If you have read my spoiler-free review, you would be aware that I loved Avengers: Age of Ultron and consider it by far the best superhero movie ever so far. However, based on numerous online comments, it has become de rigueur to label the movie as a disappointing sequel to the first movie, with the common criticism being that the movie has too much going on. My first reaction to this is — have these people ever read an actual superhero comic book before? Probably not. In that regard, I believe that director Joss Whedon made Avengers: Age of Ultron for us geeks and for that I am certainly grateful!
S P O I L E R S
The plot is well crafted in fact, finding the right balance between the highs and lows. The action begins from the get-go with the Avengers (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Hawkeye & Black Widow) attacking a HYDRA base in Sokovia (imaginary country, in case you tried to google it!) to recover the sceptre previously wielded by Loki (on temporary loan from Thanos). In the battle, the team discover two ‘enhanced’ individuals viz. twins Pietro and Wanda Maximoff (Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, though those codenames are never used). The mission is a success but the team is unaware that Tony Stark has been hexed by Wanda Maximoff to act on a terrible fear.
Back at Avengers (former Stark) Tower, Stark and Bruce Banner use the gem hidden in the sceptre to complete Stark’s “Ultron” global defence program. There is a good sequence of bonding as the team let their collective hair down in celebration. Unfortunately, Ultron becomes sentient, eliminates the J.A.R.V.I.S. AI and attacks the team in the midst of the partying. Ultron steals the sceptre and takes over the HYDRA base via the internet and begins building himself a new body and an army of robot drones.
The seeds of Civil War are sown already as the team bicker amongst themselves over Stark’s secret creation of Ultron. Notably, Thor actually assaults Stark for allowing Ultron to take the sceptre. This is a great setup for the conflict to come in the movie and beyond. In the meantime, Ultron recruits the twins (who have their own vendetta against Stark) to his cause i.e. to save humanity from the Avengers.
Both sides end up looking for arms merchant Ulysses Klaue (who will become the villain Klaw, the Master of Sound) over Ultron’s interest in vibranium (the metal that Captain America’s shield is made from and a resource exclusively found in Wakanda: the home of Black Panther – another imaginary country, so please don’t google!), A battle ensues of course, with Captain America, Thor, Widow and the Hulk ending up being hexed by Wanda.
These nightmare sequences serve either as character exposition (Widow) or foreshadowing (Thor: Ragnarok, anyone?!?) though Cap seems unremarkably touched by his dream of Peggy Carter (a point Stark makes later on). This leads to amazing fight scenes between Hulk and Iron Man (in his Hulkbuster armour – supported by a program “Veronica” designed by Banner himself) that are entertaining and enlightening – the visual effects are breath-taking.
Naturally, there is a worldwide backlash over the destruction and the team has to go into hiding to recover and regroup. Surprisingly, Hawkeye brings the team home to his pregnant wife (the lovely Linda Cardellini, no less!) and children (who saw that coming?) And suddenly, the stakes are so much higher for Clint Barton as an Avenger and his survival becomes paramount. Again, the team members are given time and space to explore relationships – the budding romance between Banner and Romanoff, the increasing conflict of opinion between Stark and Steve Rogers – and also, the return of former SHIELD director, Nick Fury to rally the troops.
Meanwhile (it does not get more comic booky than that) Thor seeks out Dr. Erik Selvig to discover the meaning of the apocalyptic future he saw in his hallucination. Thor dips himself into the Waters of Sight and receives a vision of the six Infinity Stones with the focus on one in particular. Back at the Barton farm, the team figures out Ultron’s next move and the story moves to Seoul, Korea, where Ultron forces Banner’s friend Dr. Helen Cho to use her synthetic tissue technology, vibranium, and the sceptre’s gem to create the perfect body for him.
Cap, Widow and Hawkeye head out to Korea while Stark goes to Oslo to find out who or what has been stopping Ultron from accessing the nuclear codes (which would make destroying so much more easier). In Seoul, when Ultron begins uploading himself into the body, Wanda is able to read his mind; discovering his plan for human extinction, the Maximoffs turn on Ultron. Cap, Widow and Hawkeye battle Ultron and retrieve the synthetic body, but Ultron captures Widow.
