Mere days before the onset of May, Hollywood presents the first Fist of Fiore Award winner for 2015. The coveted Fist of Fiore Award exemplifies excellence in film entertainment. It is surprising, because AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON had a plethora of bad mojo against it.
The only sequel superhero film Marvel released worth note was CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER. All other offerings from the comic studio, including IRON MAN 2, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2, and THOR; THE DARK WORLD, where mere shells of the originals. The first Avengers movie was entertaining and set box office records. AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON seemed a bridge film, connecting the Avengers to their ultimate showdown with Thanos. Nonetheless, this film is actually better than the first. It eschews the sophomore curse which has plagued Marvel and proffers a movie easily added to your home video collection and one that merits multiple viewings.
The most exemplary element of AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON is its script. The movie, written and directed by Joss Whedon avoids a major pitfall in most Marvel films of assuming the audience is fully aware of the characters in the Marvel universe. Unlike D.C. films, with Marvel adventures, I find it advantageous to sit near Todd McDevitt, owner of New Dimensions Comics and superhero expert. Usually, he has to fill me in on characters who Marvel tosses into random scenes rather haphazardly. AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON presents each new character with an appropriate and self-explanatory introduction. This is a tremendous relief as it demonstrates Marvel, under Whedon’s directorship, is finally catering to a wide general audience rather than its selected fanboy geeks. Todd and I were actually able to discuss pertinent social pleasantries at the premiere, rather than unexplained character infusions. Whendon’s script is solid in plot conception. The story continues the character conflict within the superhero group established in the first Avengers movie, and embellishes it with dramatic, yet realistic conflict. Each twist is enveloped in plausibility.
S.H.I.E.L.D. is in shambles. Framed by arch-enemy HYDRA, it is seen by the populace and government as a rogue organization. HYDRA has secured Loki’s scepter, and the power crystal it contains and is attempting to weaponize it. Meanwhile, the Avengers have secured the location of HYDRA’s main fortress and are mounting an attack to break the evil establishment and reclaim the scepter. The opening battle provides a powerful action sequence and reintroduces the Scarlet Witch, Wanda Maximoff, played by Elisabeth Olsen and her twin brother Pietro, aka Quicksilver, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson (another of the dreaded three named people). The twins are of a mind any group associated with Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is imminently malevolent, and utilize their powers to stop the Avengers.
Once the battle is fought, HYDRA scatters and the Avengers regain the scepter, the group shows signs of dysfunction. Stark convinces Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) to help him create an artificial intelligence that can provide peace to the Earth and make the Avengers unnecessary. All does not go well, as the AI absorbs the worst elements of Stark’s personality and meshes them with remnants of the HYDRA experiments. This unholy alliance produces Ultron, and the Avengers next battle ensues as Ultron seeks world oblivion.
This is a slight deviation from the comic tale. Originally, Ant-Man created Ultron. However, Ant-Man is starring in his own stand alone film, to be released next month. Marvel wants the movie to highlight the new character and did not want to introduce him in the Avengers film. Exit Ant-Man as the Ultron creator and enter the Stark-Banner combo. The switch works, especially considering the multiple approaches the Ant-Man movie went through during script development.
The characters are all in form, and each actor is immersed completely in his presentation. Foibles and peccadilloes are accented and expected. The best of the new characters by far is Ultron, played and voiced by James Spader. Ultron, basically, is Red Reddington. Spader voices the super villain with the same inflections and incantations as his famous TV personality. At any time, you expect the mechanical scoundrel to ask: “Where’s Lizzie?” Using motion capture, Ultron even incorporates the signature tilt of the head that is a Reddington trademark.
The Pittsburgh critics’ premiere of AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON was presented in 3-D. It is both impressive and problematic. The 3-D technology excels in the long range shots and slow motion sequences. Even commonplace shots, like Tony Stark inside the Iron Man mask, are impressive and much more effective in 3-D. However, in the close-up, fast edit sequences, the 3-D reveals too much of the matting and animation, rendering a cartoon or video game visage. Chop action sequences should be avoided, especially when using motion capture. It reveals too much of the process.
With the technical idiosyncrasies aside, AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON is exceptionally entertaining. At two and a half hours in length, it still is a roller-coaster ride of excitement. This one should not be missed, and if possible, see it in 3-D. It is the first Fist of Fiore Award winner of 2015 and well deserving of the honor.