Avengers: Age of Ultron: More of the Same, but Still a Fun Ride (Blu-ray)

The Film:

Just three years ago, Joss Whedon pulled off a remarkable feat by giving us a film that featured a cast of some of the biggest superheroes in the Marvel universe, known collectively as “The Avengers,” and delivering just the kind of action-packed adventure that fans had been hoping for. Not only was it well-received by critics, a hard enough accomplishment for any film of the genre, but it was also massively successful around the globe to the tune of $1.5 billion. Fans have been anxiously awaiting the return of these heroes ever since, but that long wait is finally over as Whedon brings us the next chapter in their cinematic legacy, “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

Wasting no time, the film begins by immediately throwing us into the middle of an attack that

The Avengers are carrying out on a HYDRA base in an attempt to retrieve Loki’s scepter. As usual, they are successful, but not without first being rattled by two new opponents, the lightning-fast Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and the mentally-manipulative Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). Once the scepter is safely back at Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) lab, he is given a couple of days to analyze it before Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returns it to Asgard for safe keeping.

In his research, Tony realizes that the power source within the scepter could hold the key to creating artificial intelligence, which would allow him to activate a peace-keeping initiative he’s been working on known as “Ultron.” With help from Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), they set about trying to merge the AI with one of Tony’s many robotic fighters. Eventually they succeed at their task, but what they unintentionally create is an evil program (Voice of James Spader) whose idea of peace is the destruction of humanity. Consequently, The Avengers once again find themselves as the only ones who are able to stand up against a seemingly-unstoppable foe in a desperate attempt to save mankind.

The first “Avengers” film had been a fun experience, though certainly not without its flaws. It featured an exciting start, a middle act that sagged a little too much, and a drawn-out final fight that we see time and time again in films like this, resulting in a slightly stretched runtime. Luckily, the characters and the story helped overcome its weaknesses, thanks mainly to Whedon’s screenplay that was somehow able to combine all of these characters into one film without leaving any of them in the dust. Now, as we come to “Age of Ultron,” one would think that the massive success of the original and the usual drive for a bigger and better sequel would lead to remarkable improvements in an attempt to outdo what had come before, but strangely enough, when we look at the film as a whole, we can say in very basic structural terms that it’s pretty much the same movie, just with a different villain.

That may seem like an attempt to put the film down, but in fact, there’s nothing wrong with that. As the saying goes, “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.” Sure, there’s a little disappointment that Whedon didn’t try to do a little more this time around, but what he delivers is another pulse-pounding and entertaining experience that once more plays like an amazing juggling act of some of the most iconic superheroes out there. As mentioned earlier, Whedon doesn’t even wait an entire minute to get you right into the middle of the action, kicking off a great first act that pulls you in as the plot is laid out.

Giving you a little chance to catch your breath, we take a break in the second act as our heroes go into hiding to determine what to do with the situation, which also give us an opportunity to delve a little more into the lives of one of the lesser-known members of the team, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). This all leads up to the inevitable big finish in which The Avengers fight off scores and scores of generic robots, all controlled by Ultron, that are attempting to wipe out humanity by lifting a city up into the clouds and dropping it back down to Earth. With this basic summary in mind, it’s not hard to see how this is very similar to its predecessor.

As the main difference here is the villain, Ultron should definitely be given his due. James Spader gives a remarkable personality to this bizarre AI, who is clearly confused as to how to carry out the well-meaning peace initiative that Tony originally had in mind. Whereas before it was simply Loki and an alien army attacking New York, this time around, we have a bigger threat in the form of a program that can leap from body to body as each is destroyed, with the goal not being to take control of the planet, but rather to wipe out all life on it. With such stakes, you can’t help but feel yourself slide a little further towards the edge of your seat, despite that closing battle going on for a little too long as usual.

“Avengers: Age of Ultron” may be very similar to the original film, but that’s ok, for it still results in an equally thrilling ride. Whedon continues to demonstrate that he has a firm grasp on these characters, and along with the same fantastic ensemble (plus a few new faces), fleshes them out a little more as the Marvel universe continues to expand. As recent announcements, and the standard addition of a mid-credits scene, have told us, there are still more battles to come for The Avengers. With new directors and writers taking the reins, perhaps we’ll see the series taken in radically new directions. It’s hard to imagine anyone being able to do as good a job as Whedon has done in pulling off these films, but, as usual, fans will wait with bated breath until their heroes once again grace the big screen.

Video/Audio:

"Avengers: Age of Ultron" arrives on Blu-ray in a 2.40:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of mostly excellent quality. The picture has a bit of a dark look to it throughout, which is particularly noticeable in the outdoor scenes, but otherwise it looks fantastic, doing a great job of showing off the multitude of special effects. The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is flawless, delivering everything from the dialogue right down to the sound effects in outstanding quality. Overall, the film has been given great treatment that will be sure to please the fans anxiously waiting to add this to their superhero collections.

Special Features:

Audio Commentary with Director/Writer Joss Whedon: Whedon's commentary offers a few interesting tidbits every now and again, but it also has long stretches where he seems to babble on about nothing of importance. It's not bad, but it could've been better.

From the Inside Out: The Making of Avengers: Age of Ultron (21 Minutes): A featurette that features interviews with the cast and crew discussing the making of the film, covering such topics as the freeway chase and bringing the characters of Ultron and The Vision to life. Definitely worth watching.

The Infinite Six (7 Minutes): A brief featurette that is basically a rundown of the Infinite Stones, covering the ones we've seen in the Marvel films thus far. There's not much to be learned here, but if you need a quick recap, it doesn't hurt to give it a watch.

Global Adventure (3 Minutes): A very brief look at some of the filming locations used during production. There's not really much to see here, so it's easily skippable.

Deleted and Extended Scenes (12 Minutes): This deleted material doesn't really add anything to the story, but fans may find them of interest regardless.

Gag Reel (3 Minutes): A so-so collection of outtakes.

Conclusion:

"Avengers: Age of Ultron" may follow the structure and beats of its predecessor pretty closely, but it still manages to pack a punch that's just as exciting. Whedon has once again pulled off the near-impossible task of combining some of the biggest superheros in comic book history and making sure that they all get their due time. Throw in a compelling villain, played marvelously by the always-incredible James Spader, and you have a film where the characters' personalities are not just slaves to the ever-present special effects. With their next epic adventure (the two-part "Infinity War") looming, we can only hope that the new writers and directors will be even half as successful as Whedon has been in pulling off this Herculean feat.

Score: 3.5/5

Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.

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