It is now three years ago that The Avengers hit international cinemas, breaking Box Office records and sending adoring lifelong Marvel fans and appreciative film goers alike into a frenzy. Since then the Marvel Cinematic Universe has expanded with Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Captain America (Chris Evans) each scoring a new film, and the franchise shot into space with the nostalgic space opera Guardians of the Galaxy. Joss Whedon is back to write and direct Age of Ultron, which will deliver everything fans of the franchise could possibly hope for, while exceeding most of the prior instalments in scope and fun.
While taking a darker route than the comparatively fluffy previous film Age of Ultron – contrary to what the latest trailer suggests – is full of jokes, and none of the fun has been surrendered for the feared Nolan-ification. The camaraderie between the excellent (and ridiculously sexy) ensemble cast has never been better, with the new players used admirably well. The film’s villain, Ultron (voiced impeccably by the distinctive James Spader) is formidable, and the immensely entertaining project achieves next tier visual effects wonder.
With S.H.I.E.L.D now destroyed, it has been left up to The Avengers to eliminate the considerable global threats, and we join them as they attempt to retrieve Loki’s staff from a remote HYDRA base. In need of a hiatus, Tony Stark re-commences a long dormant peacekeeping program called Ultron, which he developed with Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), a self-aware artificial intelligence. But, as is commonly the case when scientists create something in their own image, it turns on them. Ultron, who is overwhelmed with a God Complex, turns on Stark and decides that to keep the peace on Earth he must eradicate the human race. The squad are called to swift action, and Ultron finds his own allies in the powerful twins Pietro/Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen).
In addition to the physical threat posed by Ultron, the members of The Avengers are forced to face their demons on the inside, courtesy of the unharnessed telekinetic powers of Scarlet Witch. They continue to be flawed, possessing secrets and hiding pasts they regret. They experience their darkest fears and find themselves at the mercy of their own internal struggles, and the harmonious unity of the team has never been more vital. While some of them possess incredible abilities they also possess the weaknesses of a vulnerable human – the fear of failure, the inability to control their most volatile urges and so on. This is what makes this film more rewarding than I expected it to be; that personal attention to these characters, and with such a commanding troupe of performers it is pulled off beautifully.
Some of the supporting characters like Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), and Rhodes (Don Cheadle), prominent in some of the individual films, make an appearance and there are some entertaining blink-and-you-miss-it cameos. Whedon, as he craftily achieved in the first film, manages to bring all of the franchise strands, no matter how disparate they may seem, together in this film while continuing to expand the universe without any heavy-handed sequel signposting.
What I especially enjoyed about this film was the dedication to further developing Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), the latter of whom deserves her own film. Barton, whose unusual role in The Avengers line-up is addressed in one of the film’s best jokes, has a surprising life outside of his allegiance to SHIELD, and Whedon gives Renner every chance to express the charisma that was under utilised in The Avengers. Romanoff’s relationship with Banner intensifies here and the pair work beautifully together.
Age of Ultron scoots along, jumping out of the gate with a spectacular action sequence, and rarely letting up the excitement. The lulls between the explosive conflicts feature excellent banter between the characters, and the opportunities for efficient exposition are taken. What is great about the humour in this film is that it is balanced with the thrills of the battle. No one is short-changed either, with Ultron given some terrific lines. Quicksilver, a character that featured in X-Men: Days of Future Past for one cool sequence before being conveniently discarded, is very cleverly utilised here. Despite all of the duelling abilities, the fact that they each remain grounded alongside one another takes extraordinary consideration and finely tuned vision.
Despite all this praise, Age of Ultron isn’t perfect and I think that Ultron’s spawn to evil is very swift and emerges almost from nowhere. His motivations are unclear for some time. Also, as great as the visual effects are and the seamless fashion that all of these characters exist in the frame, the action sequences aren’t particularly well shot. Like most 3D films, the extra dimension isn’t necessary, but it’s pretty spectacular all the same.
Avengers: Age of Ultron is one of the strongest films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date. This is a film that cares about its characters, and they are infectiously likable. Who’s my favourite? I can’t say anymore. It also achieves something quite special in that it capably exists as its own film while equally catering for those clued into the rest of the franchise. It is tense, unpredictable and very funny.
By Andrew Buckle
Director: Joss Whedon
Writer(s): Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo
Runtime: 142 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: April 23, 2015