An hour before watching Avengers: Age of Ultron, I stepped into a nearby comic book store for a little visual and nostalgic inspiration. It’s been years since I made mine Marvel, but after watching director Joss Whedon’s latest cinematic venture, returning to the place I once loved shouldn’t be a long trek.
Though X-Men captured the hearts of scores of Marvel enthusiasts during my peak comic book reading years, The Avengers, with their grocery list of dysfunction and obsessions, was my go-to team. Though intimidating beyond belief when operating as a well orchestrated unit, their individual “vision” of the team dynamic would often cause disharmony within its ranks. During my Marvel infused childhood, I grew to love Tony Stark, Clint Barton (aka Hawkeye), and Scarlet Witch (played in Age of Ultron by Elizabeth Olsen) for their respective flaws.
Superheroes, whether they’re fighting aliens or scores of world beating robots, are people too, and Avengers: Age of Ultron injects a compelling human story into the proceedings. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson), and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), as well as newbies Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Scarlet Witch (Olsen), and Vision (Paul Bettany) each have their moment in the sun, giving us even more narrative momentum for the next Avengers installment.
When discussing Marvel films it’s difficult to appreciate the current film before without mentioning a few movie and TV projects down the road (Marvel’s big picture “phases” can be all-consuming). This may give the impression that Avengers: Age of Ultron is a mere place holder in a multi-story universe. Such an outlook, though natural, keeps our eyes off the current prize, and thankfullly Whedon has crafted another fine adventure to add to his craftily penned, geek-infused ouevre.
In Age of Ultron, a new threat surfaces thanks to the latest collaboration between Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). Their attempts to create a life changing security blanket to protect Earth births a malevolent force named Ultron (James Spader). Instead of following Stark’s directive, Ultron believes the world can only progress through consistent evolution, even if it leads to the obliteration of the human race (Marco Polo’s Claudia Kim is Dr. Helen Cho, a person who’s forced into aiding Ultron’s quest).
Siblings Wandra and Pietro Maximoff (Olsen, Taylor-Johnson), aka Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, had their childhood torn apart thanks to one of Tony Stark’s military creations, and both willingly aid Ultron’s initial goals of eliminating the Avengers. Though Quicksilver’s lighting fast speed is nothing to sneeze at, it’s Scarlet Witch’s ability to manipulate our heroes by conjuring up their greatest fears which serves as Ultron’s ultimate ace in the hole.
I’ve read several reviews carelessly throw out a huge spoiler, and one of the only drawbacks in watching Avengers: Age of Ultron was waiting for that exact moment to occur. I refuse to unleash the same indignity, but will only add that amidst all the epic, CGI driven battles lies the beating heart of a propulsive and inspired narrative. Whedon, who deftly balanced compelling human storylines within the eye popping action sequences of The Avengers, continues that inspired fever pitch with Avengers: Age of Ultron.
For lifelong comic book fans well versed in Avengers lore, there are “Easter Eggs” as well as subtle human interactions/team dynamics that will be appreciated upon viewing Age of Ultron (again, I refuse to give out spoilers!). Still, Whedon understands that for the Avengers franchise to progress, the compelling narrative must move forward. It’s not enough to rely on a franchise’s tried and true formulas, and the final moments of Age of Ultron is a testament to Marvel’s passion for giving comic book and movie enthusiasts a taste of its revered past while teasing them with a glimpse of an equally promising future.
As I scanned for back issues of The Defenders (my favorite Marvel superhero outfit) at the comic book store, a kid, probably not older than 8 or 9, placed a few Avengers titles (they were bagged and boarded, of course) from the late 1970s on the counter. I briefly mentioned how those stories, even as a balding, caloric challenged 43-year-old, still holds that same power.
Joss Whedon understands the transcendence of a well told tale, and if Avengers: Age of Ultron (PG-13, 141 minutes) is his final stab at directing a Marvel film, he’s left Earth’s mightiest heroes (as well as its loyal fans), in good stead.
Avengers: Age of Ultron opens nationwide May 1, 2015.