Marvel Studios should be in the business of writing textbooks on what is required to be a super hero. Throughout the run of movies we’ve seen, at some point or another, our heroes have to face their own weaknesses and frailties. They must learn to embrace their “humanness” in order to truly become the heroes that destiny chose them for. The circumstances will be different for each one as he or she must face their own personal demons and fears, but that’s where strength comes from.
This movie, while it could be considered something of a sequel to Captain America: Winter Soldier as well as recent episodes of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., is in reality a continuation of the above mentioned theme given to us in Iron Man 3, with Tony Stark (played with a beautiful blend of both humor and gravitas) having to face the consequences of some pretty dire actions on his part which bring about the titular enemy to both himself, the rest of the Avengers team, as well as the entire population of Earth, and that being Ultron (voiced by James Spader).
Ultron is the personification of power minus the needed balance that comes with having a moral compass. He is the embodiment of achieving peace, not just by any means necessary, but also by only ONE method, and that is the eradication of all life on Earth. Ultron, while viewed as possibly being purely evil, serves as a mirror to almost all of the members of the Avengers team, with each one having his or her own personal identity crisis compliments of Wanda Maximoff aka Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and the powers she has which allows her to get into the minds of various members of the team, which also helps to deliver a powerful defeat to our heroes and gives Ultron the upper hand in his quest to bring about the extinction of the human race. Of course as with all classically told stories of good versus evil, after good loses round 1 (and rather significantly I might add) it is allowed to take a breather and regroup, only stronger and more determined than ever before. As Captain America says in the movie, “if you’re killed, walk it off.” That is determination! It is here that humanity, and basically what it means to be human and possibly even being afraid, become the real challenges our heroes must face and overcome. It is here, during this crisis that a new hero is born, who as Ultron was earlier in this movie, our new hero also serves as a reflection, but one that shows us our virtues, and perhaps even our idealism to us. As much as Ultron is the antithesis of life, this new hero named Vision (Paul Bettany) embraces life and the beautiful qualities that come from being both human and alive.
The story telling, while perhaps not as much “popcorn fun” as 2012’s The Avengers, has a pacing and tightness which is greatly improved so that not a moment is truly wasted. Even slower moments, while they may seem boring after a big action sequence, definitely serve a purpose in a movie of this size. Action sequences are laced with just the right amount of humor so to not only help lighten the suspense, but never at the expense of the action sequence on the screen.
Each of our returning cast is clearly shown as having gone through some growth since the last time they each graced our presence. In addition to the brilliant performance of Robert Downey Jr., our Captain America (Chris Evans) at first shows us what a tough, “by the book” type of soldier he is. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) shows that he hasn’t fully rid himself of the arrogance that was a primary factor that drove him into exile. Both Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) have become experts in destruction, and yet it is Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) who still retains his humanity compliments of some very important people in his personal life.
Having Paul Bettany finally step in front of the camera as The Vision is such a refreshing breath of fresh air, and he shows us the quality of his acting through his performance of pure innocence in his new role, while the performance given by James Spader may be the only one truly considered controversial. Here Ultron is a creation by Tony Stark, and not by original Ant-Man Hank Pym as shown in comic books. It could be argued that since Ultron is a creation of Stark’s that director Joss Whedon had Spader voice Ultron with a certain mix of Shakespearean flair with a dash of vaudeville, and while some fans may truly hate this movie’s depiction of Ultron, I felt that Spader truly breathed life into Ultron and made him more than just another villain on the big screen. For me, Ultron is the kind of enemy that I will never forget!
As I said before, this movie doesn’t have as high of a rating on the fun factor like The Avengers did, but it clearly excels in many other areas, and there is no question that due to the events of this movie, neither the Earth, nor our heroes, will ever be quite the same again.