“Avengers: Age of Ultron” is another big all-star event of superheroes which is pretty much same as “The Avengers” (2012) and, to some extent, many other Marvel Comics superhero movies. Again, a bunch of various superheroes (and super agents) gather together, and they are going to face another dangerous adversary, and they will definitely go through lots of bangs and crashes on the screen before the massive climatic sequence decorated with far more bangs and crashes than before. There are also occasional moments for dealing with their private matters and, yes, it turns out that these guys still need to learn more about how to work well with each other as a team despite what they went through in the previous film.
Because “The Avengers” was followed by “Iron Man 3” (2013), “Thor: The Dark World” (2013), and “Captain America: the Winter Soldier” (2014), some of you may be confused as watching the opening action sequence in “Avengers: Age of Ultron”, especially if you did not see the last one. While the SHIELD (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division) was collapsed due to what happened to Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) and others in “Captain America: the Winter Soldier”, the Avengers are still operating as usual, and they are about to defeat Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) and his Hydra minions, who have been working on something dangerous at their secret headquarters located somewhere in an eastern European country named Sokovia (no, you cannot find it on the world map).
Besides putting an end to Strucker’s organization, the Avengers have another important goal in their mission. An alien weapon previously shown in “The Avengers” (2012) is currently in Strucker’s possession, and it does not take much time for Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) to retrieve it after he successfully breaks into the Strucker’s lair. The mission is nearly accomplished, and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is supposed to take it back to his world, but then Stark is tempted to use it privately for a while. He wants to create an artificial intelligence which can protect the Earth and the humanity from the enemies from inside and outside the Earth, and he even enlists Dr. Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) in this private project of his.
Stark’s project soon comes to fruition (it just takes a few day!), but then he and the other Avenger members face the disastrous consequence of his misguided attempt. Right after it is created, Ultron (voiced by James Spader) quickly absorbs the vast amount of knowledge from the Internet, and, like that naughty A.I. in the Terminator films, it concludes that the Earth will be better without the human race.
After escaping from Stark’s laboratory with a surprise attack on the Avengers, UItron immediately prepares for his merciless goal, and it also recruits Strucker’s two secret human weapons: Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). While Pietro can zip and zap here and there within a second, his twin sister Wanda is equipped with psychic and telekinetic powers, and she certainly does her job well when the Avengers try to stop Ultron at the abandoned shipyard base of Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), a South African arms dealer who has some invaluable metal needed for Ultron’s own ambitious project. You may say that Ultron is indeed an apple that does not fall far from its tree, and James Spader has a fun with his role whenever UItron shows some of unpleasant personality traits we saw from Stark.
Now you may think the movie is overcrowded, but there are more characters to appear in this film. We see the familiar supporting characters including Jarvis (voiced by Paul Bettany), Sam Wilson/the Falcon (Anthony Mackie), James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle), Heimdall (Idris Elba), Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Stan Lee, and a certain villain who makes a small cameo appearance around the end credits. In case of the characters played by Gwyneth Paltrow and Natalie Portman, they are just briefly mentioned during one scene because, well, they are busy with their work as their boys play together outside.
There are also new supporting characters in the story whom we may meet again in the following films. Laura Barton (Linda Cardellini), the loving wife of Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner, who has a little more things to do here), provides a temporary safe house for the Avengers, and, thanks to the nice, cozy environment of her rural house, they get some time for restoring their teamwork spirit and planning their next move to stop Ultron. In case of Dr. Helen Cho (Claudia Kim), her unbelievably fantastic expertise in biomedical technology becomes the crucial factor behind the introduction of another major player later in the story. It is interesting to see Julie Delpy in a small supporting role in a Hollywood blockbuster film like this, but she only appears briefly during a scene involved with Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson)
Juggling all these many various characters in his big canvass, the director/writer Joss Whedon does as much as he can do, but his screenplay often feels incoherent and half-baked while frequently murky in case of characterization and motives. Except their interesting position somewhere between “King Kong” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, a subplot between Romanoff and Dr. Banner does not add much to the main story although Scarlette Johansson and Mark Ruffalo do what they can do with their scenes as good actors. Robert Downey Jr. is entertaining as usual with his sardonic wit, but it is a bit difficult to fully understand Stark’s motivation at some points in the story, and you may wonder whether he really learned anything from his plight during “Iron Man 3”. Chris Evans is less interesting here compared to his Captain America films, and Chris Hemsworth remains the weakest link in the bunch mainly due to his flat character mostly defined by his simple manhood and his mighty hammer, which, I assure you, gets more laughs than its owner.
Anyway, you will probably not be bored mainly because of a number of big action sequences in the film. They are as loud, massive and well-made as you can expect from its huge production budget, but I somehow felt distant while watching them. As going back and forth between many main characters amidst chaos, they are so busily edited that I felt lost at times, and I was constantly conscious of their artificial aspects as observing the special effects on the screen. When Ultron reveals his army of robots as initiating the final step of his spectacularly dreadful plan during the climax sequence, we only see the works done by a group of many CGI technicians listed in the end credits, not the real awe or menace to be felt as a fun part of the story.
Because the filmmakers shot several scenes in Seoul, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” drew lots of attention in South Korea in last year, and I must confess that I had some anticipation for that sequence. It is rather a shame that Seoul does not get much fun or damage compared to the other cities demolished in the film. While Johannesburg provides a nice ground for the destructive match between two main characters which is followed by the coda evoking the images of 9/11, Seoul only gets a passable vehicle chase sequence which looks less realistic compared to the Johannesburg sequence. As noticing several unrealistic details, I even wondered whether they actually shot it in Seoul.
And I do not think that the juggling of various superheroes from different worlds is as successful as intended. As an alien god, Thor is probably mightier than anyone in the group, and he may fit well with Hulk and Captain America considering their respective superpowers, but Black Widow and Hawkeye belong more to the world of super spies, where Iron Man can also be more comfortable considering that his ‘superhero’ abilities depend on technology and intelligence.
In the end, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is more or less than a bridge between the previous Marvel Comics superhero movies and the upcoming ones including the third Avengers movie where everything in the expanding Marvel universe will probably come together and be resolved. Although I had a nice time with three Marvel Comics products in last year, I felt the same exhaustion I experienced from “The Avengers”, and that trend is being continued here. It is not entirely boring, but we get more of the same thing we have seen before, and I come to have more concern on its genre which seems to be going nowhere in quality while merely being increased in quantity.
Because the movie is neither more nor less than the sums of its elements just like “The Avengers”, I am going to make a simple objective evaluation based on three Marvel Comics superhero movies coming after “The Avengers”. “Iron Man 3” got 3 stars from me while “Thor: The Dark World” got 2 stars and “Captain America: the Winter Soldier” got 3 stars, so the average score is around 2.7, and I give “Avengers: Age of Ultron” 2.5 stars. Seriously, I found this rating method really convenient, and it may be helpful to you too.
Sidenote: Because this is an action film where lots of things happen quick and fast on the screen, I recommend you not to spend extra money on 3D or IMAX.