The Age of Ultron is a terrific comic book come to life. It is an exquisite adventure with perfect character development and splashy dynamics that will satisfy fans of Marvel and D.C. and independent comics, as well as those who appreciate loud, explosive films.
Back in the day Marvel Comics used to release comic book “annuals,” double or triple the size of the monthly comics, these highly anticipated extra-length stories were a delight… and that’s exactly what these films do for the older crowd. We who remember summers with a Fantastic Four or Avengers annual to read by the lake relish the onslaught of comic book heroes come to life on the big screen. But our disappointment in the Fantastic Four movie series (including the Roger Corman “lost” FF film,) the flaws in the X-Men flicks, the difficulty in finding the five Spiderman movies holding up to repeated spins, is mitigated when, for the action/adventure connoisseur, this new Age of Ultron arrives and fits the bill.
What the film companies failed to grasp – all of them – was that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. The scripts found in the comic books themselves were and still are high art. Rather than just make a motion picture around a perfect comic book story, Hollywood goes over, under, sideways and down, resulting in X-Men 3. Though the Spiderman series initially would grab key moments from the original literary works, it just didn’t utilize enough of those wonderful plots. And here’s where Age of Ultron really shines, the story doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s a fun romp, period. And you know those regrettable costumes for the Green Goblin, the Lizard and Spiderman himself that marred other Marvel Comics movies? In Age of Ultron the costume is king, the make-up and those wearing it all shine. The actors playing the roles of these famous pop art characters – including a long (for him) Stan Lee cameo that is absurdly funny – and the clothing that they wear – might even do revered comic book artist Jack Kirby proud. It works. They look the part and you don’t have to suspend belief when the “cringe” factor would come in when poor Michael Chicklis became chick-less as a clunky “Thing” in the Fantastic Four 1 and 2.
What will really bring them into the theaters is the availability of the perfect casting/perfect costumes found on YouTube with the multiple trailers. Freeze frame the Age Of Ultron trailer #3 at 14 seconds in and watch Iron Man’s spectacular yellow glow from his hand, the golden glow, right after Robert Downey Jr.’s head is immersed in J.A.R.V.I.S., his artificial intelligence butler. It is an amazing sequence of half Matrix/half Marvel, and when the Avengers indulge in Neo/Trinity/Morpheus stop-action jumps, you can see where director Joss Whedon absolutely gets it.
Knowing going in that this would be a box office smash there will be critics who will want to compare it to “high art.” But what is a perfect movie? Is there any such thing? Citizen Kane, Bride of Frankenstein, Gone with the Wind, each in their respective genre receive high marks. Is The Wizard of Oz the untouchable Holy Grail? To some degree that’s a matter of perception. What makes The Age of Ultron work is the level of seriousness the actors and all involved brought while filming the project to make it so much fun. Is the opening slam/bang sequence too cluttered? It doesn’t matter, the camera loving the Jurassic Park look of the Hulk, turning him into one big lovable and equally fierce T-Rex is a far cry from the disappointing “CG” Ang Lee Hulk that took away from an otherwise underrated picture. A motion picture that fizzled when it should have sizzled leaving the best elements lost and left on the table, and a superb Eric Bana giving way to …Edward Norton? Norton fit the role of a sleuth in Hannibal, but Norton as the Hulk? A far cry from his smooth psycho path in Primal Fear. Mark Ruffalo does an excellent job picking up where Bana left off, and what is truly fun is to see the team-up of Tony Stark and Dr. Bruce Banner as mad scientists playing with Pandora’s box.
James Spader is better seen in these days in a costume, all due respect, for he seems to have caught a bit of William Shatner’s chunkiness after the two close friends appeared in Boston Legal. All that drinking, perhaps. The flow that is the birth of Ultron and Vision works because we are not burdened with each character’s “origin.” It just comes naturally in the film, as part of the evolution of the scientific experiments. But you must also suspend belief. The seemingly all-powerful Ultron, just as flawed a concept as the artificial intelligence in the Matrix and the Terminator series, couldn’t be so easily defeated with the ultimate power the scriptwriters chose to give these various entities. That’s the big hole in all the plots to so many fantasy realms in a variety of motion pictures.. There’s no real logic to defeating something so extraordinarily powerful, unless you tap in to Thor’s god-like powers which, of course, would totally muddle the stories.
Thus we just enjoy the roller coaster ride. High marks go to the splendid performances of Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch Wanda Maximoff (Olsen was Elle Brody, wife of Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Ford Brody in 2014’s Godzilla) and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as her brother (hmmm…from husband to brother from one film to another…) Quicksilver, Pietro Maximoff. This “double casting,” if you will, sort of like Halle Berry in a James Bond film and then into the X-Men or Zoe Saldana in Avatar and then off to Star Trek, is something fans would have appreciated back in the day. Indeed, this writer watches old Perry Mason movies as much for the wonderful prototype of Law & Order: SVU plots as he does for all the original Star Trek bit players who show up. It is fun stuff. That current filmmakers finally realize it creates an invisible thread from one film dimension to the next. And here’s the really good news, Olsen’s Scarlet Witch has some of the best special effects you’ll see for a superhero. The red streams from her hands are dazzling and quite satisfying, as is Pietro’s quicksilver lightning speed, perhaps the special effects for a best pairing of a dynamic duo put to film yet – at least from the Marvel world’s “house of ideas.” Aaron Taylor-Johnson doesn’t even look like Ford Brody from Godzilla, he does that Ethan Hawke chameleon thing that good to great actors are so versatile with, creating different identities and not becoming a Jack Nicholson/Al Pacino/Robert De Niro larger than life figure that kind of subtracts from the vision of whatever characters those great actors play in these days. If Lou Reed’s Transformer was, as one critic put it, Lou Reed playing David Bowie playing Lou Reed, then director Tim Burton’s use of Jack Nicholson was The Joker playing Jack Nicholson playing the Joker. A too famous person overshadowing the character despite the superb acting job Nicholson did. He couldn’t remove the painter from the painting. These younger stars seem more rooted in their ability to be the character they are playing — Taylor-Johnson, Jeremy Renner and, most notably Robert Downey Jr. all very believable in their roles. Of course it is easier for Downey Jr. because he gets away with the borderline Jack Nicholson thing – and that’s because Downey Jr. is as much a Tony Stark type as Jean Luc Picard of Star Trek The Next Generation (actor Patrick Stewart) is the perfect Professor X for the X-Men. I find Stewart a better Professor X than star ship captain, very much in line with Stan Lee’s creation.
As always, my film “reviews” are more observations around the circumference of the motion picture rather than all the traditional reviews you can find online and in print. That being said, Wikipedia has excellent “scorecards” for you to match up the characters, so rather than be redundant those sites are listed here.
Enjoy the film. It is dazzling, it is on target, it delivers as promised. It is a 1960’s “Avengers Annual” hurled ahead 50 years into the future, and it is exactly what it should be. A very well-conceived and delivered roller coaster ride.
Joe Viglione is the Chief Film Critic at TMRZoo.com. He has written thousands of reviews and biographies for AllMovie.com, Allmusic.com, Gatehouse Media, Al Aronowitz’s The Blacklisted Journal, and a variety of other media outlets. Joe also produces and hosts Visual Radio, a seventeen year old variety show on cable TV which has interviewed Jodie Foster, director/screenwriter David Koepp, Michael Moore, John Cena, comics/actors Margaret Cho, Gilbert Gottfried, Gallagher, musicians Mark Farner and Don Brewer of Grand Funk Railroad, Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals, political commentator Bill Press and hundreds of other personalities.