Sunday, May 3, 2015

"Avengers: Age of Ultron"

The all-star superheroes team is back!  And it's as grand as ever.

It's as if Marvel struck a vibranium mine in 2008 when it introduced "Iron Man" to the world.  And it marched on with "Thor" and "Captain America."  Three years ago, director Joss Whedon attempted to do what no man had done before, assembling the iconic superheroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in "The Avengers."  It was a marvelous success.

"Avengers: Age of Ultron" starts off with an action-packed sequence, earth's mightiest heroes engaging in a forest battle and storming a Hydra fortress, with the goal of getting a prized scepter (Loki's) out.

The team, consisting of Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr., "The Judge"), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), God of Thunder/Thor (Chris Hemsworth, "Rush"), scientist Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), superspy Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, "Her") and  master archer Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner, "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol"), is able to walk out with the scepter, but they run into Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen, "Oldboy"), surviving humans of Hydra's experiment.  Pietro has a superspeed ability and Wanda mind-control and force field-manipulation.

The eclectic ensemble, who got off on a rocky start in "The Avengers," has found its stride here.  Teamwork and camaraderie are apparent during and outside of battles.  One of the most enjoyable scenes is where the team gathers around and each pokes fun at one another, trying to lift Thor's hammer.  Although the lighthearted air turns chilly when Ultron (voiced by James Spader) makes its surprising presence known and they realize the gravity of the threat.  Ultron was created to be a peacekeeper around the world, but the artificial intelligence has a mind on its own and interprets peacekeeping duty differently.  It believes that mankind creates destruction and thus must be exterminated.

The sentient being has taken a physical form and multiplied in robots.  It is up to the Avengers to stop Ultron and save the human race.  The mighty task is not made easy with Wanda wrecking havoc with our superheroes' minds.  Inner fears about the past and future are exposed and they must overcome them, work together and win the war.

Whedon achieves a superheroic feat.  There's a mechanical sense in the first part of the movie since the story dives right into the action business, but at the same time, the movie would never hold the same magic as the previous one, seeing all those superheroes together for the first time.

And in a movie overstuffed with these many main characters, not to mention supporting characters (S.H.I.E.L.D director Nick Fury, agent Maria Hill, Falcon, War Machine), it's commendable that they're able to perform their roles sufficiently and dole out one zinger after another.  Hawkeye, who only appeared in the first installment and has never had his own solo movie, unexpectedly reveals a softer side to him that helps with the progression of the story.  Tony and Bruce, as "mad scientists," bond together and interact more with each other.  And Bruce and Natasha, while we've never seen their romance develop from the very beginning, have something here.

If you think destruction scenes are in epic scale in "Man of Steel," wait until you see this.  A populated  city uprooted, flying and hanging in the balance, with Ultron minions crisscrossing on murderous paths.  Some of the most memorable scenes involve Captain America and Black Widow, with their acrobatic moves with the Cap shield and motorcycle stunts.  Funniest are smashing moments between Iron Man and the Hulk, where Iron Man, with a bulked-up Hulkbuster armor and weaponry, tries to tame the green monster under a telekinetic influence.

J.A.R.V.I.S, Iron Man's A.I. system, is now a vision.  It evolves in the form of cool-and-collected Vision (Paul Bethany, "Transcendence"), instantly stealing a scene with the Mjolnir and delivering the best one-liner to Ultron towards the end of the movie. He becomes a part of the Avengers, along with a few other familiar faces as new members.

The movie touches on the Infinity Stones, unique objects that, if possessed together, will provide the holder unlimited power to do absolutely anything with the universe.  Gems sprinkled in 'Age of Ultron' set up not only the final installments, "Avengers: Infinity War - Part I" (2018) and "Avengers: Infinity War - Part II" (2019), but likely sequels "Captain America: Civil War" (2016), "Thor: Ragnarok" (2017) and "Guardians of the Galaxy 2" (2017), and new solos, "Doctor Strange" (2016) and "Black Panther" (2018).

Other MCU plans include "Ant-Man" this summer, "The Spectacular Spider Man" (2017), "Captain Marvel" (2018) and "Inhumans" (2019).