Avengers: Age of Ultron
In Avengers: Age of Ultron, James Spader voices the eponymous villain, an entity of artificial intelligence that can inhabit seemingly any mechanical host around the world that it sees fit; break one body and you’ll just find him in an ever bigger one. Ultron is the superhero film embodiment of the ghost in the machine. Age of Ultron’s writer-director Joss Whedon, meanwhile, is the human in the too-often homogeneous Marvel machine, packing his second Avengers film with wit, pathos (as a result of characters' palpable emotional vulnerability), and some actual thematic thrust regarding the concepts of invincibility, the transient state of human existence, and America’s knack for trying to prevent conflicts that haven’t even started with methods that doom people anyway. The symphony of destruction works because this blockbuster behemoth has an actual soul.
Well, it mostly works. On the set-piece front, Whedon makes a considerable effort with long-take action escalation, but the convoluted nature of these shots combined with their fluidity can make some of the big boom moments feel a little weightless on occasion, particularly the film’s opening salvo assault on a Colditz-like castle. Later on we have yet another instance of a Marvel Studios finale based around a looming airborne threat to a city – though there’s at least a variation to how our heroes interact with it.
Among the new super-powered people popping up among the boom-boom are two twins with a grudge against Iron Man: super-speedster Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and multi-talented telekinetic terror Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen). One of the most consistently captivating young actors in Hollywood, Olsen’s Scarlet Witch steals every scene she’s in. On the older hero front, Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye gets to thrive after basically being a non-entity in the first film, anchoring this one’s humanity and keeping the band of misfits grounded; were it not for him still having actual combat skills, one might be inclined to read Hawkeye as this group’s version of Xander from Whedon’s own Buffy.
While it’s pretty choppy and indulgent at times, and doesn’t always break the constraints of its studio’s grand years-long synergy plans (see one Thor subplot and a terrible mid-credits sting), Age of Ultron is a very strong example of the sort of mythic pop cinema Whedon does so well. There’s enough good-to-great stuff here – and an actual personality to the cinematic vision behind it – to overcome the occasional niggles, and the film is ultimately a deeper and overall more compelling experience than its predecessor, though definitely a shaggier one.