Marvel’s The Avengers proved it was possible to bring together multiple superheroes and have a film be something more than one mindless action set piece after another. Director Joss Whedon made it possible. For Avengers: Age of Ultron, Whedon would further refine the elements the first film, and the nine other solo films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, established to deliver a sequel that truly feels bigger in every way.
Age of Ultron jumps immediately into the action as the Avengers commence an assault on a HYDRA outpost in Eastern Europe in order to recover Loki’s scepter, which is being used by Baron Wolfgang von Strucker for military experimentations. The first film was all about assembling the team; this one is all about seeing what they’re finally capable of. It’s fantastic to see Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye all fighting in unison together. They all still have their individual styles, but it’s hard to not crack a smile when you see something like Thor bringing Mjölnir down on Captain America’s shield to create a devastating shock wave, especially since their teammates this time around and not foes like in the first Avengers. There are plenty of these team combos throughout the film, and they’re all equally enjoyable. Then there’s simply the Hulk, who doesn’t play nice with anyone and leaves a path of destruction in his wake.
New to the mix are the Maximoff twins, Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen), who are the result of Strucker’s experiments with the scepter. Pietro has super speed while Wanda can manipulate energy, which allows her to influence minds. Ultimately it’s through her manipulation over Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) that implants the idea of creating an army of artificially intelligent robots that can protect the world, therefore eliminating the need of the Avengers. Using the power of Loki’s scepter, Stark along with the help of Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) create the sentient robot Ultron (James Spader). Rather than protect humanity, however, Ultron has a god complex and believes that humans need to be exterminated and the planet rebuilt in his image.
Much like his creator Tony Stark, Ultron is a very arrogant and awe-inspiring, only instead of wanting to use his talent for good he wants to destroy anyone who gets in his way. He’s a robot who thinks out loud, oftentimes delivering pretentious monologues. In his mind, everyone is beneath him and unworthy. It’s a role that fits James Spader perfectly and brings up memories of his Robert California days on The Office only a whole lot more sinister.
After Marvel’s Avengers everyone screamed for more Hulk. While we’re still unlikely to get the standalone Hulk film we want anytime soon, Age of Ultron delivers plenty more Hulk action and expands upon the mindset of the man behind all Hulk’s rage. One of the best action moments in the film is the full on Hulk versus Iron Man in his Hulk Buster suit fight. It’s everything one could want out of a fight between two behemoths.
Bruce Banner’s character is further explored as well as he and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) develop an unlikely relationship. Natasha is the only person who is capable of calming Bruce down when he’s the Hulk. Her past is explored a bit more in the film, and like Bruce she sees herself as a monster at times. It’s refreshing to see some attention being given to those who aren’t named Iron Man, Captain America, or Thor.
Speaking of which, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) ends up being the biggest surprise of Age of Ultron. He’s actually an important part of the team this time around, unlike in the first Avengers when he conveniently got put under Loki’s control at the beginning of the film. We get to see what drives Hawkeye; after all, we know he can’t compete when it comes to a tech genius, a super soldier, a god, and a hulk. As he says in the film, there are flying robots all over the city and all he has is a bow and arrow. And yet he still fights, all the while delivering plenty of self-deprecating quips that make fun of all the remarks fans have said about Hawkeye being a member of the Avengers since the beginning. Like Black Widow, Hawkeye feels like a more integral part of the team than during the Battle of New York.
Avengers: Age of Ultron isn’t as big a step forward for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as The Avengers was, but it delivers exactly what you would expect out of a sequel. I’m still in awe of how many new characters are introduced and how much story is covered. It’s a feat in and of itself that Joss Whedon was able to cram so much content into its two hour and 20 minute runtime. It's much bigger in scope yet at the same time feels much more personal as well. Yes, some things are going to get overlooked and there could have been more attention to detail at times, but in the end Age of Ultron is a much more grandiose with higher expectations that still retains the quality we’ve come to expect from Marvel.