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Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) - MCU Retro Review

04.19.2018

Heading into the final few chapters of Marvel's Phase 3 in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we decided it was time to take a look back at the last ten years worth of films (18 in all) and re-evaluate them based on how well they hold up today and how connected they are to the greater MCU now that the films have advanced so far into the timeline, which culminates in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR and it's untitled sequel. Are they as good as you remember? Do they still hold up today? Are the deeper MCU connections even deeper than before or weaker? Join us as we attempt to answer those questions and take another look at the last decade of Marvel Studios with our Retro-Review Series!

DIRECTED BY: Joss Whedon
WRITTEN BY: Joss Whedon
STARRING: Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark / Iron Man), Chris Evans (Steve Rogers / Captain America), Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner / Hulk), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow), Jeremy Renner (Clint Barton / Hawkeye), James Spader (Ultron), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Don Cheadle (James Rhodes / War Machine), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Pietro Maximoff / Quicksilver), Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch), Paul Bettany (Jarvis / Vision) Cobie Smulders (Maria Hill), Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter) 
STORY: When Tony Stark and Bruce Banner try to jump-start a dormant peacekeeping program called Ultron, things go horribly wrong and it's up to Earth's mightiest heroes to stop the villainous Ultron from enacting his terrible plan.

I think that before we get to our review of AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, I need to get real with you folks. The first time I saw the film, back when it opened in 2015, I left the theater feeling rather conflicted about what I'd just seen. Now, before you sharpen your pitchforks and start a march for my front door, understand that I did enjoyed myself, though I simply could not put my finger on why the movie felt ... a bit off, to me. Since that time, I've avoided watching Whedon's Avengers sequel for a second time, out of the fear that my initial take was justified, and that I'd continue to cling to the opinion that movie was just ... a little better than okay. Mine is a grim tale to be certain, though I'm pleased to report that, after viewing the film again for the sake of writing this review, much of my opinion has changed. I guess you could say that, like Ultron, I've evolved beyond the expectant Marvel fan I once was, all those years ago.

Truly, there's a lot to unpack with regard to AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON. For me, I see the movie as a sort of dark harbinger for the harsh road that awaits our heroes, after their conflict with Ultron spreads doubt and deception throughout the group. It is very much a Joss Whedon joint, in that the movie offers a dark perspective, but puts it forward through black humor. In many ways, I think Age of Ultron provides a serious critique on the heroes we've grown to trust, since the MCU began over a decade ago. And because it's both directed and written by Whedon, there's much beneath the surface that is likely to make you say "Woof, that was heavy," upon a little distance and further reflection. Where the first Avengers movie brought us "Avengers Assemble!", I see Age of Ultron very much as the beginning of a disassembly as the villain tears the team apart one hero at a time.

That's not to say that the movie is all gloom and doom, far from it. In fact, one of the things I appreciate about Age of Ultron is the manner with which the dialogue is peppered with witty banter, playful jabs, punchy one-liners, and every now and again, a rousing speech about what it takes to win the day. Of course, smart dialogue isn't enough to carry a movie of this magnitude all on its own. You also need to deliver a series of over-the-top action sequences, of which Age of Ultron is never in short supply. From the moment the film opens, we see the group working as a well-oiled machine, executing signature moves as if each member of the team is contributing to a badass ballet of superheroics. And thankfully, there's plenty more where that came from, with the size and scope of each oncoming battle increasing to near-absurd levels of awesome. While I do admit to thinking that, every now and again, some of the action is difficult to track, no skirmish had left me feeling as if I'd been cheated out of seeing the full breadth of the spectacle at hand.

Conversely, the second act of the movie lacked the punch found in the first and third. There wasn't anything bad about it, per say, however, I found that the pacing slowed to a near-crawl, which had impacted the flow of the film for me personally. When, do you ask? I'd say right around the point in the film when the Avengers arrive at Clint Barton's farmhouse to lick their wounds. It's not that there isn't worth while material presented during this stretch, I simply found that it dragged on a little too long for my liking. Perhaps if the story-building elements were distributed a bit more evenly, rather than in a concentrated half-hour's worth of blah, it might have felt less interruptive. In my opinion, the movie doesn't gain momentum again until Nick Fury arrives to inspire the Avengers to get back in the fight.

