There was never any doubt it was going to happen. I mean, after Marvel’s The Avengers made approximately all of the money, a sequel was inevitable. The question was, could any sequel ever possible live up to what many were calling “the best superhero movie of all time”?
Well thankfully Marvel studios have avoided the pitfall of simply trying to one-up their previous effort and have instead focused on expanding their ever-growing cinematic universe, pushing into new territories and introducing a stable of new characters in one fell swoop, without that being overwhelming or hurried.
Avengers: Age of Ultron picks up where Captain America: The Winter Soldier left off. Seemingly global secret service S.H.I.E.L.D. has basically been destroyed from the inside by their evil counterpart Hydra so our currently self-managed heroes are now a well-oiled machine, busy cleaning up that mess one evil lair at a time. As an added objective, the Avengers are also trying to recover Loki’s staff from the first film as it contains the Tesseract, alien technology that Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is intending to return to his home-world of Asgard for its safekeeping.
At this point I’ll take a moment to pay my respects to the awesomeness which is this visual:
With the coveted staff swiftly recovered, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) takes it upon himself to study the alien technology, quickly finding the design of said technology is much like what we call a computer only much more powerful than anything we’re used to. With the help of The Hulk’s more amiable form, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) this technology is applied to Tony’s pre-existing Ultron project – the idea is a fleet of peacekeeping Iron Man-esque suits piloted by artificial intelligence.
As you can imagine things don’t quite go to plan and the robotic super-villain Ultron is born, and immediately decides the best way to keep peace is to eradicate any being capable of disturbing said peace. Namely, all beings. Hijinks ensue.
True to form, writer and director Joss Whedon turns in a script chock-full of zingers and witty banter, without sacrificing any emotional investment or the serious tone required for elsewhere in the film. Unlike his first Avengers film though long-time fans of Whedon will notice a lot more of the directors own style shining through the typical Marvel Studios style guide and this is definitely to the film’s benefit. Far be it from me to say a bad word about 2012′s The Avengers but at its core it was a fairly typical action blockbuster, and while Age Of Ultron may not be bucking too many trends, Whedon does flex his directorial muscle with some interesting choices, going as far to include dream-like sequences in the midst of the big action sequences. This kind of directorial freedom being given by Marvel is exciting on its own, the fact that Whedon pulls it off with flying colours is just icing on the cake.
The returning cast. each charismatic in their own rights, by this point have developed such chemistry that I’d have been just as happy to watch two hours of this:
but that doesn’t mean what we got wasn’t just as much fun. As the titular robotic villain, James Spader is an entirely different kind of artificial intelligence to the cold, unfeeling Skynet type we normally get. His personality based largely on Tony Stark’s own, having been birthed from Stark’s systems, makes for a witty and sarcastic adversary, but when coupled with the conscience-less nature of a machine, these character traits become far less charming and far more sinister.
Ultron isn’t the only bad-guy though. This time round the big bad has some help, in the form of the Maximoff twins, Wanda and Pietro (Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson respectively). Though traditionally mutants, in this adaptation the characters gain unique powers as a result of Hydra experimenting on them. Comic loyalists may be disappointed with the simplifying of Wanda’s powers (for the better if you ask me) but this is more than made up for by Pietro being pretty much exactly what Quicksilver should be, as opposed to what we got in the most recent X-Men film.
Paul Bettany finally gets to lend more than just his voice to this time round, being upgraded from Tony’s computer/butler Jarvis to classic Avengers team-member The Vision, but Marvel have gone to great lengths to keep that character out of most marketing materials so I’ll leave him without further mention. Suffice to say, he is a very intriguing character and I do hope we get to see more of him.
Now up until this point this review reads as if Avengers: Age Of Ultron is a home-run, but to be fair it is actually far from that. It’s absolutely great fun, no doubt about that, but it doesn’t come with quite as much wow-factor as its predecessor. In fairness, The Avengers had the added bonus of being the pay-off for a plan set in motion right in front of its audience with the very first Iron Man, as well as being the first time we’d seen all these characters together on-screen. But even taking htat into consideration, some of the action sequences in this felt rather inconsequential, and knowing that Iron Man, Captain America and Black Widow at least are all due to appear in the upcoming Captain America: Civil War meant that there weren’t many times when you genuinely felt as if these characters were in any real danger. In fact, I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I expected there to be a lot more consequences for The Avengers come the end of this film. Make of that what you will.
Nevertheless, this moves The Avengers franchise and their individual parties in some new directions, and brings in a new generation to boost the roster. I just wish this film had felt less like a stepping stone for following films and more like a complete standalone product. That said, it has set us up beautifully for the upcoming Civil War, so excuse me while I go get right up on board the next hype train.
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON is in cinemas now.