'Age of Ultron' steps out of first movie’s shadow


Despite lackluster action scenes, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” proves to be the rare kind of sequel that surpasses its predecessor.

By Garrett Strother (@StrotherGarrett)
The long-awaited, critically acclaimed culmination of the first step in one of the biggest franchises in history. The third highest grossing movie of all time. That is what “Avengers: Age of Ultron” had to top. And it does, with flying colors.
Between such a large amount of hype, nine existing lead characters, four new leads to introduce and having to follow up the success of “The Avengers,” “Age of Ultron” should have been a cluttered, incoherent, let-down of a film. Some fans have lashed back at the film, maybe even leading to writer/director Joss Whedon leaving Twitter, but overall, the film is fantastically well executed and undeserving of such naysaying.
Starting off with an admittedly rather generic action sequence, the film find Earth’s Mightiest Heroes trying to hunt down and destroy every trace of the evil organization known as HYDRA. One CGI tracking shot and boring battle later, the Avengers are back at home base in New York, only to find a new foe knocking at their door: the villainous artificial intelligence known as Ultron, hell bent making a better world, preferably without the Avengers.
Ultron is a formidable villain, but unfortunately one of the weakest links of the movie. James Spader’s voice acting is fantastic, but the villain isn’t all that menacing. Though seemingly impossible to defeat, he isn’t scary. For most of the film, he hides behind Marvel’s staple non-human army that the Avengers can tear through and cause a ton of collateral damage.
And that’s why the action sequences suffer. Some of the movie is inventive, particularly when they use newcomer Quicksilver’s powers for a brief but shining moment (probably kept so brief to distance the character from his counterpart in the Fox-owned X-Men “Days of Future Past,” which featured an unforgettable scene featuring his powers). However, apart from a few gags here and there, “Age of Ultron” shows none of the inventive and fun action that Marvel showed us in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”
Apart from the lackluster action, “Age of Ultron” delivers on everything the first “Avengers” was lacking: it equally distributes time to examine each character, it has actual tension and its characters go beyond mild bickering. It has heart, wit and signature Joss Whedon dialogue, all put to good use.
Robert Downey Jr. kills it as Tony Stark once again, beautifully raising important questions that will be further examined in next year’s much-awaited “Captain America: Civil War.” Cap himself is given a little more depth as are Nick Fury and Thor. But, there are three real showstoppers. One is Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner, the same adorable-yet-tortured scientist featured in the first “Avengers,” but with another layer of depth. The other two were some of the weakest links of the previous “Avengers” movie: Black Widow and Hawkeye. While Black Widow wowed in “Winter Soldier,” Hawkeye has had almost no chance to grow or develop. Both characters become increasingly interesting as the audience learns more and more about their backgrounds and their characters’ mindsets. Sorry, though, you don’t find out “what happened in Budapest.”
“Age of Ultron” is a reminder of what the Marvel movies are at their best: fun adventure movies that let their characters shine in their plots. Still, most of them are thinkers if you want them to be (sorry “Thor: The Dark World”).