“Avengers” Big, Bombastic and Very Funny
By Skip Sheffield
It’s big, it’s busy, it’s bombastic and it doesn’t make a lick of sense, but “Marvel’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron” is wryly funny, eye-poppingly visual and always entertaining. Most of the characters from the 2012 launch are back, as well as director Josh Whedon, who goes back to Stan Lee’s original 1963 comic for his script.
Marvel fanboys treat the original comics like the Holy Grail. Not me. I never read them as a kid and I don’t much care now. But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the creativity and pure entertainment value of these big-screen adventures. As in the first one, “Avengers” remains anchored by Robert Downey, Jr.’s fabulously rich, devastatingly deadpan-witty inventor Tony Stark, who hops into his self-designed, almost invulnerable Iron Man suit of armor in times of trouble.
Trouble is afoot once again as Stark and his cohorts Chris Hemsworth/Thor; Mark Ruffalo/Bruce Banner/The Hulk; Steve Rogers/Captain America, Scarlett Johansson/Natasha Romanoff and Jeremy Renner/Hawkeye get word that some sinister character named Baron von Strucker has created a new force called Ultron (voiced by James Spader), bent on nothing less than the extinction of the human race.
The Marvel gang’ s “dirty half-dozen” members of S.H.I.E.L.D. had gone dormant after the first adventure, but now Tony Stark feels it is time to reactivate the team to save the world.
So yeah, this is another save-the-world story, but Whedon’s tech crew has lavished attention to visual details, beautifully blending live action with computer-generated images. This is especially effective in the transformation of mild-mannered Bruce Banner (Ruffalo) into The Hulk. A new plot element is the budding romance between Scarlett Johansson’s husky-voiced Natasha and Bruce Banner and his huge, mute alter ego whom Natasha calls “big guy.” Jeremy Renner gets more screen time as the hilariously self-deprecating Hawkeye, who laments all he has is a bow and arrow to fight the forces of evil. Chris Hemsworth is gently ribbed for his gorgeousness as Thor, and we learn just how heavy that hammer is.
Two new characters are “The Twins:” Pietro Maximoff, aka Quicksilver (Aaron-Taylor Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), aka Scarlett Witch. Another potential good guy is the red robot Vision (voiced by Paul Bettany, who did bad guy Loki in the first one). When S.H.I.E.L.D. Captain Nick Fury (Samuel A. Jackson) reappears to take the situation in hand, all the good guys enter in an uneasy alliance and you just know there will be a battle royale.
I have read there are already two more segments planned in this never-ending story, but Josh Whedon has sworn this is his last. So for now, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is the high water mark of an epic cinematic fantasy.