Disappointment is a weird word for a film that is the eighth highest grossing film of all time domestically, and the sixth highest worldwide, but there was a sense of letdown when Avengers: Age of Ultron didn’t match the first film’s six hundred million dollar domestic total. Or, that is to say, no one thought Jurassic World would be the biggest hit of the summer. While the film couldn’t have the same excitement that came from bringing together four different superhero franchises into one mega-movie (and the film suffers a little from its scale), it’s a marvelous entertainment, funny and exciting.
The film begins as the team finally retrieves Loki’s scepter from Baron Strucker (Thomas Kretchmann), but in doing so the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) is able to plant the seeds of something terrible in the mind of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) Working with Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), they unintentionally birth Ultron (James Spader), a robot who sees human beings as a disease that need to be wiped from the planet. He teams up with Scarlet Witch and her twin brother Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) to build an even more powerful version of himself, while Stark – working with Banner, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlet Johansson) – chase after Ultron and the twins. Unfortunately, Scarlet Witch has mind controlling powers so she makes Banner turn into Hulk, which causes a great deal of destruction, and though Banner has been working with Romanoff on controlling his anger (and the two are possibly dating), he’s afraid of not being able to control the monster within (as always). Stark and company are able to intercept Ultron’s would-be child, and are able to turn him into The Vision (Paul Bettany), who decides to join the Avengers to help rid the world of Ultron, but Ultron’s plan to kill the Earth is already in motion as he’s turned the country of Sokovia into an extinction event-level meteor.
Writer/Director Joss Whedon had a lot to wrangle with Age of Ultron, and that he had too many plots and characters to service is probably inevitable. The Marvel universe has a deep bench, which means that actors like Hayley Atwell, Sam Jackson, Idris Elba, Anthony Mackie and Don Cheadle are all able to play in this film for a scene or two and it’s great to see them, but it also means that with six main characters, a villain, and three new superheroes to introduce, some characters get shortchanged. Vulture did the math and Thor gets only fourteen minutes of screen time, and you notice many of the characters feel absent. Where the first film built to them working together in that it’s hard to notice how much or little the cast is on screen, here it feels like you almost don’t get enough of any one character to be satisfied. Captain America gets the most screen time, but it doesn’t feel like it’s his movie.
On top of which Whedon has to do a lot of work to tie things together and set up other movies. We’re on the precipice of Captain America: Civil War, which then sets up the big two part Avengers: Infinity War, and so the ideological divide between Rogers and Stark has to get some time, while some of Thor’s scant screen time sets up his next sequel Ragnarok. That’s the handoff in making these movies these days, they’re in service of an empire, and even the director of the fourth most successful film of all time can’t make the movie he wanted to make. It’s also partly why Whedon has decided to retire from the Marvel universe.
The other big thing to note is that films like this test the limits of scale. There’s a big fight between Iron Man and Hulk in the middle of the film, and there’s so much digital destruction and no actual stakes that it proves that the most seemingly exciting things can be boring if you can’t care about the end results. It’s also a problem with the ending, in that with the threat of the world ending isn’t much of a threat at all. The first film had the benefit of showing a team working together for the first time (or at least working well together for the first time), here you don’t get that elation.
That said, Whedon is a smart writer, and everything is filled with his cleverness. If there is any growth from the first film to the second, it’s that many of his clever moments don’t slow the film as sometimes it’s so clever or cute it can take you out of the picture. And every character – even if they aren’t on screen for long enough – gets great moments to shine, with Hemsworth having two of the best scenes in the film with the Vision, and Renner delivering a great speech about the absurdity of their situation, while also having a great sequence which reveals much of his non-superhero life. These movies work because you love the characters, and no one understands that more than Whedon, so he gives the characters their moments to shine, while also at this point their voices are so well established he can do more with less. It’s also the sort of film, like the first film, that’s just fun to put on. Every scene has something good to great about it, so it plays great at home.
Disney’s Blu-ray of Avengers: Age of Ultron presents the film in both 3D and 2D, and with a digital copy. The film is in widescreen (2.35:1) and in 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. The film looks and sounds amazing, though I wasn’t crazy about the 3D on this film. The film was shot digitally, so the transfer is immaculate and it looks and sounds as good if not better than it did when it hit theaters earlier this year. The big extra on the disc is a commentary track by Joss Whedon. Self-deprecating and funny, Whedon is a good catty commentator.
As for supplements, the disc is surprisingly light. There are three featurettes: “From the Inside Out – Making of Avengers: Age of Ultron” (21 min.) points out all the locations the film went to while also focusing on the new actors in the mix, and the special effects. “The Infinite Six” (7 min.) is all about the infinity stones and how they’ve been woven through the previous film entries and how it’s all building to the Infinity War. “Global Adventure” (3 min.) speaks even more about how the film shot around the world, focusing on the location work in Italy, South Korea, the United Kingdom and South Africa.
The next section offers deleted/extended scenes of which there are four and all come with commentary by Joss Whedon. The first up is “The Man in the Church” (1 min.), which offers a little more Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, and shows that even during their time being bad guys, they were acting out for what they thought was a good end. “Watch Your Six” (3 min.) shows the team dealing with the aftermath of the creation of Ultron, while “Bruce and Natasha Talk” (4 min.) extends the conversation between the two as they confront the fact that they can’t have kids, and the possibility of running away. “The Norn Cave” (4 min.) extends the scene with Thor in the Norn cave, which – as Whedon notes – doesn’t work because it needs to be a part of a different movie. Whedon’s comments are on point as he understands why he cut what he did. Rounding out the set is a gag reel (4 min.), which opens with Hawkeye snuffing out Quicksilver and goes from there, showing the cast are great goofballs.