Captain America actually says “shit.” You heard me. “Language,” scolds Iron Man, who can’t hide his glee at seeing the Cap, a flag-wearing Greatest Generation war hero, dent his tightass image. You won’t have more fun anywhere than losing your shit at Avengers: Age of Ultron. And you don’t have to be a Marvel geek to get with the vibe. In this sequel to 2012’s The Avengers, which helped writer-director Joss Whedon achieve world box-office domination, the movie swings for the fences, going darker and deeper into the bruised psyches of this dysfunctional family of warriors.
Don’t get me wrong. Age of Ultron is a whole summer of fireworks packed into one movie. It doesn’t just go to 11, it starts there. But it’s best when Whedon sins against the Hollywood commandment of playing it safe. He takes a few wrong turns, creating a jumble when the action gets too thick. But he recovers like a pro, devising a spectacle that’s epic in every sense of the word.
What do you need to know? That Tony Stark/Iron Man (quipmaster Robert Downey Jr.) has fucked up, big-time. His peacekeeping program, Ultron, has become a robotic force of artificial intelligence (motion-captured and voiced with honey and malice by James Spader) intent on destroying every human on the planet. That can’t happen, so cue Team Avengers, including Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Captain America (Chris Evans) for hammer-and-shield showmanship; Hulk (a superb Mark Ruffalo) for tempering rage with sexual healing from Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson); and, best of all, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) for a startling backstory that Renner imbues with exhilarating humor and emotional heft.
For added spice, Whedon brings on the newbies. There’s the twins, Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). Someone points out that “he’s fast and she’s weird.” That ain’t the half of it. When Whedon and his FX team send the twins’ fictional Eastern European country into orbit, you’ll see why. Still, no one steals scenes from Ultron, except the Vision, an android played with touching gravity by Paul Bettany, who previously voiced Iron Man’s A.I. confidant J.A.R.V.I.S. and who reps the film’s moral conundrum.
Wait, what? Moral conundrum? What kind of escapism is this? IMO, it’s the best kind, the kind that sticks with you. Whedon is the true master of the Marvel Comic universe onscreen. He won’t be back when Avengers: Infinity War, Part 1 and Part 2 start shooting next year. The Russo brothers will take the helm. That makes Age of Ultron Whedon’s last Avengers hurrah. And the monumental battle between gods and monsters that he stages to end the film does him proud. Bravo.