Where I feel that AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON truly shines is in the way it holds up a mirror to each of the heroes, forcing them not only to look very closely at themselves but also to see the path of destruction [and it is significant] they've left behind them. This leads each and every one of them to, in their own way, examine the monster within - which is at its heart is the theme of the movie. And it's through that self-reflection that we see their humanity revealed, and are reassured that even superheroes are just as flawed as we are. I also appreciate that, as a result of their battles with Ultron, each of the Avengers is forced to take notice of the damage they've wrought on the very people they've sworn to protect. As a common thread throughout the Marvel universe, actions having consequences is one of the most significant. In surveying the carnage left in the Avengers wake, it makes me wonder if there was a method to the madness of presenting the group with the Sokovia Accords, after all.  

Of course, no review would be complete without talk of the film's primary antagonist, Ultron. I personally thought that James Spader, as Ultron, delivered one hell of a good performance. Traditionally, the deranged A.I. is one of the biggest bads to ever come from Marvel's vast rogue's gallery. Perhaps my favorite aspect of Spader's performance is that there isn't a single moment where he isn't pouring it on real thick, lending gravitas and something akin to likability for his character. Like many great villains of film's past, Ultron has a unique way of blending humor and megalomania into a presentation that is both, at times, hateful and oddly sympathetic. While I'm certainly not a man who wants to watch the world burn, I did find myself stopping to think about more than a few of Ultron's observations about humanity and the ways in which we are slowly destroying ourselves.    

In conclusion, I could nitpick an animation here and there, but at the end of the day, I feel that AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON assuredly delivers in presenting Marvel fans with a complex thrill-ride of comic book entertainment.

READ THE ORIGINAL THEATRICAL REVIEW!

The outrageous opening sequence, in which we see the Avengers engaged in an all-out raid on a Hydra base operated by Baron Wolfgang von Strucker. While this scene has several fist-pump-worthy moments, I particularly enjoy the single-shot that encapsulates most of the hardcore superhero action. There's also that slo-mo group shot, which still manages to make me grin from ear to ear every time I see it.

The "Who be worthy enough to lift Mjölnir?" scene. This montage of the different male Avengers making an attempt to lift Thor's storied hammer is one of my favorite sequences in the movie. While each and every attempt is worth a chuckle, it's that look on Thor's face when Steve seemingly budges the hammer that truly gets me rolling. I am also of the firm belief that Cap could have done it, and chose not to. Still. That look on the Odinson's face. Classic. 

Ultron's birth. I really dig the exchange between Jarvis and Ultron in the moments when the insidious newborn A.I. first comes into being. Ultron immediately establishes himself as a true threat to the Avengers initiative, as evidenced by his attempted assassination of Jarvis. James Spader, from the moment he comes into the film, oozes menace with every wicked word that escapes his digital lips.

That moment during the Hulk vs. Hulbuster skirmish when Tony is pummeling away at the big guy's face. "Go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep!" It almost feels like payback for the multitude of people the Hulk has smashed throughout the years.

Birth of The Vision. I'm a huge fan of this character, and I truly enjoy the way he's introduced to the Avengers. I think it's cool that he defies their expectations from the start, and the shot in which he passes Thor his hammer, proving to the group that he is indeed worthy, is quite the moment.

I delight in the moment when Black Widow drops out of the quinjet, riding her motorcycle. It's just so awesome. I really groove on the design of the bike, as well as how aspects of Widow's outfit match the vehicles sleek design. It was obviously tailor-made for her, which makes the fact that MTW Toys sold a version of the vehicle packaged with Cap all the more insulting.

Fury arrives with a S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier in tow. The shit-eating grin on his face is priceless, and at the time of the film's release, it was a great reveal.

Black Widow rides atop the Hulk on their way back to the floating city of Sokovia.

Wanda tears Ultron's heart from his body while he's still technically "alive." This moment is brutal, emotional, and above all else, earned.    

Tony Stark: Shit!
Steve Rogers: Language!

Strucker: Can we hold them?
Fortress Soldier: [Flabbergasted] They're the Avengers.

Tony Stark: [Searching for a secret entrance] Please be a secret door, please be a secret door, please be a secret door...
[Finds and opens secret door]
Tony Stark: Yay!

Steve Rogers: [to Banner] As the world's expert on waiting too long, don't.

Natasha Romanoff: [regarding Mjölnir] That's not a question I need answered.

Nick Fury: [concerning Ultron] Guy's multiplying faster than a Catholic rabbit!

Clint Barton: The city is flying and we're fighting an army of robots. And I have a bow and arrow. Nothing makes sense.

