Robert Downey Jr.
reviewed by Tom-Tom
This was a difficult film to review. Do I focus on the geeky joy in seeing many familiar faces from other Marvel films whom I didn’t expect to see in this one? Do I review it from the standpoint of a casual viewer? I’ll try to do all of these and more.
What a challenge it must have been to write this script or any Marvel film these days. The webs of the many interlocking stories from each characters’ own timeline are countless. If that’s not enough, it is then necessary to set up the franchise for the next “Phase” of events, perhaps setting new characters on their separate courses for the next web/TV series or another film franchise. However, within all these “musts,” the movie must be approachable for the first time viewer so that he or she can walk away satisfied rather than like Bridget Jones when she wore a Playboy bunny costume to what she thought was a cosplay party. How did the second Avengers film do? To quote Monty Python’s Life of Brian, “There’s a mess here but no messiah.”
The film begins where the post-credit Easter Egg in Captain America: The Winter Soldier left off. Baron Strucker, leader of the remaining forces of Hydra, the extremist subversive organization which has been shaping the world’s history since its founding during World War II by the Red Skull, is defending its last hideout from the full might of the Avengers. It doesn’t really seem like the world ending conflagration for which all the team’s special abilities are necessary. Nick Fury’s parting words in the first Avengers flick hinted gravely at what sort of catastrophe for which the team might be called. However, it does make a nice introduction to various skill sets of each of the heroes. Captain America pings his shield about Hydra heads like a fantastic pinball machine, Hawkeye shoots a few volleys of arrows each hitting their marks, Black Widow demonstrates her acrobatic defense and offense skills, Iron Man files, shouts, and wisecracks, Thor throws his hammer around, and the Hulk tears things apart.
This opening scene reintroduces two characters, twins who we’ve seen as school age mutants in the most recent X-men film, Day of Future Past. but here they are “enhanced humans,” their skills given them via Loki’s mind controlling spear which he wielded to terrible effect in the Avengers’ first outing. As Maria Hill breaks it down later for Captain America, “the brother Maximillian (Quicksilver) is fast and the sister Wanda (The Scarlet Witch) is weird.” They both have a grudge against Tony Stark for the use his manufactured weapons had in his former warmonger life.
The Scarlet Witch has the ability to alter reality in the comics but here, her powers aren’t really defined. She reads minds, sends red blasts which simply have the effect of knocking people down, Psycho kinetic and mind altering powers might be a loose description of her abilities. This latter skill sets the events of the film into motion.
Like in a simplified version of Inception, Wanda plants a seed of fear in Stark’s mind during the opening battle in which he sees the destruction of the world and the death of his friends and that it is all his fault. Fueled by this fear and love for all creation, he approaches the problem with a concerned scientific POV. An automated Avengers doing the work with a self aware conscious must be the answer. He teams up with Dr. Bruce Banner, who as always, is terribly concerned with the Hulk’s antics while in “Code Green.” Stark has conveniently created aforesaid self aware A.I. with which he hopes to end all need for the Avengers at all by eliminating threats before or as they happen. Winter Soldier viewers already know what a bad idea that is which is why Stark a\with the consent of Banner unilaterally decide to do it themselves without collective intervention.
Thus begins the conflict in which Ultron is born. His early musings about life and his mission reminded me somewhat of the unfortunate whale who suddenly came into being above the planet of Magrathea in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Ultron has a systemic brawl with Jarvis, Stark’s helpful digital assistant, whose attempts to control Ultron fail. James Spader as the eponymous robot is very compelling. The world learned (again) with the great Tom Hiddleson as Loki before, that a hero flick is only as good as the villain. Spader’s Ultron has some really great one-liners which are redolent of, but don’t completely resemble his creator. The robot also has major Daddy issues as is discovered when he buys Vibranium (the impenetrable metal of which Cap’s shield is made) from a weapon dealer played by Andy Serkis of all people who is sporting a South African accent this time around. Some people slam doors or punch walls when angry, Ultron severs limbs. Accidentally, of course. He apologizes profusely.
Unfortunately, this compelling set-up builds to a snooze inducing 2nd Act, which is disappointing, as the 1st Act ends with an awesome battle between an out of control Hulk and “Veronica.” I’ll leave you to enjoy the details yourself. This down point recalls the near comatose scenes following Loki’s escape from the SHIELD helicarrier in the last film. There’s lots of brooding, whining, confessions of fear, promises made for “when this is all over.” etc. Thor goes on a silly side quest out of boredom, i guess or maybe the writers wanted the god out of their hair. The only saving grace of this act is Ultron’s Frankenstein-like creation of his masterpiece, a vital character in the history of the Avengers and of Ultron. The Frankenstein angle is brought to effect by…well you’ve probably already guessed.
The Final Act is pretty stupendous with each character remaining true to their character’S personal profiles. The behavior or true heroism comes to the foreground. Captain America is an effective leader and heroes, including new members, listen to him. Hawkeye’s character gets a well-deserved fleshing out and he serves as big bro for unexpected new members.Foes become friends and the ultimate battle is serenaded by Alan Silvestri’s original brass heavy theme although the score for the sequel is composed by the great Danny Elfman no stranger to scoring superhero films. His themes for Tim Burton films and Ang Lee’s Hulk not to mention the first three Sam Raimi Spiderman films are all memorable works. Thematically speaking, he doesn’t have much to do here but his music is appropriately suspenseful and relfective as the situation requires.
I left the theater in a daze wondering what I had just seen. My favorite scenes initially were the “Veronica” and Final Battles but later on, I became very fond of the camaraderie scenes late int he 1st Act with Stark and Thor nattering away about their girlfriends’ respective successes as if the heroes were trophy wives from the 50’s. Everyone assembled has a try at lifting Thor’s hammer. There are unexpected appearances from pals of Cap and Tony, and a pretty fun Stan Lee cameo. By editing the inferior parts of the 2nd Act a bit more firmly, this could have been a masterpiece.