Alone with the android body, Stark and Banner begin to download the consciousness of the newly discovered still operating J.A.R.V.I.S. into the being but are confronted by Cap and the twins and a battle ensues over the correctness of Stark’s plan. Suddenly, Thor re-appears and helps to activate the body with lightning, explaining that the gem on its brow – the Mind Stone, one of the six Infinity Stones and one of the most powerful objects in existence – was part of his vision.
In probably the most enthralling sequence of the film, the Vision is born, and manages to lift the hammer of Thor, to prove his worthiness and right to be trusted. Kudos again to the special effects as the Vision matches his comic book counterpart rather perfectly and the hammer is a brilliant touch (especially when linked to the earlier party scene when the other Avengers failed to do the same thing).
Next comes the weakest plot point as Ultron not only fails to kill Widow (he claims that he needs a human being to talk to) but allows her to get a message back to Hawkeye via Morse Code! Seriously, that was lame but then again, nobody’s perfect! And so, the team heads out to Sokovia again to stop Ultron’s diabolical plan viz. to lift a large part of the city skyward, intending to crash it into the ground to cause global extinction (like a meteor).
What comes next is the biggest superhero fight sequence ever committed to celluloid as the Avengers (with Vision and the twins) take on Ultron and his robot drones (now into the millions it seems!). Once again, I stress that the scenes within the church are filled with Kirbyesque power and are probably the finest representation of what superhero fight scenes look like in the comic books! Again, kudos to the special effects for an astonishing display.
And… when all appears lost, Fury appears with a helicarrier (alongside Maria Hill) to assist in the evacuation of Sokovia’s population and War Machine adds his considerable weight to the affray, defending the helicarrier from Ultron’s robot drones. Then, a controversial moment – when it seems that Hawkeye will have to make the ultimate sacrifice, Pietro gives up his life to save Barton in a heroic act. Whether that death was necessary or not, it may be argued till the cows come home but it provides Wanda with a moment of grief that allows one drone to activate Ultron’s machine and the landmass to plummet towards earth.
However, Iron Man and Thor manage to shatter the landmass into pieces and the earth is saved yet again. Vision rescues Wanda (a scene that caused me to whoop out loud – something only comic book geeks would understand), the Hulk disappears and Vision destroys the final Ultron body to end the threat once and for all. *Whew*. Age of Ultron resolves even as Thor, Iron Man, Hawkeye and Hulk leave the team and Cap and Widow assemble the new Avengers viz. Vision, Wanda, War Machine and Falcon! Absolutely brilliant! The mid-credits scene inevitably features Thanos himself determining to acquire the Infinity Stones himself where his minions have failed, setting up the conclusion of Phase 3 with Infinity War!
As you can see from the above, there is quite a lot of plotting involved in Age of Ultron but writer-director Joss Whedon pulled out all the stops to deliver a superhero movie that comic book fans will be geeking out over for years to come! Apart from the weak plot point highlighted above, the story is almost flawless – balanced between moving the plot forward and providing key exposition for the films to come in Phase 3. Certainly, the seeds for Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther, Thor: Ragnarok and of course, Avengers: Infinity War were planted during the course of this movie. The manner in which the characters related to one another was also a joy to behold, with the development of personal stories well accounted for as well.
Quite a few had issue with the characterisation of Ultron but I’d say that if you do not exploit the strengths of James Spader then you are a fool. I saw Ultron as a corrupted version of Tony Stark – and the father-son dynamic built up there was significant. The dialogue throughout was snappy and believable. Too many to highlight but who is going forget erm gems like “You didn’t see that coming?” (Quicksilver), “I tried to create a suit of armour around the world, but I created something terrible” (Tony Stark) and “Everyone creates the thing they dread…” (Ultron). And what about the ongoing joke about Cap’s reprimand of Iron Man for using “language” and Ultron teasing about revealing his diabolical plan before blasting Iron Man? Genius!
In conclusion, to everybody who complained about not liking Avengers: Age of Ultron, I would say that a superhero movie is always a minor miracle to me. Can anyone imagine what it was like in the 80s and 90s before superhero movies became a reality? What geeks have now was once a fleeting dream, an impossibility – for that I thank Joss Whedon and everyone involved in the making of Avengers: Age of Ultron for once again giving this superhero geek (who enjoyed Kirby’s awesome comics in the 60s as a young child) the waking dream of seeing superheroes come to life in IMAX 3D and in a manner that shows tremendous respect and love for the source material as well. Kudos!
Watch Avengers: Age of Ultron on Disney+.
… still there’s more …