WITHIN THE CONTEXT of Marvel Studios’ larger cinematic gallery, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” looks like the master canvas.
Not that the picture has been perfect on the multi-phase journey to “Age of Ultron.” There have been director issues (Jon Favreau leaving the Iron Man franchise after two movies; Patty Jenkins leaving “Thor: The Dark World”; Edgar Wright leaving “Ant-Man”). And there have been multiple Bruce Banners, after an uncommon Marvel miss with 2008’s “The Incredible Hulk,” (Mark Ruffalo now becomes the first big-screen Hulk/Banner to appear in multiple movies).
Overall, though, the path to building trust with the general and fanboy audiences to create summertime blockbusters has been centered on Marvel’s ability to be right most of the time.
So many steps have been crucial. Rolling the dice on Robert Downey Jr. to kickstart the MCU. Convincing Chris Evans that it didn’t matter that he was once the Human Torch, because he’d make a great Captain America (if you didn’t think so with the first movie, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” proved that was a wise casting choice). And letting Joss Whedon be behind the camera when everything (and every Marvel movie hero) came together.
The most exciting aspect of “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is the creative worlds that it now opens up. At least for a while, it should reign as Marvel’s best work. But the film also heightens the anticipation for the two-part “Avengers: Infinity War,” Thanos, the Infinity Gauntlet and before all that, a superhero civil war and new Avengers solo franchises to introduce.
If you love this current era of live-action comic-book adaptations as an adult, then “Age of Ultron” might well be a movie you never thought you’d see as a kid. And if you are a kid now, well, lucky you: You’re growing up in a golden age, with “Age of Ultron” as a new beginning.
Here are Comic Riffs’s 11 takeaways from “Avengers: Age of Ultron”:
1. Better than the first?
No contest. The first Avengers movie will remain special because of the “we did it” sense of accomplishment of making a multi-movie, connected-universe work. There were also the record box-office numbers in 2012. But “Age of Ultron” gives off a feeling of Marvel Studios’ being much more comfortable, and having much more clarity, with its planned phases. Comparisons aren’t close and wouldn’t be fair. “Age of Ultron” is the superior film.
2. I am (still) Iron Man
We know that Downey had some intense negotiations with Marvel Studios to ensure his return, and we know that he will appear in “Captain America: Civil War” — more than likely going up against his Avengers ally Captain America. What we don’t know is whether there are going to be any more individual Iron Man films. Does Downey have any interest in doing any more solo flicks? Does Marvel Studios want more individual Iron Man movies? If the answer is no and the last we see of Downey in the MCU is his Avengers and Civil War obligations, then we should enjoy what has been perhaps the most fun and authentic live-action interpretation of bringing a hero from a comic-book panel to the big screen. Downey is in top Tony Stark form in “Age of Ultron,” and he continues to be, more than any other live-action superhero, equally interesting out of the super suit as he is in it.
3. A more global feel
The first Avengers movie took place mostly in a city that wasn’t New York passing as New York. By comparison, “Age of Ultron’s” passport knows no limits. The Avengers are here to protect the entire world, and “Age of Ultron” gives off the feeling of being a global event.
4. That’s more like it, Cap
If there was one buzzkill in all the positiveness of the first “Avengers” film’s success, it had to be Captain America’s costume. How did a suit get worse between the 1940s and present day? “Age of Ultron’s” suit designers have given Cap a look inspired by the dark-blue stealth of his look in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” but with more red, white and blue. Cap has never looked better on-screen, though the “Winter Soldier” look bears saluting.
5. Hulkbuster vs. Hulk
In the trailers, we were given a taste of one of “Age of Ultron’s” biggest smackdowns, when we saw Iron Man bulking up into his Hulkbuster suit to take on the Hulk. The battle lives up to the hype. Tony Stark always has a backup plan, including a means to take down the strongest there is in the MCU if the Hulk ever became out of control (more so than normal). This makes two Avengers movies in which the Hulk has duked it out with a teammate. In the first “Avengers” movie, we saw the Hulk and Thor go at it, with Thor giving the Hulk’s jaw a taste of his mystic hammer Mjolnir, and the Hulk getting the last laugh with a comedic cheap shot. If you decide not to order Mayweather/Pacquiao, this match will do, especially with IMAX speakers.
6. No strings attached
Ultron is no robot. He’s a being of extreme intelligence and power who has feelings of rage (toward Tony Stark). Brought to life by the voice of James Spader, he takes on whichever Avenger gets in his way, not hesitating to put his metal hands on anyone’s throat. He has a dark sense of humor, as well, that surprisingly gets a few laughs — this from an artificial intelligence set on destroying humanity.
7. Visions of the future
With a villain that at times makes the Avengers look outmatched and outsmarted, the Vision comes to life as the great equalizer. We won’t say how the Vision comes to be, but he, like Ultron, has a strong connection to Tony Stark. The Vision’s classic color scheme looks vibrant on the screen, and watching him in battle is one of “Age of Ultron’s” great geek moments.
8. A romance that makes sense
It is already known that sparks are hinted at between Bruce Banner/Hulk and the Black Widow. What at first might seem as just a way to add a dash of romance to an action/superhero series is actually something that makes a lot of sense. The Black Widow sees herself as someone who has a monster within, because of her past as a Russian spy — just as Bruce sees himself as someone trying to calm a rage that can be so destructive. Any romance between the two doesn’t feel forced.
9. The twins
Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. Are they friend or foe to the Avengers? We gets lots of cool scenes of Quicksilver showing just how fast he can move, while the Scarlet Witch proves herself as a power to be reckoned with, regardless of what side you’re on. Are they Avengers? Enemies? You’ll root for them regardless.
10. Humanizing Hawkeye
Ok, so other than Captain America’s original “Avengers” suit, another drawback in the first “Avengers” film was Hawkeye’s being brainwashed for most of the film. We didn’t really get to know him. Now, the archery master on the team is always the biggest target in battle, because of the mere fact that he has no special powers or suits — just a quiver, bow and arrows. There are no brain-control issues this time around, which gives viewers a chance to take a deeper look at, and into, Hawkeye. Whedon provides a more in-depth look at what it is that makes Hawkeye tick. (A smart move, especially considering how popular Hawkeye, as as an individual comic title, has been more recently.)
The land of the Black Panther intimidates in “Age of Ultron” through word of mouth alone. That’s all we’ll say because … you don’t mess with Wakanda.