Avengers: Age of Ultron review

Flawlessly fun, Avengers: Age of Ultron hits the apex of modern blockbusters

Avengers: Age of Ultron is awesome. But you knew that already. The question is, how awesome? Like, original Avengers levels of awesome? More awesome? Slightly less awesome, but still awesome?

Apologies for using the A-word so much, but it’s impossible for it not to come screaming from your lips during and after watching Joss Whedon’s second Marvel film — impossible for me, at least. If the word isn’t welling up inside of you while watching Hulk smash an army of Ultrons, or while his alter ego bros down with buddy Tony Stark, or while Bruce does his level best to keep it cool around Natasha Romanoff … then, well, you and I have very different definitions of the word “awesome.” I prefer mine.

Right off the bat, Earth’s mightiest heroes are in high gear. When we first see Hawkeye and Black Widow, they’re doing their low-powered human thing against a bunch of HYDRA thugs, looking like gods while doing it. Actual god Thor comes swirling into the picture shortly after, bringing the thunder to the party. Captain America throws a motorcycle at some bad guys while chastising Iron Man for using harsh language over the comm system. Hulk smash. You get the picture.

These are the Avengers assembled, from word one until the final bow, working like clockwork … until they’re not.

These are the Avengers assembled, from word one until the final bow. No need to conjure up cosmic excuses to get the band together. They’re already formed, and they’re working like clockwork, like only a group that saved New York from aliens and subsequently scarfed shawarma together can … until they’re not.

Surprising nobody, Tony Stark once again plays the role of “problem child,” albeit without red hair and freckles, but still with a Junior-like tendency to cause chaos. This go-around, he royally screws up by fathering an artificial intelligence system called Ultron, designed to replace the Avengers and allow the flesh-and-blood heroes to hang up their capes for good. Except Tony never runs any of this past Cap and friends; he does this on his own accord, after a three-day Science Bros bender with Banner, working out of their Science Man Cave without rest.

Ultron makes his deadly debut during a big bash at Avengers Tower, scaring the ever-loving Chitauri out of everyone when he shambles up in the husk of a torched Iron Legionnaire, quoting Pinocchio and promising death and destruction for all mankind — or, as he calls it, “peace in our time.” Escaping via the Internet and joining forces with super-siblings Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, Ultron proves in one half-drunk night that he’s as fearsome an adversary as Loki and his alien army.

No need to dive too deep into what happens next. Much of it is exactly what you expect. There’s finger-pointing. There’s shouting. There’s fisticuffs and explosions and action scenes aplenty. But then there’s the stuff that maybe you’re not expecting, like the aforementioned banter between Banner and Black Widow; it’s more than just casual flirting, according to what Cap tells Bruce. Maybe you’re not expecting Thor to have an existential crisis about matters of great cosmic importance, let alone dealings on Asgard and Earth. Maybe you aren’t counting on Hawkeye proving that he’s more than just a dude with a bow and arrow, or that Ultron’s a whole lot more than a mechanical mustache-twirler.

Point is, Age of Ultron has just about everything you want as a Marvel fan, and a whole lot that you didn’t even know you wanted. Few people would enter the Avengers sequel expecting to leave as a die-hard Clint Barton fan, but that’s a very probable outcome for most of you. Fewer still would anticipate Paul Bettany’s Vision bursting to life on the screen in the eleventh hour, as the film’s secret weapon, and potentially its best character. No one suspects the secrets kept in upstate New York. No one suspects that this movie could pack in so much geeky goodness without frying your circuits worse than an expendable Ultron droid, and yet, here we are.

Give all the credit in the world to the mad men and women at Marvel, the perfectly cast actors in their well-worn roles, franchise newcomers like James Spader and Elizabeth Olsen who absolutely tear it up as the new kids on the block, the expert effects wizards tasked with the daunting prospect of making mechanical monsters look threatening and real … really, give the credit wherever, and you’re probably giving it to someone worthy.

But, aside from Thor, no one is worthier than Joss Whedon. Swear your fealty and don’t lift your head until he tells you to rise. Whedon’s words and vision are king here in Age of Ultron. Without his wit, without his heart, without his uncanny ability to thoroughly understand individuals as different as Steve Rogers and Ultron, without his power to leap that vast gulf in what appears to be a single bound but is actually a series of complicated dance moves… without all of that, Age of Ultron is nothing.

Age of Ultron has just about everything you want as a Marvel fan, and a whole lot that you didn’t even know you wanted.

Whedon breathes life into these characters in a way few others can. He proved as much in the first Avengers, and he doubles down with the sequel, still managing to craft an intensely personal film that’s ludicrously loaded with characters and stories. He services them all to the best of his ability, and his ability is absolute.

The future of the Avengers movies is in highly capable hands in Civil War and Infinity War directors Joe and Anthony Russo, no doubt about it. Still, I think we’ll miss Whedon more than we realize come the two-part Age of Ultron sequel; he really is the glue that holds all of this together.

Back to the original question. How awesome is Age of Ultron? Better than what came before? Impossible to top moving forward? I can only say that it’s an Avengers movie. It’s a Marvel movie. As far as modern blockbusters go, it doesn’t get much better than this. We’ve come to expect the best from Marvel after 10 preceding movies of consistent high quality. (Well, mostly consistent high quality. Not to rag on Iron Man 2 any further, buuuut.) Age of Ultron delivers on that promise and then some. It sets the bar incredibly high for everything coming up down the stretch. But I’ve said that about Marvel movies before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again. That’s pretty comforting — and, yes, pretty awesome.

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