbued this character with great live and made it a believable character in an ever growing roster of outlandish characters.  What I liked most about Ultron is that despite his great intelligence, his huge adaptability, and obvious strength he is highly flawed.  I mean here is a omnipresent A.I. capable of almost anything, obvious the one thing he is seeking is problematic and constantly addressed in the film, but as a back up he chooses a hugely theatrical and overly complex plot.  This is because he is a like his father, a hugely egotistical and flawed entity.  He doesn’t just want to achieve his goal, he wants to make a massive statement while doing it, one only has to pay attention to his poetic recitations to make sense of it all. 

Overall, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” succeeds in continuing the saga of these characters.  It has some flaws, at times if feels like some characters are just shoved into the story to expand or connect the MCU.  It is bold though, it takes time with characters allowing great scenes between Black Widow and Banner/Hulk or letting us see much more about who Hawkeye is and how crucial he is to the team.  Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are flawlessly integrated into an already burgeoning cast of characters.  About the only other issue I have with the film is the isolation of the climax.  Again, without divulging too much I want to explain myself.  It does make sense, the location, but as it was so isolated in the grand scheme of things seeing where Marvel has been building in “Agent’s of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and headed toward in “Captain America: Civil War” I truly believe the isolation will hurt.  I believe this because what doesn’t happen in our backyard, doesn’t concern us after a week.  We see this happen in our country repeatedly and unless it is something extremely novel then it has little longevity.  Given what has happened over the MCU what occurs at the end of “Age of Ultron” may not capture Western attention for long.  So, when the politicians are arguing for Superhero Registration in the next “Captain America” film many cinematic Americans might not even know the Ultron event occurred.  Is “Avengers: Age of Ultron” as exciting as “The Avengers”?  No, it isn’t, but I feel like it is a more mature film that addresses what comes next for the team and it’s vastly disparate components.  I liked it a lot, and I’ve grown to like even more the longer I’ve thought about it.

Last note: There is NO Post-Credit sequence.  There is a Mid-Credit sequence, but nothing after the credits finish rolling.  It looks like Joss Whedon wasn’t pulling our legs after all.  Bummer, just after Marvel Studios has finally gotten us all fully trained.    

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