CIT Casting Review: Avengers – Age of Ultron

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers: Age of Ultron is a momentous occasion on multiple levels. It’s the highly anticipated sequel to the 2012 monster hit The Avengers, that already broke its fair share of box office records, and finally, it’s the official kickoff to the summer blockbuster season. That’s right, that magical time of the year when the biggest, action-packed tentpole franchises are released to the masses. Things don’t come more action-packed than Age of Ultron, and the Disney-owned blockbuster has a lot riding on it.

Thankfully, the film succeeds in all the right places, and fans of all-things-Marvel will find plenty to love in this latest installment. In terms of its cast, the Avengers franchise is truly special in that the bulk of its key players aren’t original to the film, but rather, are taken from individual franchises and jammed together in a mash-up of epic superhero proportions. Specifically, the film brings together Chris Hemsworth’s ‘Thor’, Robert Downey Jr’s ‘Iron Man’, Chris Evans’ ‘Captain America’, and Mark Ruffalo’s ‘Hulk’, all of whom had their own standalone films prior to the Avengers. The team is then bolstered by characters ‘Nick Fury’, ‘Black Widow’, ‘Agent Hill’, and ‘Hawkeye’ – played by Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Cobie Smulders, and Jeremy Renner, respectively. Although these latter characters haven’t appeared in their own standalone films, they were all introduced in prior movies leading up to the Avengers, with Smulders’ Agent Hill being the lone exception (her character was introduced in the first Avengers).

Because audiences were already familiar with these characters, the 2012 Avengers readily took advantage of this and was able to dive right into the action and chemistry between each character, rather than having to spend time introducing them. This kind of storytelling was made possible by the meticulous ground work Marvel Studios put down in creating their cinematic universe: something that they’re continuing to do and that is truly one of the most ambitious and awe-inspiring cinematic efforts the industry has ever seen. Age of Ultron takes a page out its predecessor’s book, and once again, picks right up from the events of the first film (as well as the various Marvel movies in between). The team is already assembled at the beginning of the story as they assault a secret Hydra stronghold. Since the film doesn’t have to waste any time explaining how the team was assembled (something that was crucial in the first Avengers), they can dive right into the action as well as expand more on the characters and their relationships with each other.

As previously mentioned, the core cast members are all present and accounted for here. Because of the gaggle of films leading up to Age of Ultron, there aren’t any earth shattering changes with the group dynamics, and everything is as you’d expect. Captain America is ever the moral compass and remains weary when it comes to global policing (a direct result of the events in Captain America: The Winter Soldier); Tony Stark is still charming with a pseudo god complex; Thor is still very much god like; Bruce Banner is still self-conscious about his alter ego; and Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Agent Hill (all former agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) are then stoically glad to be part of the team and the fight. Although these characterizations don’t seem particularly new, this wouldn’t be a Joss Whedon film without good interpersonal relationships. What’s important to note is that Evans’ Steve Rogers starts to butt heads with Downey Jr’s Stark, specifically when it comes to their views on how the world should be protected.

For the comic book savvy out there, this conflict is just the beginning for the duo, and will assuredly come to a head in the film Captain America: Civil War. Johansson’s Natasha and Renner’s Clint then get extra attention in this outing (compared to their more supporting turns in the first Avengers), which is quite fair considering their characters don’t have any standalone films. Standout moments for the duo include Natasha’s romantic feelings for Banner and the revelation of how she became a trained assassin; and Clint’s wife and kids (a fact that no one on the team knew save for Natasha and presumably Agent Hill).

Interestingly, the narrative also manages to make room for other characters from the Marvel cinematic universe, specifically key players from the Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor franchises. From Iron Man, Don Cheadle’s ‘James Rhodes’ aka ‘War Machine’, joins his pal Stark and even lends a helping hand with the team. Stellan Skarsgard’s ‘Erik’ and Idris Elba’s ‘Heimdall’ from Thor also make supporting appearances for the god of thunder; while Hayley Atwell’s ‘Peggy Carter’ and Anthony Mackie’s ‘Sam’ aka ‘The Falcon’ show up from Captain America. Although most of these appearances are brief, it is worthy to note that Mackie and Cheadles’ characters are readily set up to return in future movie installments by the end of Age of Ultron, so you’ll definitely see more action from ‘The Falcon’ and ‘War Machine’ in the near future.

