Photos: Walt Disney Media
Sequels always invite the danger of comparison, and it’s the rare movie that rises above it. The Avengers 2: The Age of Ultron manages to do just that. Self-deprecating humor and constant character development is exactly what you would expect from a film written and directed by the incomparable Joss Whedon. Known best for the creation of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Serenity, and Dollhouse, Whedon has a natural ability to endear characters to the audience with both amazing action and smart dialogue. Both are showcased admirably in Ultron, his inspiration stemming from what he calls ‘the little moments between these characters.’
These characters are larger than life, played by a crew of movie stars that have developed a rapport that shows on screen. It’s these little moments that take this movie from a superhero flick to something more, something audiences have come to expect from the Marvel cinematic universe.
The film picks up with the heroes chasing down the scepter of Loki, something Thor (Chris Hemsworth) plans to return to Asgard. Prior to doing so, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) attempt to utilize and harness that power to create a technological peacekeeping initiative called Ultron, as voiced by James Spader. This backfires on a level the Avengers have never experienced before, and it requires the whole team to work together to defeat Ultron. Through the course of their journey, each hero is forced to question their motivations and the repercussions of their actions.
Though well intentioned, there are always casualties that every hero must accept. Captain America and Black Widow (Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson) are both lifelong warriors, suddenly questioning the things they’ve given up and impacted throughout their exploits. These consequences are personified in Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor Johnson), twins that lost everything in a war that had Stark weapons involved. It is perhaps Stark’s desire to help so blindly that has the biggest impact on how the team moves forward, as it is that desire that ultimately led to the creation of Ultron. The Avengers have to work together, putting their own issues and agendas aside, in order to overthrow Ultron. Even then, it requires the assistance of a new addition to the Marvel universe, Vision, as played by Paul Bettany. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Maria Hill (Colbie Smulders) bring the might of a newly reestablished SHIELD, finally in the position that it was always meant to have.
There is more going on here than the previous film in terms of character work, all of which feel natural and well executed. Clues abound in this feature, hinting at the future of Marvel films and potential storylines merging.
For a cast as well established as this, the relationship construction seems to come easily and flourish with the talents of these actors. Downey Jr. fleshes out Tony Stark with a humor audiences have come to expect, a trait which is finally seen in every character. Jeremy Renner, in this turn as Hawkeye, is able to be so much more than the everyman of the Avengers and establishes his integral role despite his lack of super powers. The same character expansion is seen in Black Widow, running Johansson from badass assassin to a real person with a tragic past. Whedon is known for creating strong female characters along these lines, and the growth he provided for her begs the question ‘Why don’t we have a Black Widow movie?’
Though Olsen and Taylor Johnson are the most recent additions to the Avengers crew, they rose to the occasion and aid in creating some of the most memorable action sequences. Whedon’s writing enables these characters to shine both as individuals and as an ensemble, a rare talent given the scope of the Marvel universe.
There are only a handful of movies that have the honor of being better than the first, and this is one of them. Whedon takes a team he knows so well and melds them into something different, further indicating just how far these characters can go within these arcs. By humanizing the superhuman, this latest incarnation of Marvel films just became even more interesting.
By Lauren Steffany
Running Time: 142 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction, and for some suggestive comments.