This photo provided by Disney/Marvel shows, Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man/Tony Stark in the film, "Avengers: Age Of Ultron."  (Jay Maidment/Disney/Marvel via AP)

This photo provided by Disney/Marvel shows, Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man/Tony Stark in the film, "Avengers: Age Of Ultron." (Jay Maidment/Disney/Marvel via AP)

Reeling it in: ‘Age of Ultron’ delivers on hype

“The Avengers: Age of Ultron”

Marvel Studios

2 hours, 21 minutes

 

Looking at what Marvel Studios has accomplished, you might get the idea that making superhero movies is easy. Up to and including this week’s “Avengers” sequel, the studio has produced eleven big-budget extravaganzas with nary a flop in the bunch. The closest thing to a failure would have to be “The Incredible Hulk,” one of the studio’s first outings, but even that movie made money, and even if it didn’t set the world on fire, people liked it.

Compare that to other, older and more established studios’ attempts at bringing this genre to the screen. Sony had two big hits with “Spider-Man” and “Spider-Man 2” and then blew it with “Spider-Man 3.” Then they launched a disastrous reboot attempt with “The Amazing Spider-Man” movies which were pretty much universally reviled. That franchise is so battered that Sony decided the only way they could revive it would be to actually loan the character back to Marvel Studios and let Spidey enter the current Marvel Universe, which is why the next “Spider-Man” reboot will take place during “Captain America 3.”

Similarly, 20th Century Fox has floundered with their properties, goofing up both “Fantastic Four” franchises as well as “The X-Men,” which, while not a total failure, has been hit and miss to say the least.

Warner Brothers arguably has the gold standard of superhero franchises with both Superman and Batman, but despite the success of the Christopher Nolan films, they can’t seem to figure out how to build their own continuous, overlapping universe. The trailers for the upcoming “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” were greeted with less than enthusiasm and unless they can get behind a unifying idea, they’re looking to lose a lot of money.

So how does Marvel do it? How is that “Iron Man” is a great movie, and feels completely as one with this week’s “Age of Ultron,” released seven years and ten movies later? It’s probably no coincidence that the break-out star of “Avengers” part two is called “The Vision.” The studio has it, and they are playing the long game.

“Age of Ultron” picks up a year or so after the events of “Captain America: Winter Soldier.” S.H.I.E.L.D. is in shambles, but so is HYDRA, and the Avengers are in the midst of mopping up what’s left of the bad guys. They’ve located Loki’s scepter, which had landed in the hands of HYDRA at some point between now and the last “Avengers.”

When our heroes arrive to reclaim it, they get more than they bargained for. Working for HYDRA are twins Pietro and Wanda Maximov, one gifted with remarkable speed and the other with strange telepathic powers. Though the Avengers win the battle, Wanda, or The Scarlet Witch, as she’s known in the comics, has touched their minds and released deep-seated fears, fears which will eventually tear them apart.

Tony Stark’s particular vision leads him to examine an old idea, one of artificial intelligence that can serve as an ultimate superhero, a guardian for the entire world, essentially making the Avengers unnecessary. Using the scepter, he and Bruce Banner make that dream come true, only to see it turn into a nightmare. Ultron is born, but instead of guarding the planet from outside threats, he decides that the only true path to peace is the destruction of the human race, with the Avengers first in line.

Escaping into the internet, this homicidal AI manages to create a vast army of himself, and even wishes to go one further, creating an indestructible, human/machine hybrid to help him carry out his terrible plans. If the Avengers want to save the planet once again, they’ll have to put aside their differences and pool their strengths, but that may not be as easy as it sounds.

I really enjoyed “Age of Ultron,” and like it even more upon reflection. The movie both defied and met my expectations, following a fairly obvious, though entertaining, plot-line, but offering a more varied and nuanced tone than the trailers led me to believe. The movie is far lighter than the preview would suggest, and I particularly enjoyed James Spader as Ultron. The villain is very quippy, funny, and not the cool, calculating menace I was expecting.

This was a little off-putting at first until I realized that every line of Ultron’s could just as easily have been uttered by Tony Stark and it was like a lightbulb went off. Ultron is a product of Stark — the ultimate embodiment of his hubris, and the writers wisely choose to play him that way.

I also enjoyed the rest of the ensemble. Black Widow gets to make time with The Hulk while Hawkeye gets a much beefier part than in the last film. Joss Whedon has proven incredibly adept at weaving a finely textured story with a whole lot of main characters. That he’s leaving the Marvel fold after this film is a bummer, but I can imagine a project like this probably takes it out of you.

This is end of what’s become known as “Phase II” of the Marvel Universe. Phase III begins next month with “Ant-Man” and continues on into the next couple of years with new standalone “Captain America” and “Thor” films, as well as new heroes “Doctor Strange,” “Black Panther,” and “Captain Marvel,” not to mention another “Guardians of the Galaxy” outing.

All this culminates with a two-part “Avengers: Infinity War” which will be broken into two films over two years. By that time, even the guy who sweeps the floors at Marvel Studios will have his own mansion in Beverly Hills.

“The Avengers: Age of Ultron” is exactly what you want in a big summer blockbuster. It’s fun, exciting, action-packed, and comes with enough alternating tension and humor to easily fill it’s 2 1/2 hour runtime. It’s filled with enough cameos and call-backs to make even the most ardent fan happy and to those few bitter cynics who snipe, “it’s nothing but a big goofy cartoon,” I say this: go back and watch “Spider-Man 3” and then come talk to me.

Marvel is showing off everything that comic book films can be and I say keep this train moving. I am all in for the ride.

Grade: A

“Avengers: Age of Ultron” is rated PG-13 for comic book violence, language, and a few crude references.

 

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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