Blu-Ray Review: Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron

This review covers the 2D Blu-ray version.

THE SET-UP
The Avengers reassemble when one of Tony Stark’s inventions goes rogue and threatens to eliminate all human life on Earth. Stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, and Samuel L. Jackson.
Directed by Joss Whedon

THE DELIVERY
Going into Avengers: Age of Ultron, my expectations weren’t very high. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the first Avengers, because I did, but I was afraid director Joss Whedon would choose to make the sequel a special effects spectacle that was short on the storylines and characterizations that make the comic book characters so interesting. That was one of the few shortcomings of The Avengers. Even though it was an enjoyable film with some great performances, once you take away a pretty interesting villain in Loki, the plot gets pretty thin, and relies on the CGI mayhem of superhero action.


Thankfully, Age of Ultron finds a nice balance of action and story. Sure, there is more than a fair share of CGI-heavy action scenes, but like so many blockbusters we see today, even the most intense action scenes can feel generic if there is no heart behind it. For this second cinematic outing, the Avengers get more character development, as we learn more backstory of many of the characters. Most of that comes courtesy of Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), who uses her powers to make the Avengers face their greatest fears.

With no Loki to battle this time around, James Spader steps into the villain role as Ultron. He makes for a great baddie, giving Ultron a totally unique spin. Some may not care for his one-liners and quips, but it is logical for a character that’s an advanced A.I. and wants to be human. Spader gives Ultron a menacing, unpredictable quality that makes him a formidable opponent for the Avengers, and the addition of Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) make for great lackeys.       

With so many characters vying for screen time, the narrative can sometimes lose focus to deal with their particular subplot. The second act, which partly involves the Avengers going into hiding to regroup after their encounter with Ultron, slows down for much of this character development, mostly involving flashbacks and “dream” sequences. While some is effective (Jeremy Renner’s subplot is unexpected but well done), much of it was unnecessary and felt like an excuse for more cameos, although it was nice to see Idris Elba and Hayley Atwell.

The best character development in the film comes in its most understated scene; when Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) makes a personal revelation to Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), it accomplished more in 30 seconds than in five minutes of flashbacks at her killer spy/ballet school. Sometimes less is more, a rule the movie doesn’t always follow: while that particular interaction between Ruffalo and Johansson works well, the romantic subplot of their characters feels badly forced.

Shortcomings and leaps in plot logic aside, Age of Ultron manages to be immensely entertaining with incredible visuals. Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. turn up the star power, while Johansson and Renner provide the emotional center. While the film does set up various additional Marvel movie adventures, Age of Ultron doesn’t feel like an extended, expensive trailer for a future film like some superhero movies do. It’s one of Marvel’s best movie outings yet. Age of Ultron may not surpass the original Avengers, but it does what so many film franchise entries fail to do: stand on its own as a winning, worthy sequel.

VIDEO AND AUDIO
There’s really no point in seeing Age of Ultron in anything less than high definition: only then can you truly appreciate the outstanding visuals. Yes, a few of the special effects are uneven, and in at least a couple of instances, look largely unfinished. Whedon himself mentions in the audio commentary that at least four effects houses worked on the film, so some inconsistencies would seem to come with the territory. Still, practical and digital elements mesh well, and the video transfer provides fantastic rendering and detail. This is a great looking disc.

The audio is a crisp and bold 7.1 DTS-HDMA that balances dialogue and booming sound effects well. I often find some soundtracks revel in extremes either too soft to appreciate or too overpowering to enjoy. Age of Ultron provided a solid audio experience that makes the most of the best home theater sound systems.

SPECIAL FEATURES
Although the disc’s extras are not overwhelming, the expected entries are there, and done very well: the making of documentary, the deleted scenes, the gag reel, and the audio commentary. There are some additional features that are geared more for Marvel fans, but overall, a solid lineup of special features is provided. They include:

*“From the Inside Out - Making of Avengers: Age of Ultron” featurette. This 21 minute featurette is a nice look at the making of film, with a focus on the filming of the major on-location set pieces. The creation of Vision, and the mix of Paul Bettany’s performance with CGI, is pretty interesting.

*“The Infinite Six” featurette. This seven minute featurette highlights the Infinity Stones (which will, of course, be a big part of the Infinity War), and covers their appearances in each of the Marvel movies so far.

*“Global Adventure” featurette. This is a quick look at the various shooting locations for Age of Ultron, including London, South Korea, South Africa, and Italy. Running time: Three minutes.

*Deleted and Extended Scenes. Scenes include “The Man in the Church,” “Watch Your Six,” “Bruce and Natasha Talk,” and “The Norn Cave.” There isn’t a lot of new or particularly interesting stuff here, with the exception of the “Norn Cave” sequence, which confused a lot of fans in the film. This alternate version makes more sense, but it still would have felt out-of-place, even in an over-the-top Avengers film. Whedon provides an optional audio commentary.

*Gag Reel. This three and a half minute gag and blooper reel is about what you expect. It’s fun, and filled with way too much of Robert Downey Jr.’s larger-than-life personality. I still enjoy watching it over and over, however. Sue me.

*Audio Commentary by Director Joss Whedon. Fans of the celebrated director will love the commentary, which is full of insights and anecdotes. While some commentaries tend to put you to sleep, Whedon’s commentary is particularly entertaining.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Age of Ultron is a winning entry in the Marvel series
There’s really no point in obsessing over the flaws in a comic book movie, but even they do not distract from the fact that Age of Ultron is a hugely entertaining film. It’s almost impossible to meet all the expectations from fans these days, but Age of Ultron rarely disappoints.

BLU-RAY SPECS
Release Date: October 2, 2015
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 141 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Audio: English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish
Subtitles: English for the Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Special Features: “From the Inside Out - The Making of Avengers Age of Ultron” featurette, “The Infinite Six” featurette, “Global Adventure” featurette, Four deleted and extended scenes, Gag reel.
Audio Commentary: By director Joss Whedon
Label: Walt Disney Home Entertainment

Click here to order Avengers: Age of Ultron on Blu-ray from Amazon!

Victor Medina is a freelance writer based in Dallas. He is the editor of several websites, and his writing credits include The Dallas Morning News, Yahoo News, Cinelinx.com and SportsIllustrated.com. He has served as a Dallas County election judge and on the Board of Directors of The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas. You can follow him on his blog, VictorMedina.com or on Twitter at @mrvictormedina. He can be reached by email at vic@victormedina.com.

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