Film Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron
You may have heard people talking about the “Marvel style” of filmmaking – a careful balance of action, comedy, and depth, all backed up by great writing and acting. It’s not something unique to Marvel films, of course, and they’re far from the first to take this approach. But, it’s hard to argue the success this has had for Marvel Entertainment – they struck gold with Iron Man in 2008, said “yes, this works”, and have continued to pump out a series of interconnected films (the “Marvel Cinematic Universe”, or MCU) ever since.
Avengers: Age of Ultron is the latest addition to the MCU, and a reminder of just how great that Marvel formula is when it’s put to good use. With Joss Whedon at the helm (reprising his writing and directing roles from the first Avengers film), Age of Ultron is the best Marvel film to date, and one of the best superhero films I’ve seen – up there with the Dark Knight trilogy.
Age of Ultron follows on from last year’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, but aside from some minor narrative threads and its taking place within the same universe, it’s entirely self-contained. There’s little you’ll miss if you haven’t seen any other Marvel films, and what you do miss won’t affect your understanding or enjoyment in the slightest.
With their various foes all out of the way and a pesky little all-powerful artifact back in safe hands (Loki’s scepter, for those who’ve seen Avengers and/or Thor), the Avengers look forward to a time of relative peace. In an effort to make that peace permanent, Tony Stark sets about to create Ultron, an artificial intelligence designed to keep Earth safe, eliminating the need for the Avengers to even exist.
Such grandiose plans rarely go according to the programme, though, and Ultron is no exception. Looking at their track record for death and destruction, Ultron decides that the Avengers themselves are Earth’s biggest threat, and sets about to destroy them before graduating to even more extreme, cataclysmic plans for the planet’s protection.
What transpires is the kind of rollercoaster we’ve come to expect from Marvel – plenty of over-the-top action riddled with one-liners. Though it does drag on a bit at times (the fight scenes in particular could stand a second turn on the editor’s chopping block), for the most part, it’s a wild and exhilarating ride.
All this excitement is mixed with downtime that offers a look at the human side of these superhumans. Past films in the series have struggled with this balance, but Age of Ultron gets it almost spot on. Most welcome is the attention given to Black Widow and Hawkeye, who felt a bit tacked-on in the first Avengers.
Beneath all the fun and excitement of Age of Ultron is a fascinating subtext (even if it’s not exactly new or original in the superhero space) that calls to mind the famous Friedrich Nietzsche quote: “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster.” The very premise of Ultron is tied to this idea that the Avengers might not be the heroes we know them as; for all their heroics, they cause a lot of destruction.
This is a point of conflict that permeates the whole film. Most of the fight scenes take place in urban, densely populated areas, but the film acknowledges this and takes the time to show the consequences – and, more importantly, how the Avengers deal with those consequences. This idea comes into play on a smaller, more personal scale too, be it with Hulk / Bruce Banner’s ongoing internal conflict, Tony Stark’s apparent Machiavellian philosophy with regards to world peace, or with a lighthearted scene showing everyone sitting around, trying to lift Thor’s hammer, which only responds to those who it deems worthy.
Essentially, Avengers: Age of Ultron ticks every box. If you want a fun blockbuster superhero flick with lots of explosions, jokes, and chances for Chris Hemsworth to flex his biceps, it delivers. If you want something deeper, a more pointed, self-aware examination of heroes and hero worship, it delivers. And if you’re like me, and you want all of the above? Age of Ultron delivers in spades, and then some.