Although the film has no shortage of star power and talent, it wouldn’t be a superhero sequel if they didn’t introduce at least a few new characters. Naturally, most of the new characters are villains (the film already has plenty of heroes) and most notably include ‘Pietro Maximoff’ aka ‘Quicksilver’, ‘Wanda Maximoff’ aka ‘Scarlett Witch,’ and of course, ‘Ultron’. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen play the Maximoff twins respectfully, and are a welcome addition to the bunch. Their characters start off as mysterious villains but eventually turn to the side of good by the film’s end. Although Pietro and Wanda aren’t necessarily dialogue heavy throughout the story, less is definitely more here and the super powered duo readily pop on screen and are definite scene stealers. Pietro and Wanda are also set up as two rebellious youths so their energies play off of the more mature Avengers very well. Taylor-Johnson and Olsen are the perfect casting choices for the roles as both actors are hot up and coming movie stars in their own right. Taylor-Johnson was the breakout lead in the Kick-Ass film franchise while Olsen gained critical attention from the industry in acclaimed indie films like Kill Your Darlings and Very Good Girls. Funny enough, both actors starred in the 2014 blockbuster reboot of Godzilla where they played husband and wife!

Ultron is then voiced by James Spader who really sells his performance as the central antagonist here. Even I, a venerable superhero nerd, thought his performance was going to err on the side of robotic and monotone, but the creators actually let Spader really play with the material and truly showcase his Spader-esque qualities with his voice. On top of having a menacing quality to him, through the magic of Joss Whedon, even Ultron’s dialogue has his fair share of witty banter and snappy dialogue. Two new villains that also join the fray are ‘Strucker’ and ‘Ulysses Klaue’, played by Thomas Kretschmann and Andy Serkis. Ultimately, these baddies are eclipsed by Ultron, but they are important to highlight since their characters are well known in comic book lore. Strucker was a notable Nazi villain from the comics, while Klaue’s villainous origins are keenly tied with the hero ‘Black Panther’ – a movie already in the works by Marvel and will be played by actor Chadwick Boseman. Unfortunately, Strucker doesn’t really survive Age of Ultron, but fans can be sure to see more of Klaue down the line – especially when he’s played by motion cap master Andy Serkis (best known for his performance as ‘Gollum’ in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies).

Last but not least, there are a few new heroes that are introduced here. Claudia Kim plays ‘Dr. Helen Cho’, another iconic character from the comics. Kim is a relatively new up and coming South Korean actress and starred in a few Korean projects, prior to booking a recurring character on Netflix’s Marco Polo, and then landing Age of Ultron. Another new female character that’s introduced here is ‘Laura Barton’, played by Linda Cardellini. The introduction of Laura Barton, Clint Barton’s wife was definitely a bit of a surprise, and it was nice to be able to learn more about Renner’s character and backstory.

Finally, British actor Paul Bettany “joins” the team, playing the humanoid android ‘Vision’. This is Bettany’s live action debut within the Marvel universe because prior to Age of Ultron, he played the voice of ‘Jarvis’ Tony Stark’s Siri-like computer assistant. Bettany has actually been lending his vocal talents since the very first Iron Man in 2008, so it’s great to finally see him in the flesh.

The first Avengers had a special “wow” factor to it since it was the very first of its kind – the first major film comprised of characters from individual franchises, and seeing the likes of Iron Man fight alongside the Hulk and Captain America for the first time was something that fanboys will never forget. Age of Ultron naturally doesn’t have that specific “wow” element (it can really only happen once), but it definitely makes up for it by expanding upon the size and relationships of its star-studded cast, as well as an abundance of mind blowing action scenes and set pieces. Age of Ultron is easily one of the biggest movies of the year (any other feature will be hard pressed to top it in the box office), and while it’s not perfect, it’s a fun ride that’s bolstered by an amazing cast – the likes of which you won’t see in any other franchise…at least not for a really long time.

Extra viewing tips: Age of Ultron breaks from the typical Marvel Studios tradition in that there is NO teaser at the end of the film’s credits. You heard me correctly – no need to stay until the very end of the credits unless you want to appreciate everyone who worked on the film (which you should anyway).

There’s still a mid-credit teaser in place, but once again, nothing at the very end.

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Kyle