Clint Barton: [to Wanda] Doesn't matter what you did, or what you were. If you go out there, you fight, and you fight to kill. Stay in here, you're good, I'll send your brother to come find you. But if you step out that door, you are an Avenger.

Wanda Maximoff: Is that why you've come, to end the Avengers?
Ultron: I've come to save the world! But, also... yeah.

Ultron: I was designed to save the world. People would look to the sky and see hope... I'll take that from them first.

Ultron: [Referring to Captain America's shield] The most versatile substance on the planet, and they used it to build a Frisbee.

Ultron: How do you hope to stop me?
Tony Stark: Like the old man said, Together.

Natasha Romanoff: And how's little Natasha?
Laura: [cradling her stomach] She's... Nathaniel.
Natasha Romanoff: [to Laura's womb] Traitor.

Tony Stark: Don't touch my pile!

Nick Fury: [to Stark] You've come up with some pretty impressive things Stark. War isn't one of them.

Vision: Humans are odd. They think order and chaos are somehow opposites and try to control what won't be. But there is grace in their failings. I think you missed that.

Steve Rogers: Every time someone tries to win a war before it starts, innocent people die. Every time.

James Rhodes: Boom. Are you looking for this?

In Ultron's mission to obtain vibranium (the nigh-indestructible Wakandian material that Captain America's Shield is made from), the sadistic A.I. travels to parts unknown in an effort to secure a shipment from Ulysses Klaue. Of course, Wakanda is home to the hero Black Panther, who later joins the Avengers initiative during the events of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR.

One of the reasons given as to why Anthony Mackie's Falcon doesn't play a larger role in AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON is beacause the high-flying hero is preoccupied with the search for Cap's old friend, Bucky Barnes.

During the scene in which Iron Man battles the Hulk, Stark regrettably refers to the green behemoth as "puny." This is a direct reference to the comics in which the two characters have duked it out. It's a name that Tony consistantly calls the Hulk, and the big guy doesn't like it one bit.

At the close of the film, Captain America nearly delivers his famous catchphrase, "Avengers Assemble!" However, the film cuts away just before the red, white and blue nazi-puncher can finish the nostalgic battlecry. Oh Whedon, you tease.

As the rift between Tony and Steve intensifies, evidence of their diffreing ideological views is made quite clear, and serves as a precursor to the events of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR.

Before choosing F.R.I.D.A.Y. as his new A.I. companion and operating system, Tony bypasses a program file called J.O.C.A.S.T.A. - this is a nod to the eventual bride of Ultron, who in the comics goes on to betray her malevolent lover and fight for the opposition.

Helen Cho, the scientist who uses her ground-breaking technology to build The Vision, is the mother of another Marvel hero, Amadeus Cho. In the comics, Amadeus is currently known as The Totally Awesome Hulk, and is considered to be one of the smartest characters throughout the entire Marvel universe.

It's possible that Hawkeye's family in the film is actually a nod to the one he holds dear in the pages of Ultimate Comics. In the series, Barton has a wife and children much like he reveals to his teammates during the second act of the movie.

During Black Widow's hallucination sequence, Natasha is mentally trasported back to the Red Room, a brutal training facility operated by an unfeeling Madame B (Julie Delpy). The Red Room is a major component of Widow's personal history, as that is where she was (essentially) programmed to be the lethal killer she is today.

In the comic What If? Age of Ultron #3, Thor dies at the hands of Ultron and leaves his hammer to a worthy successor. The hammer is then weilded by Black Widow as the Godess of Thunder. Could it be that Natasha was indeed worthy of lifting Thor's hammer during the hilarious party scene all along? "That's not a question I need answered," Natasha knowingly remarked.

The moment when Klaue (Andy Serkis) gets a portion of his arm chopped off by an irradic Ultron is what leads him to return as Klaw in Marvel's BLACK PANTHER. Just like in the comics, Klaue has the appendage replaced by an intricate robot arm, capable of changing into several different and destructive modes.

Some would say it's a shame that we didn't see a revival of Cap's Kooky Quartet in the film, which in the pages of Captain America #18 consisted of the band members: Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Hawkeye, and of course, Captain America. Surely, this would have made for an amazing post-credits sequence, no?

When Ultron introduces himself to the Maximoff twins, he appears dressed in a sheer red cloth. Some might think it's because Ultron has a flare for the dramatic, while others might see it as a callback to the comics, when he first stepped onto the scene as the Crimsom Cowl.

