Avengers: Age of Ultron

Sequels can be a tough nut. Age of Ultron is of course the follow-up to 2012’s The Avengers, but along the way, there were four other Marvel Universe movies that apparently need to be acknowledged here, coupled with the laborious task of tying in TV series and setting up movies yet to come. Throw in too many characters and some extraneous subplots, and the result is a sequel more exhausting than entertaining.

When a vital artifact from The Avengers is finally retrieved, billionaire genius Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) uses it to create his greatest weapon yet: artificial intelligence that can ultimately protect the entire planet. Seemingly endless and utterly pointless “folly of man” debates ensue—Stark has already released the evil genie named Ultron from the bottle—giving this new techno-villain the chance it needs to run rampant. Earth’s mightiest heroes reassemble to pursue Ultron, but their efforts are hindered by a foe with mind-control powers (again? really?) and, frankly, a fair amount of whining in the ranks about leaving Avenging behind for good. Writer/director Joss Whedon is known for colorful characters that interact well, and while he might have stumbled on that front, with Age of Ultron he has at least proven beyond any doubt that he also excels at complex, large-scale cinematic action. So let’s hold onto that.

The 2.4:1 image displays a surprising amount of diffusion, which is not a problem per se, but it does not always yield visual “wow.” Various textures are finely rendered, and the comic-book colors are pleasingly bright, while other distinct palettes conjure specific moods, such as the warmth of a rural homestead at dusk. The movie was captured digitally, but except for a few shots with mild video streaking, it has a convincingly filmic look. Disney was kind enough to send the two-disc Collector’s Edition, which includes a Blu-ray 3D. The movie was converted from 2D, but the ubiquitous CGI elements work wonderfully within the stereoscopic illusion, often looking as though they are truly floating in the air before us. The exquisite levels of focus in turn seem to reveal greater detail in this version, plus a palpable sense of depth even in the more mundane scenes.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack, meanwhile, begs to be turned up above our typical listening levels to be properly appreciated. Where else can we hear the might of Thor’s hammer, a full-on Hulk rampage, the sharp repulsors and thrusters of Iron Man, the whiz of Hawkeye’s arrows, and the clang of Cap’s shield in a single movie? Specific effects are precisely localized at times—a chunk of debris, an alarm bell, a gunshot—and the different channels work in thrilling harmony during the busier, 360-degree action sequences. Even a quick, tense moment of Hulk jumping onto a car with us inside is realistically re-created, although bass lacks real room-shaking power. However, the much-talked-about Hulk-vs.-Hulkbuster battle noticeably benefits from the keen sonic beats in the track.

Whedon adds an often-enjoyable running audio commentary, along with four deleted scenes, a gag reel, and three featurettes, one of which explores the increasingly important Infinity Stones. All of these extras appear on the 2D Blu-ray only. This pack also includes a multi-platform Disney Movies Anywhere Digital HD Copy.

The Age of Ultron has passed. A Civil War lies ahead.

Blu-ray 3D
Studio: Disney, 2015
Asepct Ratio: 2.40:1
Audio Format: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1
Length: 141 mins.
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo