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Avengers: Age of Ultron Blu-ray Review

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) movie poster Avengers: Age of Ultron

Theatrical Release: May 1, 2015 / Running Time: 141 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Joss Whedon / Writers: Joss Whedon (screenplay); Stan Lee, Jack Kirby (Marvel comics)

Cast: Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark/Iron Man), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/Hulk), Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow), Jeremy Renner (Clint Barton/Hawkeye), James Spader (voice of Ultron), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Don Cheadle (James Rhodes/War Machine), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver), Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch), Paul Bettany (Vision, voice of Jarvis), Cobie Smulders (Maria Hill), Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson/The Falcon), Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter), Idris Elba (Heimdall), Linda Cardellini (Laura Barton), Stellan Skarsgεrd (Erik Selvig), Claudia Kim (Dr. Helen Cho), Thomas Kretschmann (Strucker), Andy Serkis (Ulysses Klaue), Julie Delpy (Madame B), Stan Lee (Stan Lee), Kerry Condon (voice of Friday), Josh Brolin (Thanos - uncredited)

Buy Avengers: Age of Ultron from Amazon.com: Blu-ray • Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + Digital HD • DVD • Instant Video

Three years after giving us the third (now fourth) highest-grossing film of all time, Marvel's superhero dream team reassembles in Avengers: Age of Ultron. If you've already forgotten what happened in that 2012 blockbuster,
which has been followed by sequels to three Avengers' individual film series, there is no need to brush up on the alien invasion on New York City. What's done is done and this squad of six has new fish to fry, none of which have much to do with anything previously teased or explored in the so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The follow-up opens with Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) back in action, working together. The specifics of the opening set piece are of minimal importance. All you must know is that it would take an extraordinary force to challenge the technology, weapons, and powers of this fierce, sexy sextet.

Though they reclaim a potent scepter wielded by Loki (who is sadly a no-show this time around), the gang is tested by the Maximoffs, Eastern European twins who have been enhanced by genetic experiments. He, Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), displays super speed, while she, Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), can infiltrate and manipulate minds. The orphaned siblings are formidable foes, but they are not the film's main antagonists. That duty is filled by Ultron, an artificial intelligence program that Iron Man and Hulk's alter egos have been developing in secret, unbeknownst to even their fellow Avengers.

Ultron, designed to bring peace to the world, occupies a robotic body and soon exhibits a mind of his own. He wreaks havoc on Iron Man's trusted virtual manservant J.A.R.V.I.S. and then plots to achieve world peace by mass destruction.

Per Marvel's winning formula, Age of Ultron offers plenty of comedy and plenty of action. As you'd expect, the former element is in abundance during the film's first half, while the latter dominates later acts.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) dabble with artificial intelligence behind their fellow Avengers' backs in "Avengers: Age of Ultron."

Adding to a tradition that can be traced back to the original Spider-Man in 2002, a Marvel production launched Hollywood's summer movie season this year. One assumed that a movie bringing together iconic personalities plenty popular on their own would generate even more excitement and ticket sales. Still, the $623 million domestic and $1.5 billion worldwide grossed by the first Avengers exceeded every expectation and every superhero movie to come before. Since that film is fairly beloved (currently claiming #207 on the all-time IMDb Top 250 list), its sequel was expected to perform even better.

That was not the case. Age of Ultron ended up somewhere between just plain blockbuster and behemoth. Its recently closed $459 million domestic run placed it second among all Marvel films. But it was a distant second, much closer to the highly impressive numbers of Iron Man 3 and Guardians of the Galaxy than the rather improbable ones of its direct predecessor, which was more favorably reviewed. Foreign markets nearly picked up the slack, with Age of Ultron's worldwide haul of $1.4 billion not terribly down from the first Avengers' $1.5 billion. But whereas all the competition paled next to the first movie back in 2012, this summer saw two Universal franchise properties, Furious 7 and Jurassic World, both earn more than Age of Ultron globally. Jurassic was the season's runaway #1 blockbuster, earning a billion outside of North America and generally being received more like the original Avengers than Ultron did.

At any other time and any place other than the wildly successful, Disney-owned comic book factory's studio the word "disappointing" could not be used to describe Ultron's performance. However, the film did cost nearly $300 million to make and who knows how much to market, so the returns while still plenty profitable were not as extravagant as before when costs were lower.

