“I wanted him to face his fear, to create something we could use against him,” says Wanda Maximoff. Ultron responds, “Everyone creates the thing they fear. Men of peace create engines of war. Avengers create invaders. Parents create children that will supplant them.”
Marvel Studios’ Phase Two lineup was certainly an impressive one. Building off the success of The Avengers (which ended Phase One), Phase Two saw the continuing adventures of Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America (Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, and the game-changing Captain America: The Winter Soldier) as well as the introduction of Star-Lord, Gamora, Rocket, Groot, and Drax the Destroyer, the team known as the Guardians of the Galaxy (the cosmic-set summer breakout hit Guardians of the Galaxy). Phase Two concludes this year with Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man. Joss Whedon returned for the writing and directing duties for Age of Ultron, and he brought a vision with a scope that is even bigger than the previous Avengers film (not to mention an expanded cast as well). I saw Avengers: Age of Ultron recently as part of a double feature with the first Avengers film in 3D, and I was happy that it met and surpassed my high expectations. I figured I’d enjoy it as much as the first film, but I just enjoyed it so much more (yeah, it’s really good!).
2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron follows Earth’s mightiest heroes (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye) as they re-assemble to face a deadly new threat called Ultron, a renegade artificial intelligence that has created a body for itself and believes that the only way to protect humanity is to destroy it. Whedon assembled an impressive cast that includes Robert Downey Jr. (as Tony Stark/Iron Man), Chris Evans (as Steve Rogers/Captain America), Chris Hemsworth (as Thor), Mark Ruffalo (as Bruce Banner/the Hulk), Scarlett Johansson (as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow), Jeremy Renner (as Clint Barton/Hawkeye), James Spader (as Ultron), Samuel L. Jackson (as Nick Fury), Stellan Skarsgard (as Dr. Erik Selvig), Cobie Smulders (as Maria Hill), Paul Bettany (as the Vision), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (as Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver), Elizabeth Olsen (as Wanda Maximoff/the Scarlet Witch), Thomas Kretschmann (as Baron Wolfgang Von Strucker), Andy Serkis (as Ulysses Klaue), Claudia Kim (as Dr. Helen Cho), Henry Goodman (as Dr. List), Don Cheadle (as Col. James Rhodes/War Machine), Anthony Mackie (as Sam Wilson/the Falcon), Hayley Atwell (as Peggy Carter), Julie Delpy (as Madame B), Linda Cardellini (as Laura Barton), and Idris Elba (as Heimdall). Performances from both returning Marvel cast members and newcomers were top-notch (Evans and Downey Jr. among the highlights, along with Spader, who was perfectly cast as Ultron).
Whedon’s direction is strong, once again succeeding in balancing his ensemble cast (which is even larger this time). His screenplay further explores the main heroes (especially Hawkeye) and their inner conflicts, as well as upping the ante and the explosive action while creating a complex villain in the robot Ultron (there’s even a surprising payoff later on in the film to the early, hilarious sequence where several Avengers are trying to lift Thor’s hammer Mjolnir). The production design by Charles Wood is amazing (especially all the various locations used around the world, particularly Von Strucker’s fortress in the fictional country of Sokovia), as is Ben Davis’ cinematography and Alexandra Byrne’s costume designs (I liked the updated Avengers costumes and the design for the Vision). Jeremy Woodhead’s makeup design is first-rate, and the special effects continue to be incredible (especially in the third act). The editing by Jeffrey Ford and Lisa Lassek keeps the film moving at a good pace. Brian Tyler delivers a thrilling, action-packed score (with additional music by Danny Elfman!), utilizing his previously-established themes for Iron Man and Thor while reprising Alan Silvestri’s themes for S.H.I.E.L.D., the Helicarrier, and the Avengers. Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron is a very satisfying sequel that continues Marvel’s critical and financial winning streak and further develops storylines featuring our favorite superheroes as well as planting seeds for upcoming ones (Captain America: Civil War and Thor: Ragnarok anyone?).