The Avengers: Age of Ultron – The Dark Fail Continues
– a Hero Corner Catch-up Review by David 2

Remember “The Avengers”?  Yeah, that was a great team-up.   Sadly it only existed for that one movie.  A great and shining moment that captured the world… and then it was forgotten in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s “Phase Two”.  Because, you know, dark and brooding is supposedly “cool” now.

Let’s recap briefly: The Avengers come together.  Then “Iron Man 3” happened and Tony Stark sorta-kinda forgot that there was SHIELD or the Avengers that he could rely on.  And then, in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”, SHIELD is exposed as being infiltrated by Hydra and is shut down.  (Oh, and we will forget about the fact that there are a bunch of former SHIELD agents including the not-really-dead Phil Coulson who are trying to rebuild SHIELD with the blessing of Nick Fury, because, you know, that’s on the TV series and not in the movies even though they are all supposed to be in the same MCU.)

That brings us to “The Avengers: Age of Ultron”, a 2015 movie release bringing back the original cast of Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Helmsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Paul Bettany, Samuel L. Jackson, and Colby Smothers, and it also brings in Anthony Mackie from “Winter Soldier”, Don Cheadle from the last two “Iron Man” movies, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olson, whom you quickly saw in the mid-credits of “Winter Soldier”.  And to wrap it all up, we have James Spader doing the voice of the titular villain.

So now we have the Avengers all together to shut down what remains of Hydra.  That huge, colossal, multi-tiered network that was hinted at during the mid-credits of “Winter Soldier” is down to just one base in the never-heard-of European nation-city of Sokovia.  We have the epic battle early with the Avengers doing what they do best, although not so well as they are stymied for a little bit by the brother-sister Maximoff twins.  Pietro Maximoff (aka Quicksilver, played by Taylor-Johnson) uses his super-speed to slow down the assault, and Wanda (aka Scarlett Witch, played by Olson) uses her mind-games to allow Baron Strucker to escape.  She also plants a little “seed” in the mind of Iron Man (Downey Jr) when he retrieves Loki’s scepter from the first Avengers movie.  A vision of the Avengers dead and Tony watching the Chitauri invade Earth with nobody left to stop them.

As the team wrap up their “final” mission, Tony discovers that Loki’s scepter had a strange pattern to it which almost copied the mind-pattern of his artificial intelligence program JARVIS (voiced by Bettany).  Tony shares this with his “best buddy” Bruce Banner (Ruffalo) and convinces him to help turn this into his new “Ultron” program which would replace the Avengers and take the place of the “disbanded” SHIELD.  (Never mind, of course, that the not-dead Agent Coulson and his merry band of TV agents are trying to rebuild SHIELD, because, you know, that’s the TV world and not the movie world, even though they are still supposed to be one big happy MCU.)

While Captain America (Evans) is using Avengers Tower to host a party with his fellow World War II veterans (including Stan Lee, who aged quite well since he was already old in “Captain America: The First Avenger”) and his new best buddy Falcon (Mackie) and Tony’s best buddy War Machine (Cheadle), the experiment called “Ultron” becomes sentient (and voices by Spader) and destroys JARVIS.  As the Avengers have a private after-party where they each try to lift Thor’s hammer and fail because they’re “not worthy”, Ultron takes over one of Tony’s damaged Iron Legion drones (wait, I though he destroyed all his other armors in “Iron Man 3”) and confronts them, using the chaos to take the scepter and scrub all files from Tony’s database.

While the team work to regroup and find Ultron, Ultron recruits the Maximoff twins, and we learn why they have a mad-hate for Tony Stark, and it’s really understandable since it was the same reason why Tony became Iron Man in the first place.  The Avengers catch up with Ultron and the twins in South Africa, but Ultron gets away and Wanda manages to dismantle all of the Avengers with the exception of Tony and Hawkeye (Renner), who aptly said he had enough mind-control.  With an out-of-control Hulk on a rampage in the city and the rest of the team down, Tony calls in his secret weapon… “Veronica”.

Right… and here I’ll just stop so I won’t spoil it all.

While the movie tries to tell a good story, it continues the darkness that has sadly become the staple for superhero movies, where everything has to be “Batman” in terms of dark and brooding and flawed.  So in between modest scenes of action, we’re having to sit through Tony keeping his fears to himself, and Thor keeping his fears to himself, and Black Widow trying and failing to hook up with Banner (and forget that his heart still belongs to Betty Ross), and Cap not sharing his “dark side” to others, and everyone debating about whatever Tony does that still screws things up.

Amidst all of this are the two bright spots: the return of Nick Fury (Jackson), and the stepping-up of Hawkeye to give his team the break they need to regroup with the help of some uncharacteristic people.  (And if you know his comic book version, then you’d know why those are “uncharacteristic people”.)

Spader’s Ultron is a disturbing mix of psychotic anarchy mixed in with narcissism.  Much like the M-5 computer in “Star Trek”, Tony Stark created a mirror of his narcissistic personality that hates what he is, and yet he still arrogantly thinks that he alone can fix it all.  Sounds vaguely familiar, doesn’t it?

In the end, though, we are left with the Avengers with their “new home”, but not entirely the same team as when we began.  “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” aren’t really “mighty” when the end credits roll.  Whereas the first “Avengers” movie left viewers with that strange sensation of “happiness” and “optimism”, we are left with a certain degree of “meh”.  We’re not even allowed to hear Captain America give the famed team battle-cry, for reasons that nobody really understands.  It is as if it is now forbidden to say the word “Assemble” when it comes to all things Marvel.

In all, “Age of Ultron”, while continuing the story, also continues the darkness that has characterized Phase Two of the MCU.  What used to be “epic” is now mediocre, and what used to be warm and friendly is now full of awkward silences and painful memories and heart-teasing as a poor defense maneuver.

And the strange part is… this isn’t even the end of Phase Two!  There’s still one more movie left for this dark phase of Marvel.

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