Disney/Marvel has ingenuously turned a number of lucrative franchises into one giant mega-franchise whose grip on entertainment dollars isn't likely to loosen anytime soon. Sure, the present superhero movie boom will someday slow and eventually end. Until then, Marvel is Hollywood's king and their kingdom consists of multiple layers of interconnected event tentpoles. This is far from the end, too, with Captain America and Thor threequels due in 2016 and 2017 in addition to a spate of origin films (this summer's Ant-Man, November 2016's Doctor Strange, February 2018's Black Panther, and March 2019's Captain Marvel). The first weekends in May 2018 and 2019 have already been claimed by the two-part finale of the Avengers saga, subtitled Infinity War. There is also more Guardians of the Galaxy, Sony's Spider-Man re-reboot that will now cross over with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and then there is chief competitor DC Comics' full upcoming slate of ten scheduled movies through 2020, starting with the much-anticipated Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice next March.

Artificial intelligence turns deadly when Ultron (voiced by James Spader) decides not to protect the world but to destroy it.

In light of all this, it seems very likely that fatigue will bring about the end of this superhero movie age. The fatigue of audiences and of the actors, writers, and directors entrusted with adapting these comic book universes for the big screen in all the splendor that big budget cinema currently allows.
Even if, like me, you regard Marvel's endeavors as some of the finest films being made today, you might find yourself getting a little too familiar with the forms and formulas of the studio's efforts. Last year's top-grossing Marvel movie, Guardians of the Galaxy, exceeded the first Avengers for me by unearthing new levels of charm with unconventional, heretofore unknown characters. By comparison, the Avengers aren't as dynamic, even with the sleek costumes, witty banter, and muscular physiques with which they are equipped. Over the last seven years, we've spent between four and five movies with most of these leads and even those that perfectly marry actor and persona, like Downey as de facto leader Tony Stark, appear to be on the verge of tedium.

Fortunately, writer-director Joss Whedon, this time flying entirely solo, brings the material certain instincts he sharpened on years of creating and showrunning television shows. Whether those shows endured ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer") or not ("Firefly"), they all inspired passionate cult followings, who were motivated to keep coming back. Whedon packs at least half a season's storylines into the ample 2½-hour runtime. Two Avengers strike up a romance, despite some misgivings. One Avenger reveals they've had a secret family for years, who they can turn to for shelter when no else can be trusted. Almost all of the gang wrestles with some demons in the form of lingering fears from their past.

On a fundamental level, Age of Ultron is more of the same. Even if its end promises sweeping change in the form of wildly revised line-up, everything up until then is again dividing screentime among these established heroes who accept the role of being the planet's first line of defense. There are cameos made by past supporting players, Stan Lee, and characters of future significance, the last of which comes early into the end credits (so no need to wait until the scroll ends). Those who don't appear (like Gwyneth Paltrow and Natalie Portman's characters) do get mentioned by name.

While it seems premature to claim that the superhero movie boom's days are numbered, given all that is scheduled and anticipated, it also seems short-sighted to scoff at Steven Spielberg's widely distributed remarks likening superheroes to westerns as a popular form that is not impervious to virtual extinction. With all that Marvel and DC have planned through the start of the next decade, there is a real risk that supply begins to exceed demand. The current climate also invites a subversive new direction to take the genre, similar to what Christopher Nolan did with his Batman trilogy (but not just emulating that as Zack Snyder's Man of Steel did). For now, comic book geeks and novices can each enjoy the exciting, expensive heroes and villains entertainment being produced on a regular basis.

Age of Ultron is now available to own on Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD, Disney Movies Anywhere, and Digital HD/SD/3D. We review the standard Blu-ray edition here.

Avengers: Age of Ultron Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
7.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish),
Dolby Digital 2.0 (Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: October 2, 2015
Suggested Retail Price: $32.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Also available on DVD ($29.99 SRP), Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray +
Digital HD
($39.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

It would be shocking to encounter anything less than first-rate picture and sound on a Disney/Marvel Blu-ray. This isn't the release to provide such shock. The 2.40:1 picture is vibrant and sharp, while the 7.1 DTS-HD master audio is designed to give your home theater a full workout with its enveloping and action-packed mix.

