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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: The Avengers: Age of Ultron

December 28th, 2015

The Avengers: Age of Ultron - Buy from Amazon: DVD, Blu-ray Combo Pack, or 3D Combo Pack
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The Avengers: Age of Ultron

It's been a few weeks since I did a review. I stopped taking screeners knowing how busy Star Wars: The Force Awakens would keep me, but I figured I should get back in the game. However, there was a question of what late review would be worth checking out? Well, there have been five $1 billion movies to come out this year and I've previously reviewed all of the ones that hit the home market. All of them, but one: The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Of the five $1 billion movies, this one is arguably the one that had the most disappointing run at the box office. Yes, a film that made $1.40 billion worldwide was seen as a box office disappointment by some. This is mostly because its predecessor, The Avengers, broke box office records. The film also earned much weaker reviews than the first movie, but still earned 75% positive reviews, which is very good for a wide release. Is it a real disappointment? Or does it hold up compared to the competition?

The Movie

The Avengers: Age of Ultron takes place after the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Spoilers for that movie... S.H.I.E.L.D. was founded after World War II as a way to protect against major worldwide threats. They used some of Hydra's technology as their base... and also some of Hydra's men. (This parallel's the real world when America recruited Nazi scientists to help them win the space race over the Soviet Union.) Turns out, this was a mistake and Hydra managed to infiltrate all of S.H.I.E.L.D. taking it over from the inside. Thanks to some help from Phil Coulson and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show, the real S.H.I.E.L.D. was able to rebuild.

At the beginning of the movie, The Avengers are attacking Baron von Strucker's headquarters, which they think is the last Hydra stronghold. They believe this is where Hydra was keeping Loki's scepter and capturing this scepter and returning it to Asgard has been their primary goal since the first Avengers movie. The Avengers win the day, even with Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch helping Hydra. However, Scarlet Witch does get to Tony Stark and gives him a vision, a vision of a world where The Avengers lost because he didn't do enough to protect them.

Once back at Avengers HQ, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner get to work examining the scepter and learn that the gem holds something very powerful. It's an artificial intelligence, one that is far more advanced than J.A.R.V.I.S.. It is so advanced that if they can figure out how this thing works, then they will be able to create the Ultron program, which is supposed to be an automated defense system that will bring peace in our time, as Tony puts it. They have three days to figure out how this intelligence works before Thor returns the scepter to Asgard. On the last day, the two of them go to the party to celebrate the capture and return of the scepter, leaving Jarvis to try one last time to figure it out. Unfortunately, while Jarvis isn't able to interface with this artificial intelligence, the AI is able to interface with Jarvis. After scanning the Avengers' computers, the AI takes the name Ultron. Ultron then decides the best way to bring "peace in our time" is to kill the Avengers, starting with Jarvis.

Ultron makes his presence known by attacking the Avengers with some of Tony Stark's automated suits. He isn't able to kill any of them, but he does get back Loki's scepter. Meanwhile, he escapes through the Internet and reactivates Strucker's headquarters and begins building himself an army of robots. He also recruits Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch and we learn why they volunteered for Strucker's experiments and why they too want the Avengers to die. They will get their chance shortly.

Despite trying to cover his tracks, the Avengers track Ultron down to an arms dealer, Ulysses Klaue. Ultron is buying vibranium, the same metal that Captain America's shield is made out of. If Ultron can make a body out of vibranium, he could become nearly unstoppable. Fortunately, the Avengers show up in time to stop the sale. Unfortunately, Scarlet Witch is able to get to Bruce Banner resulting in a rampaging Hulk.

That's a relatively good place to stop the plot synopsis, lest we run into spoilers. The amazing thing is, I had to skip details to avoid spoilers for movies that haven't come out yet. That brings us to arguably the biggest complaint people had about this movie. There are far too many plot threads for other films set up in this movie. Not only does the film set up the first part of Infinity War, but also Thor: Ragnarok, and to a lesser extent Captain America: Civil War and Black Panther. This does mean a lot of the runtime is spent on plots that don't pay off during this movie, but I think that will help the film's legacy. As Phase Three of the MCU continues, this film will be seen as an essential part of that overall story, unlike three of the four other $1 billion hits we've seen this season, which I would describe as disposable.

Most of the compliments to the movie are spot on. This film has some of the best action scenes I've seen all year. From the very opening scenes, the action is handled spectacularly and the fights are cinematic in the best sense. There's also a sense of urgency with the action; there are real stakes here, unlike Furious 7, where you could have stripped the plot out of that movie and it would have worked better. It helps that we've gotten to know these characters over ten films during the past seven years and they are well-developed characters that you care about, if they get hit during battle. Meanwhile there's enough humor to enhance the drama. I've mentioned this before, but humor is like the salt of filmmaking. A little bit of salt helps enhance the other flavors. A little bit of humor in a movie helps enhance the action, drama, and / or horror. I'm not surprised this is the case, as Joss Whedon is a master at using humor this way.

I've seen all five $1 billion movies that came out this year. In my opinion, The Avengers: Age of Ultron and Star Wars: The Force Awakens are relatively close in terms of quality. They both made me want to watch the next installment of their respective franchises.

The Extras

The extras on the Blu-ray start with an audio commentary track with Joss Whedon. There are three featurettes, starting with a 21-minute making of featurette. The Infinite Six is a 7-minute featurette on the Infinity Stones on how that story has been told throughout the franchise. Global Adventure spends three minutes looking at the global scope of the movie. There are 12 minutes of Deleted and Extended Scenes, with optional audio commentary. The Thor / Selvig scene should have been left in, as they helped explain more of the plot. Finally, there are a little under four minutes of outtakes.

The 3D for this film isn't the best I've seen. While post-production conversion has certainly improved over the past few years, natively shot 3D films still look better. That said, this is one of the best post-production conversions I've seen. Both the depth and the extension of the image is great. There are a few really fun money shots, while I didn't notice any glaring errors. Then again, I was really drawn into the movie and I've noticed flaws are easier to spot when the plot doesn't hold my attention.

The 3D Blu-ray costs only $25, compared to $23 for the Blu-ray and $19 for the DVD. That's a great deal.

The Verdict

The Avengers: Age of Ultron is a blast. It has tons of action, but it never feels like the action takes precedence over the plot. The characters are all well-developed and the actors shine. The plot has a lot of threads to deal with and I can't wait to see how they pay off during Phase Three of the MCU. Furthermore, there are enough extras on the 3D Combo Pack and the price is right, so it is easily worth picking up.

Filed under: Video Review, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Marvel Cinematic Universe, Paul Bettany, Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Clark Gregg, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Thomas Kretschmann, Mark Ruffalo, Andy Serkis, James Spader, Joss Whedon, Elizabeth Olsen, Stellen Skarsgard, Aaron Taylor-Johnson