It's possible that, in the moment we see Wanda react to Pietro's death by emitting a massive wave of deadly energy, it's merely a glimpse of what's to come from the character's awesome powerset. In the comics, Wanda desimates the mutant population by the millions, after casting a spell using the words "No more mutants." The unthinkable act is seen as a blight upon her character for years. In truth, Wanda still struggles with what became known as the "House of M" incident to this very day. 

Samuel L. Jackson appears in the film as his long-time MCU character Nick Fury.

Don Cheadle plays a relatively small part as Colonel James Rhodes / War Machine. He first arrives in the film during the Avengers victory party, then again, toward the close of the film, during the fight to save both Sokovia and the world from total destruction.

Stellan Skarsgard pops in for a spell as Erik Selvig. He aids Thor in discovering more information about the events to come, including the existence and nature of Thanos' Infinity Gauntlet.

Idris Elba arrives as Heimdall during the scene when Wanda has fed Thor hallucinations about his Asgardian homeland.

Hayley Atwell makes a brief appearance as Peggy Carter when Steve falls victim to one of Wanda's distraction spells.

Cobie Smulders reprises her role as Maria Hill. She attends the Avengers victory party and works alongside Nick Fury in aiding the Avengers during their time of need.

Josh Brolin as Thanos enters as the sole character featured in the post-credits sequence for the film. In the scene, Thanos retrieves an stoneless Infinity Gauntlet from its casing. The war has begun.

Anthony Mackie shows up for a short time as Sam Wilson / Falcon. He shares a nice exchange with Cap, but does little else other than show up during the final moments of the film, when Cap and Natasha are rounding up the latest members of the team.

Thomas Kretschmann, who was introduced in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, shows up at the start of the film as Baron Wolfgang von Strucker. Spoiler alert: He gets his ass handed to him.

Andy Serkis is introduced as Ulysses Klaue, a dastardly war criminal who's only out for one person, himself.

Claudia Kim appears in the movie as Helen Cho, a scientist developing technology beyond Tony's Iron Man program.

Julie Delpy plays Madame B in the film. She's a mysterious character who imposes her cruel teachings on a young and impressionable Black Widow during her time in The Red Room.

Stan Lee makes an appearance in the film as a feisty WWII veteran who challenges Thor's claims about the legendary nature of the Asgardian liquor in his flask. A few shots and a transition later, we see Lee being carried off by Avengers security. As he shuffles away you can hear him drunkenly mumble his time-honored catchphrase "Excelsior." 

Using a revolutionary code extracted from the Mind Stone encased within Loki's specter, Tony Stark created Ultron with the help of Bruce Banner, the goal being to create an artificial intelligence that would help them protect the world. After becoming sentient, the flawed Ultron program seemingly destroys Jarvis, Stark's trusted A.I. companion and hub of the Avengers security infrastructure. Once freed, Ultron takes control of multiple host bodies and launches and all out attack on the Avengers. Programmed to have elements of Tony's personality, Ultron displays only the darker, more narcissistic aspects of his creator. In no time at all, Ultron hatches a plan to establish a technological singularity while destroying all of humankind in the process. 

With the help of the Maximoff twins, Wanda and Pietro, Ultron creates a rift among the Avengers, making them weak to his assault for a short period of time. However, once Wanda uncovers Ultron's true intentions for the people of Earth, she and her fleet-footed brother switch sides, and join the Avengers in stopping the malevolent automaton's plot for global genocide. Left to his own devices, Ultron continues to construct a device using both vibranium and defunct Chitauri technology that will lift Novi Grad, a Sokovian state, skyward. Once at the desired altitude, Ultron plans to drop the European landmass to meteoric effect, wiping any and all signs of life off the planet. After the Avengers defeat Ultron, the event is Sokovia leads directly to the creation of the Sokovia Accords, a new set of laws that spark the events of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR.

  

IRON MAN - RETRO REVIEW

INCREDIBLE HULK - RETRO REVIEW

IRON MAN 2 - RETRO REVIEW

THOR - RETRO REVIEW

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER - RETRO REVIEW

THE AVENGERS - RETRO REVIEW

IRON MAN 3 - RETRO REVIEW

THOR: THE DARK WORLD - RETRO REVIEW

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER - RETRO REVIEW

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY - RETRO REVIEW

Source: Joblo

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