Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

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With “Age of Ultron,” Marvel and Joss Whedon essentially pave the way for a series of films that will make “The Avengers” the enduring franchise that fans have always wanted. It’s made abundantly clear that not only is the movie series here to stay, but we can expect a roster of rotating superheroes in the future that will create new conflicts and brand new dynamics. While “Age of Ultron” sags in certain places, it’s a superior follow up to “The Avengers” which was much more simplistic and aimed more to establish the crossover. “Age of Ultron” garners higher aspirations, constructing new story lines and setting up foreshadowing for future films. It also greatly raises the stakes for our team of flawed superheroes, all of whom are still learning to work as a unit. Set almost immediately after “Iron Man 3,” and “Winter Soldier,” we meet the Avengers, all of whom are back in combat fighting Hydra and taking on the elusive corporation’s hideout.

They’re using Chitauri (the villains from the first film) technology to help them create some brand new weapons that the Avengers are determined to learn about. Hydra has a new form of recruits in their corners though, with the super powered Maximoff Twins, Pietro and Wanda. They’re two very powerful and ruthless super humans, both of whom begin masterminding a plot to corrupt the Avengers from the inside out. When Tony seizes the mysterious staff implemented by Loki, he intends to create a defense system for Earth against alien forces combining the alien technology with his own wizardry. Despite objections from the team, including Bruce Banner, Stark’s plan works too well when he creates an artificial intelligence named Ultron. It quickly gains sentience and independence and now garners immense hatred for the Avengers and Tony Stark. It has also downloaded their entire confidential database and has knowledge of their powers, and weaknesses.

Now the team has to race against time to battle Ultron and his new allies, the Maximoffs, before he literally obliterates humanity and completes his vision for the perfect vessel for his AI. Much of the original storylines and mythos from the Marvel comics are altered to fit the Marvel cinematic universe and in many cases it succeeds. Much of the narrative centers on the independent thought inhabited by Tony Stark that begins to conflict with the team dynamic that Captain America is intent on pushing to achieve their goals to save the world. Stark’s ultimate plans unfold in to what is basically a classic Frankenstein dichotomy, as Ultron fiercely displays his own tendency for violence and ruthlessness as a means of accomplishing his master plans for Earth. James Spader is marvelous as Ultron, injecting his own sense of menace and gravitas to Ultron. As the villainous android, he is a snarky and often patronizing megalomaniac, willing to murder anyone to accomplish his plans.

“Age of Ultron” squeezes in a lot of fan services and sub-plots in such a short window, allowing for the expansion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that will be reflected in future films. There’s the introduction of the glorious hulk buster Iron Man armor, a visit to the African nation of Wakanda, and yes, the long awaited entrance of enigmatic android Vison. Played well by Paul Bettany, he’s a fellow sentient being who earns his stripes as a bonafide Avenger. There are also very strong turns by Caitlyn Olsen and Aaron Taylor Johnson, both of whom are fascinating as the tragic pair of anti-heroes with immense power, placed in the middle of the war between Ultron and the Avengers, and are forced to decide who they want to risk their lives for. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the fun turns by Linda Cardellini, Anthony Mackie, and Don Cheadle. “Age of Ultron” has a ton of story to squeeze in to two and a half hours and writer Whedon almost goes off the rails mid-way with a sudden retreat that requires a ton of exposition that slows the narrative down to a screeching halt.

That said, Whedon is a wizard at handling multiple characters and always keeps the Avengers the primary heroes and allows every member a chance to shine and win over fans. “Age of Ultron” is a remarkable and often fantastic follow up to 2012’s “The Avengers” and I’m anxious to explore how the series develops.