Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron 3D / 2D Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
Marvel Studios unleashes the next global phenomenon in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. Good intentions wreak havoc when Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) unwittingly creates Ultron (James Spader), a terrifying A.I. monster who vows to achieve “world peace” via mass extinction. Now, Iron Man, Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo)—alongside Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) —must reassemble to defeat Ultron and save mankind… if they can! This action-packed adventure is a must-own, mind-blowing blast!
Film (5 out of 5 stars)
In this long awaited follow up to the first Avengers film, the story is continued from where the last film left off, with some other threads from some of Marvel's other Phase 2 films being continued (such as the mention the search for Bucky Barnes). I was a huge fan of the first film (you can read my review here), and I loved this one too. In the first film, we had to see the team get assembled and it wasn't until the end of the movie that they all came together to stop Loki's plans as a team.

In The Age of Ultron, we jump right into a new battle that may be the final one that the Avengers have to fight as they've been cleaning up the mess Loki left behind. When we join the team, they've believe that they've finally tracked down Loki's scepter from the first film and unfortunately it's in the hands of their arch enemies HYDRA in the Eastern European country of Sokovia. Director Joss Whedon gives us what we want right up front, instead of making us wait until the end like before with one glorious long shot that showcases each of the team working together and showing off their lethal capabilities. As an added bonus, we get another of these shots at the end of the film and for me, those two shots are worth the price of admission alone.

Pardon my geekiness as I've digressed. Anyway, the Avengers are in Sokovia to get Loki's scepter back from Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann). The Avengers don't realize that Strucker has been using the scepter for experiments which has resulted in a pair of twins - Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda (Elizabeth Olson) gaining superhuman powers. Pietro is faster than the eye can see and Wanda is able to manipulate minds and channel and throw energy. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) unknowingly encounters Wanda while retrieving the scepter and projects an illusion that makes him believe that he will be the cause of the rest of the Avengers' deaths and bring about the end of the world. Considering that in previous movies Tony already suffered from post traumatic stress disorder and spent his time building various Iron Man suits to be prepared for anything, this new vision is the last thing he needed and it starts off a chain of events that will be continued in Captain America: Civil War and pay off in The Avengers: The Infinity War Part 1 & 2.

For this movie, instead of wanting to just build more suits for his own protection, Tony decides (with the help of Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), to instead try to build protection for the entire world by using Loki's scepter to build the Ultron global defense A.I. program. When Ultron (James Spader) becomes sentient, the first thing he does is attack J.A.R.V.I.S. and the rest of the Avengers as he believes that humanity must be eliminated starting with them. His attack is thwarted by the Avengers and Ultron retreats to Strucker's former stronghold in Sokovia where he builds a robot army and recruits Pietro and Wanda who already have a grudge against Tony Stark as it was his weapons that killed their parents.

Ultron wants to build a new body for himself and he wants the best metal available which is vibranium (which is what Captain America's shield is made of) and it can only be found in Wakanda. The Avengers follow Ultron and the twins there to stop them, but each of the team is ambushed by Wanda who shows each of the Avengers their worst nightmare. Each of the visions leaves the team shaken, but the worst of all is when the Hulk's vision makes him go out of control in Johannesburg. That's bad for the citizens there, but great for audiences as we finally get to see Iron Man's Hulkbuster armor get utilized in a fantastic hand to hand fight between two titans as Tony tries to get the Hulk under control.

Overwhelmed by the visions, each of the Avengers deals with them in different ways. Some like Bruce and Natasha (Scarlett Johannson) want a break from saving the world, others like Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) realize that fighting is all that they will ever know, while Thor (Chris Hemsworth) realizes that there's an even bigger threat on the horizon who is trying to collect the six infinity stones which combined would offer unlimited power. As for Tony and Bruce, their failure with Ultron only makes them more desperate, and they double down by trying to create a new being called The Vision (Paul Bettany), who they hope will be the salvation that they'd been searching for. Seeing how each team member deals with their vision really adds a lot to the characters and it nicely sets up future conflicts that will be resolved in later movies.