Mark Ruffalo looks ridiculous in his motion capture suit, the price one pays for playing The Hulk in 2015. Writer-director Joss Whedon talks from one of the many international locations filmed on this "Global Adventure."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's bonus features begin with a Featurettes section consisting of three items.

"From The Inside Out - Making of Avengers: Age of Ultron" (20:54) is a general survey of production, providing looks at the sets, location shoots, character design, visual effects, and the cast's playful camaraderie. There's probably a feature-length documentary to be made from all these interviews and behind-the-scenes clips, but this episode-length presentation should suffice for most.

"The Infinite Six" (7:28) considers the infinity stones that feature in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and their function, with clips from these linked Phase Two movies.

"Global Adventure" (3:01) is a promotional short talking up the film and its varied locations.

The romance between Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) heats up in this extended scene. Scarlett Johansson shoots a playful wink at the camera in the Avengers 2 gag reel.

Four deleted and extended scenes are provided, running 12 minutes and 4 seconds.
They are all conversations, most significant of them an extension of Hulk and Black Widow's romantic farmhouse exchange and a cave moment shared between Thor and Erik Selvig. The scenes are presented with running timecodes, shooting dates, and optional commentary by Joss Whedon explaining why they were short and ultimately cut or shortened.

Next up is that Marvel film staple: the gag reel (3:37), which finds humor in unexpected places as well as the usual bloopers and cast tomfoolery.

Finally, we get an audio commentary by writer-director Joss Whedon. It's strange to see a film of this scale warrant a solo commentary, but Whedon has the will and passion to pull it off. He details the ways he wanted to depart from the original film, turning Iron Man into a villain, playing with Christian iconography, and having to cheat with stunt doubles and CGI. Acknowledging his often very old film influences and his thoughts when filming different scenes, Whedon is engaging and candid about what sounds like a truly exhausting experience he is relieved to have finished.

The disc opens with trailers for Ant-Man, "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.", and "Agent Carter" Season Two. The menu's Sneak Peeks listing repeats those, between them advertising Playmation: Marvel Studios, Audi via Marvel Cinematic Universe clips and commentary, and Harley-Davidson with behind-the-scenes motorcycle stunt footage. Not exactly "Sneak Peeks" in the traditional sense!

The menu plays clips on three-dimensional cubes that assemble and reassemble just like those Avengers do.

Ordinarily, this is the part of the review where I'd discuss packaging, describing the slipcover and inserts. This being a Marvel release, though, I was simply sent the plain blue disc in a paper and plastic envelope, so your guess is as good as mine. The Collector's Edition Blu-ray 3D (which includes a 2D Blu-ray and digital HD as well) at least sports an embossed slipcover, but the standalone Blu-ray appears to just get a plain unslipcovered keepcase, which is red rather than the standard blue.

Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and the rest of the Avengers return in "Avengers: Age of Ultron."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Avengers: Age of Ultron offers more of the doom and heroics the franchise is known for. After its predecessor's extraordinary success, it wouldn't make sense to drastically depart from a winning formula,
but that approach does leave this sequel feeling less fresh and distinctive, little more than a highly entertaining stepping stone to individual threequels and a two-part finale coming in 2018 and 2019. The film's slightly diminished domestic reception is not yet cause for Marvel to panic, but does invite a little reinvention and risk to at least delay the fatigue that the ongoing superhero movie boom makes inevitable.

Like the film it holds, this Blu-ray meets expectations. The feature presentation is phenomenal. The bonus features cover the bases with a fitting mix of making-of insight, fan-oriented fun, franchise fortification, and flat out promotion. As long as you're still enjoying these movies as much as I am, then there's no reason not to grow your collection to include this.

Buy Avengers: Age of Ultron from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray / Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + Digital HD / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Avengers: Iron Man • Iron Man 3 • Thor • Thor: The Dark World • Captain America: The First Avenger • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Marvel Studios: Guardians of the Galaxy • Ant-Man • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: The Complete First Season
Written by Joss Whedon: The Cabin in the Woods • Toy Story
Aaron Taylor-Johnson & Elizabeth Olsen: Godzilla (2014) | Robert Downey Jr.: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows | Chris Evans: Snowpiercer
Superhero Sequels: X-Men: Days of Future Past • The Dark Knight Rises • Spider-Man 2 • The Amazing Spider-Man 2

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Reviewed October 14, 2015.



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