Film Review: Avengers Age Of Ultron

Written by Graeme Wood
03.05.15

 

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Joss Whedon set the bar of expectation high with the first Avengers film in 2012 and the sequel employs a similar palette with a satisfying if mixed results. Presented with a number of seemingly impossible boxes to tick, from pleasing fans, children and adults, introducing new characters, joss-whedonprogressing the threads of Marvel’s TV franchise, pointing the way ahead for character’s individual movies and ensuring some decent action figures along the way you’d be surprised if Whedon didn’t drop the ball somewhere along the line. However, Whedon is a writer who is always able to find a lighter moment to punctuate what could otherwise be a po-faced affair and in the midst of skull crushing and building destruction he’ll add a knowing gag or character beat that reminds us these are (mostly) human heroes not without their flaws. If some of the plot doesn’t necessarily pass rigorous inspection, the sheer momentum of the movie ensures it sails through its lengthy running time like a breeze. It’s never boring, always restless with ideas and frequently thrilling. In contrast to almost every other superhero movie it is perfectly paced too.

We open with the Avengers in full effect and for those who have followed the Marvel characters on AgentsOfShield_Marvelboth small and big screen events tie in neatly with the current story from TVs Agents of Shield, though for those who haven’t been watching both this doesn’t take away from a standalone story in this film.

Here we see what is likely to become the film’s renowned signature shot an especially impressive slow-mo tableau of our heroes united and all leaping in to battle the hordes of Hydra soldiers. The team are attempting to recover Loki’s staff from the first film, having been stolen by Hydra following the collapse of SHIELD in the second Captain America film -The Winter Soldier. With the staff back in their possession its revealed properties open up an intriguing possibility for inventor Tony Stark who driven by a sense of failure wants to protect his friends and more importantly the world.

Stark has always seemed less of a team player and though he comes through in the end there is a sense that he is dismissive of others and always far too pleased with himself. As played by Robert Downey Jr, always a captivating screen presence, this has been a hard act to match though this film sees a more even spread. Stark’s pursuit of a laudable-but impossible-goal drives him to set in motion the creation of a new nemesis in the form of Ultron. It may have a moniker suggesting a 70s floor cleaner but this super adaptable artificial intelligence becomes the most dangerous foe the team has faced because, as one character put it, he is everywhere. Not just a series ofUltron_avengers interconnected and constantly evolving robots but living inside the Internet too. Voiced with casual menace and sardonic pleasure by James Spader Ultron’s intent is to realise Stark’s idealistic vision of a totally peaceful world by wiping out everyone and forcing mankind to evolve over. Not exactly what you might expect a super intelligence to come up with but the parallel here is with Stark who has also evolved himself by creating the Iron Man armour. Cleverly, Whedon uses the mind controlling powers of new arrival the Scarlet Witch to shorthand the fears, doubts and inner feelings of our team so we never have to second guess their motivations.

Conceptually Ulton’s plan may be a stretch and his powers do ebb and flow dependent on the demands of the narrative yet Spader’s fruity vocals and an effectively expressive CGI are sufficient to render it convincingly powerful.

Whedon is also aware enough to second guess some of our doubts and address them in the narrative, there is no doubt that Ultron is a suitably big bad foe able to create divisions within the team an aspect that Whedon returns too never allowing the film to get lost amidst the increasingly big set pieces in the second half.
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Chris Evans’ Captain America proves to be the biggest beneficiary of this approach, his no frills moral stance putting him on a collision course with Stark’s ‘the end justifies the means’ ideals. The difference in their characters means their scenes together provide a cornerstone to the film and a signpost to what will unfold in Marvel’s Phase 3 movies.

Also pleasing is that Hawkeye and Black Widow, characters without their own showcase and who tended to become side-kicks in the first film are given much more satisfying and developed arcs this time around. Scarlett Johansson’s scenes with Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner are touching and subtly played even if the Hulk itself is sometimes a sledgehammer too many. While Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton provides an unsuspecting humanity and heart at the centre of the film which grounds our characters and determines their mission.

Among the new arrivals we’re introduced to the Maximoff twins Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, however due to the X-Men and Mutants belonging to Fox studios the twins are introduced here as AgeUltron_Quicksilverenhanced experiments rather than Magneto’s offspring. While their place in the plot is earned as individuals they fail to make much of an impact as interesting characters, particularly as the cast keeps growing. Making worthwhile cameos and even managing to expand their characters in the brief time on-screen are Don Cheadle (War Machine), Samuel L Jackson (Nick Fury), Anthony Mackie (Falcon), Cobie Smulders (Maria Hill), Idris Elba (Heimdal) and Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter) Marvel’s watchword – ‘It’s all connected’ – never ringing truer.

The final character to be introduced is a Paul Bettany as The Vision tipping the balance perhaps a little too much as his powers seem to conveniently mop up any gaps in the skills of the others and providing the key to defeating Ultron. Nonetheless the team rally into battle in the final act and the action is impressive. Whedon’s use of Italy, Bangladesh, Johanesburg and Seoul and locations provide a suitably refreshing and global feel to the proceedings which lifts the action sequences far above the norm.

Though the outcome of the battle is rarely in doubt Whedon ensures that it doesn’t come easily and it’s not without a cost, while the cinematography and direction ensures these scenes continue to hold our attention. By the film’s close we see some intriguing story threads laid for the next sequence of Marvel’s cinematic universe and a new team of Avengers ready to continue the good fight under the leadership of Captain America. However, one must wonder if subsequent Avengers movies helmed by Anthony and Joe Russo can possibly ever match the verve of the first because Whedon has ensured these are the cream of an increasingly overcrowded market.