For a while now, I’ve been anticipating that “Avengers: Age of Ultron” would be “The Empire Strikes Back” of the “Avengers” movies and after seeing it tonight, I’m somewhat surprised to say that I was right.
Now keep in mind that “Empire” is my favorite “Star Wars” film and after just one viewing, I’m not sure I can say that “Age of Ultron” is my favorite Marvel movie, or even my favorite “Avengers” movie. It is pretty damn good and director Joss Whedon put everything up on the screen. I was nearly exhausted by the end.
Here are my first impressions of the movie. Spoilers to come after a spoiler warning, because there are so many surprises here that I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who is unspoiled.
Whedon had a tough act to follow not only counting his 2012 original “Avengers” but everything that has come since. That’s because the “Avengers” movies are the tentpoles, the mile markers, of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Age of Ultron” caps Phase Two of this universe, a group of movies that included “Iron Man 3” and “Thor: The Dark World” but also “Guardians of the Galaxy” and, best of all, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”
Appropriately enough since Cap is the heart of the Avengers team, but “Age of Ultron” – besides setting up a ton of plot lines – feels like a bridge between the very-nearly-peerless “Winter Soldier” and “Captain America: Civil War,” which comes out next summer and will then lead to the two-part finale of Phase Three, “Avengers: Infinity War Part 1” in 2018 and “Infinity War Part 2” in 2019.
Having said that, though, “Age of Ultron” doesn’t feel like just a stepping stone. And the ending is more satisfying, in its own way, than “Empire.”
What keeps “Age of Ultron” from feeling like just another link in the MCU chain is the plot – which wraps up plot lines like Hydra and Loki’s scepter and furthers the story of the Infinity Stones and Thanos, the Mad Titan seen in the end credits of the original – and the ingenuity of this movie’s characters.
As the movie opens, the Avengers – in a post-SHIELD world, since that spy organization was mostly dismantled in “Winter Soldier” – are the peacekeepers. They’re cleaning up messes around the globe – along with the help of some other very recognizable and very welcome Marvel movie characters – and rooting out the last of Hydra, which has been using Loki’s scepter and its Infinity Stone power source to experiment on human beings.
The only survivors of those Nazi-inspired experiments are Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, who in the comics are Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, the children of Magneto and mutants, but here are Eastern European twins who have an understandable grudge against Tony Stark.
The two find an ally against the Avengers in Ultron, a sentient android inadvertently created by Stark and science bro Bruce Banner.
As voiced by James Spader, Ultron is the kind of perfectly mad artificial intelligence who decides the only way to save the world is to destroy it.
With an army of robotic surrogates, Ultron causes havoc just at the wrong time for the Avengers. Stark and Banner feel guilty for their role in Ultron’s birth, personal complications rock the core of the team and all the members – Iron Man, Cap and Thor included – are haunted by visions of things to come.
Speaking of which … the Vision.
Just like “The Avengers” was one of my favorite comics, the Vision was one of my favorite characters. The synthetic offspring of Ultron, he was created to destroy the Avengers but, in the comics, becomes their ally. The shifting allegiances might come a little too easily in the movie but they are effective.
And the Vision, as played by Paul Bettany – the voice of Jarvis in previous MCU movies – is the oddest but most perfect addition to the cast. He’s eerie and weird and endearing – in other words, just like in the comics.
“Age of Ultron” is a piece in the sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe, for certain. But it stands on its own.
And that ending …
Okay, spoilers from here on out.
Avengers Assemble ….
To get to the conflicts to come in “Captain America: Civil War” and to reunite the team – and, perhaps, every member of the MCU – for the two-part “Infinity War” movies three and four years from now, “Age of Ultron” had to shake things up. And it does.
Besides the seeds of doubt sewn in the characters here – doubt enough to make Thor split for Asgard and prompt Stark to leave the group – the movie plants so many other seeds for the future. Longtime fans will recognize the moment when Vision rescues Scarlet Witch as a tip to their relationship in the comics, which included marriage, children and madness.
The reintroduction of old friends felt so right. It was a pure pleasure to see characters like James Rhodes (War Machine) and Sam Wilson (Falcon) in action and as part of a new Avengers line-up at the end.
The relationship between Black Widow and Bruce Banner also felt just right .. and its bitter ending felt just like a Joss Whedon relationship moment.
Who’s the happiest Avenger? No doubt it is Clint Barton. In this movie, we find out what Barton does when he leaves his Hawkeye persona behind. It’s heartwarming.
And the big character death? I was expecting maybe someone with a little more history in the MCU than Pietro but I was okay with it. And her brother’s death ensures that Wanda has the proper “push” into joining the team.
I’ll probably have more thoughts after seeing the movie a second time. Suffice it to say, “Age of Ultron” has more than its share of plot complications and hints for the future to bear another pass.
By the way … reports that there is no extra scene after the last of the end credits are true. There is a mid-credits scene, however.
Not that I have to tell you to stick around.