Director: Joss Whedon

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chis Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olson, Aaron Taylor-Johnsson, Colby Smulders, Samuel L. Jackson, Paul Bettany and James Spader

Studio: Marvel/Disney

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 2 Hrs, 21 Min

Take a deep breath. Do you smell that? That’s Summer Movie Season, when Hollywood unleashes all the blockbusters they’ve been teasing us with since last summer’s Comic Con and the half time of the Super Bowl. And this summer has no shortage of epic fare for fans to spend their movie going dollars on, so it’s only fitting that Avengers: Age of Ultron kicks off this year’s popcorn season at break neck speed.

It’s three years after the Avengers first came together to thwart an alien invasion lead by Thor’s villainous brother Loki and our heroes find themselves cleaning up the rest of Hydra’s secret research bases (as seen at the end of last May’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and searching for the scepter Loki used to corrupt and enslave minds in the first Avengers film. As an aside, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) have been working on an experimental artificial intelligence to help the Avengers protect and maintain world peace and stability. The recovery of Loki’s scepter grants that vision a giant leap forward but it doesn’t take long for their intentions to go south in a hurry and after a perfect storm of mistakes and wrong turns, their pet project develops a malevolent mind of its own and Ultron is born. At first Ultron is just another would be world conqueror with daddy issues, but he quickly evolves into a genocidal despot planning to drive the entire human race into extinction. His weapons not only include an army of killer robots and an ever evolving robotic body of his own, but a cunning knack to pull our heroes emotional and psychological strings, testing their trust in one another as well as their loyalties and their motives.

            The follow up to 2012’s Marvel’s The Avengers, director Joss Whedon successfully recreates the original film’s box office busting formula of adrenaline, hyper special effects, quirky humour and generous winks at the audience while adding a new twist here and there. AoU is a movie based on one of the planet’s largest comic book franchises, and as such it’s crafted like a comic book, albeit a smart one. The story is straight forward but avoids gratuitous plot holes while Whedon laces his script with plenty of sarcastic little quips and comedic wrinkles to keep viewers chuckling, even during some of the more intense fight scenes. And the fight scenes are easily on par with the spectacle the first Avengers offered, and that movie was about fighting an invasion of bionic reptilians that rode giant space dragons through a wormhole. The city demolishing clash between the Hulk and Iron man wearing Hulkbuster power armour will leave just about anyone drooling. Some were concerned that Ultron, the CGI robot voiced by James Spader would come up short when measured against Tom Hiddleson’s Loki, everyone’s favourite villain who made it necessary for Marvel’s Greatest Heroes to assemble in the first place. But while Ultron may not be as easy to embrace as Hiddleson’s conniving Loki, he exudes a dangerous, manipulative charm at a few pivotal points, making him a villain equals the combined might of the Avengers.

            The cast does what’s needed of them, bringing their respective head smashing, shield throwing, armour wearing, bow slinging characters to life with humour and just enough believability for a comic book mega-film. Once again Robert Downey Jr. steals the show as Tony Stark/Iron Man with his signature manic quirkiness but James Spader manages to eat up plenty of scenery with just his voice. AoU also gives some of the characters a little more breathing room then the first, adding a touch of pathos to heroes who spend most of the film beating or blowing things up. We’re given a closer look at some of the supporting characters that don’t have their own solo films as well as the relationships between the heroes themselves. The party scene where everyone lets of some steam is a geektastic movie in and of itself. And the few seconds where we see Black Widow kicking serious robotic ass with Cap’s shield will send any fan boy into fits of delirium.

            Whedon deserves a healthy dose of credit as well. He keeps AoU from flying off the tracks like a roller coaster on meth while making sure the whole thing never takes itself too seriously. AoU is an amusement park ride, and it knows it, at no point does it consider itself more then a really good popcorn movie and the whole thing comes across as a huge cinematic tongue in cheek homage to its comic book inspiration armed with a hundred million dollars worth of awesome special effects.

          AoU is full of appearances from characters in previous films as well as Easter eggs for comic fans and hints dropped for future flicks in the ever-expanding Marvel Movieverse. AoU does it’s job well, offering a fun, entertaining installment in a growing franchise while setting up several future movies while acting as a transition to a new stage in Marvels’ storytelling. New characters are introduced, others see their roles expanded, some are retired and the seeds for future conflicts are planted (like the potential conflict between Tony Stark and Captain America that may be seen in next May’s Captain America: Civil War-a movie that will reportedly include a cameo or two by everyone’s favourite wall crawler). Will it be as successful as it’s predecessor? I don’t know, the first one set the bar pretty high, but AoU jumps right into the action and then slowly cranks the action meter higher and higher as the story unfolds, so if it falls short of the original Avengers movie it won’t be for lack of trying or execution. It will be interesting to see how DC/Warner Bros responds with its already struggling Justice League franchise (the Batman vs. Superman movie has already changed it’s release date twice and there are rumours of production delays on already announced films). See it in 3D if you can and don’t miss the signature credit scene after the movie ends (but spoiler alert, unlike 2012’s Avengers, there’s only one credit scene this time around). In my opinion though, this is another home run for Marvel and their owners at Disney, and it will be interesting to see how their next movie on deck, July’s Ant-Man, does when it comes up to bat. And DC/Warner? The ball’s in your court now boys.

 Shayne Kempton


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