Once again, Joss Whedon has knocked it out of the park. Nobody can juggle multiple characters and give them all something interesting to do like he can. And he also really knows these characters which adds quite a bit to the movie as he's the writer and the director of the film. I wonder how much those two roles rub against each other while he's shooting, but I'm willing to bet it's a lot considering how exhausted he is after making these movies. Part of the joy of seeing this cast together is enjoying their obvious chemistry with each other. They all are perfect in their roles and each of them plays an important part. Not to mention, it was great to see some surprises and reoccurring characters return. Whedon even gives minor characters like Helen Cho (Claudia Kim) something cool to do (in her case stopping Ultron and getting shot for it). Simply put, nobody has ever captured the spirit of the comics series that served as their inspiration like Whedon has and there's countless images in the movie that seem to have been lifted directly from one of Marvel's comic panels. It's really a shame that this is Whedon's last film for Marvel, but he sure went out with a bang.
Video 2D (5 out of 5 stars)    3D (5 out of 5 stars)
Both 1080p presentations look excellent and offer razor sharp details thanks to the variety of cameras that were used during filming and the care that Disney took in creating these transfers. Both offer accurate and distinct colors and the black levels are suitably dark and solid. The 3D transfer is also awesome and it was nice to see the extra dimensionality get used right off the bat. Scenes like the final fight between Ultron and the Avengers is where it really shines. Both transfers look incredible and fans will be pleased.
Audio (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)
Avengers: Age of Ultron's DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix is also excellent but it doesn't quite pack the same punch as other blockbusters do. I was expecting a little bit more power from the subwoofer but that's partly because I've been spoiled lately by other blockbusters like Pacific Rim that make your house shake. That's not to say that this mix isn't good because it's very good and what little it may lack in power it makes up for in subtlety and immersion. The rear speakers deliver an incredible surround experience that captures all of the action and atmosphere and accurately weaves it around the viewer. Dialogue is clear and clean and the music by Brian Tyler and Danny Elfman is also well balanced. This is a fantastic mix that comes close to getting a perfect score but just barely misses. 
Extras (3 out of 5 stars)
The one area that I think could have been really improved is the special features for the film. For a blockbuster movie like this, I think there should be a ton of extras included and this set does not do that. I liked what was offered here, but I think there should have been a lot more than this. All of these extras are in high definition.
  • From the Inside Out: Making of Avengers: Age of Ultron - A little over twenty minutes long, this is the best extra concerning the making of the film in the set. We get some behind the scenes looks and interviews with the cast and Whedon.
  • The Infinite Six - If you are unsure of the MacGuffins of the Marvel universe, then you should watch this featurette that focuses on the six stones that Thanos and his agents have been trying to get in all of the Phase 1 and Phase 2 films. This will also tell you the names of the stones and where they appeared in each movie.
  • Global Adventure - This is a three minute look at the various location where the movie was filmed. 
  • Gag Reel - I always enjoy watching gag reels and especially when it involves this cast. It's easy to see just how much fun they have making these movies. 
  • Audio Commentary with Director Joss Whedon - I'm a huge fan of Joss Whedon and I love listening to the man because he's so funny and deprecating. I got to hear him talk at one of the Conversation for a Cause panels during Comic-Con and he's just as quick and funny live as he is on these commentaries. Speaking of that panel, I got to ask Joss a question and I feel bad about it to this day because I really put him on the spot and asked him why he was able to resurrect "Firefly" with the film Serenity when the odds were stacked against him and he couldn't do it now when he's directed these Avengers movies and the stars are even more famous. (It should also be noted that Nathan Fillion was also there). Joss tried to give an honest answer and I immediately felt really bad for putting him in that position, a sentiment that I still have and regret. I still want Firefly to return in some fashion, but I understand that there's only so much he can do. Joss, if you are reading this somehow, please accept my apology! Anyway, Joss is a very engaging presence in this commentary and he talks for the entire length of it. He spends a lot of time graciously praising the actors or his crew and he'd have you believe that the movie's success was all due to them and he played no part in it. Don't believe a word of it!
  • Deleted and Extended Scenes- Four scenes have been included with some of them with extended scenes and others that were completely cut from the film. For my money, I think that all of these should have been kept in the film as they are all good. There's also an optional commentary for each of these by Joss Whedon who tells you why they were cut. Here are the four scenes: "The Men in the Church," "Watch Your Six," "Bruce and Natasha Talk," and "The Norn Cave."
  • Digital Copy of the Film for Disney Movies Anywhere
Summary (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)
The Age of Ultron is a blast to watch as it's a lot of fun and there's a ton of action with some great character moments as well. This Blu-ray offers some fantastic video and audio quality (including a great 3D transfer), but the extras could have been a lot more extensive. This is a super easy set to recommend!

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