By Brian Hadsell
When The Avengers reclaim Loki’s Scepter from Hydra, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner finally have what they need to create Ultron: an artificially intelligent, global peacekeeping initiative. They envision “a suit of armor around the world” that will be able to fend off extraterrestrial threats while they focus on terrestrial ones or, God forbid, are allowed to hang up the cape and retire.
But in meddling with a power that they cannot begin to comprehend, they create a monster. Ultron destroys Jarvis, steals the scepter and escapes into the internet, using Hydra’s abandoned bases to construct legions of bodies for himself. Obsessed with creating “peace in our time,” Ultron envisions a world free from pain, suffering, war, famine and disease: in short, a world where every human is long since dead and buried.
For all of its bells and whistles, “Age of Ultron” is basically a massively entertaining retread of “The Avengers.” While it further develops Stark’s post-New York paranoia, Cap’s moral line in the sand, Banner’s Hulk-inspired angst, Thor’s acclamation to life on Earth and Romanov’s and Barton’s nuanced relationship, it’s still basically the same movie that we got in 2012. A psychotic villain with daddy issues uses the Scepter and a vast, technologically advanced army to publicly destroy the Avengers and take over the world.
The strange thing is, though, that this weirdly specific formula works nearly as well the second time around. Now I’m not saying that there weren’t a few well-deserved groans when Ultron starts using the scepter to mind-control scientists into making him some absurdly far-fetched piece of technology in a scene lifted straight from the first movie nor that the darker version of the character that they were advertising wasn’t inherently more interesting than the one that we ended up with. I’m not even saying that the action was as good the second time around.
Age of Ultron was a comparatively far cry from being the movie that The Avengers was and at least another comprehensive rewrite away from being the movie that it wanted to be. I’m just saying that it worked, and worked exceptionally well. The plot was as nuanced as a blockbusting cross-over based on a comic book needed to be. The action, although a bit of a step down from 2012, was every bit as exciting as it wanted to be.
As with “The Avengers,” the focus was always on the characters’ interactions with one another. This is why the best scenes of the movie aren’t the Hulk duking it out with the Hulkbuster nor the obvious stakes-raising Battle of Sokovia. They were Stark’s party and the Avengers’ retreat to Barton’s home: a bunch of otherworldly heroes sitting back with a beer and talking.
What I remember is the endless debate over which one of them – other than Thor – is worthy of wielding Mjolnir. I remember Aunt Nat playing with Lila and Cooper. I remember Laura holding up newborn Nathanial Pietro Barton. I remember Banner’s face when he’s told that he’s not the only monster on the team. The scheming and the fighting and the explosions are all well and good, but Joss Whedon has always made his movies about the characters first, and that’s served him just fine so far.
Age of Ultron is further proof that the meta-franchise is more than capable of solving “the Marvel problem” in that they lack especially memorable or interesting villains. Loki is one of the most dynamic antagonists that we’ve seen in recent years. The Mandarin was an intelligent deconstruction of terrorism and international policy. And now we have Ultron: a Frankenstein’s monster of good intentions and what it really means to have “peace in our time.”
Although it didn’t quite live up to all of the hype surrounding it, I would be shocked if Age of Ultron didn’t end up as my favorite movie of 2015 by the end of the year. It’s the perfect blend of summertime fun and character-driven story that I imagine everybody who saw “The Avengers” should like about as much as it.