REVIEW: The sequel that doesn’t seem like a sequel

Iron Man's Hulkbuster armor vs. the Hulk, a highlight of Avengers: Age of Ultron

Concept art of Iron Man’s Hulkbuster armor vs. the Hulk, a highlight of Avengers: Age of Ultron

Director Joss Whedon, in his farewell to Marvel movies, has come up with a rarity: a sequel that doesn’t seem like a sequel.

Avengers: Age of Ultron, while not a perfect film, achieves something unusual. It’s a sequel that’s more introspective (at least for a time) than the 2012 original Marvel’s The Avengers, that Whedon directed and co-wrote. There’s a substantial attempt at demonstrating what makes its main characters tick that’s deeper than what came before.

It’s rare these days where there’s a “written and directed by” credit, but that’s what Whedon has here. It’s even more rare in genre movies not to mention a studio (Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel) that isn’t known as a haven for “auteur” filmmakers.

Still, the movie is all that and more. Whedon successfully walks a tightrope. He successfully balances commercial concerns (the 2012 movie had worldwide ticket sales of $1.5 billion), throws more than a few bones to the hard-core Marvel Comics fan base (including Tony Stark’s “Hulkbuster” armor, a popular bit from late 1970s comic books) to giving his main actors plenty of material to work with.

Concerning the latter point, the introspection occurs relatively early in the movie, something even more surprising. The super hero group encounters a set of brother-sister twins, who’ve been experimented upon by the evil organization Hydra. Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) can mess with the minds of people.

Whedon uses that as a device to explore the personalities of his main cast (Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo and Jeremy Renner).

Tony Stark and Bruce Banner (Downey Jr. and Ruffalo) have been working on something they believe can result in good. As it turns out, they’ve crossed into Dr. Frankenstein territory (and Whedon provides a couple of references for those not familiar with that story). As a result, Ultron (James Spader) is born, a robot with artificial intelligence who decides humans should be exterminated.

Since 2008, Marvel Studios has been on an amazing run of movies that have been highly successful (and then some) at the box office. At the same time, those movies haven’t been paint-by-the-numbers. That’s especially true with Whedon’s second Avengers movie. He shakes things up (though not too much).

Whedon has indicated that after five-plus years of living with the Avengers he wants to movie on to developing projects featuring his own characters. That’s very understandable. Nevertheless, he has set a high bar for his successors.

Directors Joe and Anthony Russo will helm a two-part Avengers movie due for release in 2018 and 2019. They’ve already directed one Captain America movie and are about to begin filming another featuring a Cap/Iron Man clash.

Yet, Whedon has demonstrated what can be accomplished in a genre film. Sam Mendes, director of the 007 film Skyfall and the currently filming SPECTRE, has been using Christopher Nolan’s Batman films as a guide to making James Bond movies. It’s too bad he didn’t get a chance check out Whedon’s work on the two Avengers movies as well.

Avengers: Age of Ultron has flaws. It’s a bit long and gets exhausting at times. For all that, it’s worth a look. GRADE: A-Minus.

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