Where the first Avengers film was a celebration of the long-awaited banding of superhero brothers, Avengers: Age of Ultron is about the escalating consequences and ramifications of such a grouping. Tasked with an impossible mission to appease fan’s lofty expectations, writer/director Joss Whedon has thrown every part of his being into providing audiences with the next epic, entertaining and thrilling chapter of the Marvel cinematic universe. And for the most part, he delivers.
In a refreshing move, the sequel is set almost entirely outside of the United States, making these Avengers true global custodians. It’s a masterful stroke from Whedon, who utilises Korea, Northern Italy, England and South Africa to give the film the global perspective it needed. The cosmic events in New York thunderously announced this super-powered team to the rest of the world and now they are charged to protect the earth by any means necessary.
Enter Ultron. Artificial intelligence made real by a well-meaning Tony Stark, as a proactive defensive measure to end the fight before it even begins. Suffering from his own dormant God-complex, Tony meddles with creation and births the very thing he feared in the first place. His super-intelligent and rapidly evolving Ultron creature now seeks to destroy the Avengers from the inside out. Stark’s misguided actions ripple loudly through his team and the seeds of 2016’s Civil War arc are now properly sown.
Age of Ultron is without question the darkest film in the MCU to date. There are a number of sequences, especially earlier on in the picture, where the all-star cast prove their dramatic range. Every Avenger is forced to confront their inner demons, tormented pasts and deepest fears when Ultron’s sidekick, newcomer Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) hexes them. These nightmarish visions illuminate the burdens of their life’s mission and threaten to crush their mind and soul in the process. It’s also interesting to note that many of these visions appear to propose future storylines and repercussions that are suggested in the comics. Are their destinies set? Have we seen what is to come? Is this all unavoidable?
From an action standout, one must applaud the fact that Marvel have outdone themselves once again. It must be particularly arduous for the studio to continually top their own impressive choreography and action photography, but Age of Ultron delivers endless droves of impressive and grand spectacle that will please the fans to no end. The film begins with another dazzling one-shot around a wintery battlefield and the heart pounding action never seems to let up.
Thankfully, and unlike most blockbuster advertising campaigns these days, the standout fight sequences (and there are many) are not completely ruined by the film’s marketing. In particular, the confrontation between Hulk and Iron Man (in full Hulkbuster attire) is as entertaining and glorious as anything we’ve ever witnessed in a superhero film. I also greatly appreciated, that unlike Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, Whedon’s Avengers are ever mindful and devoted to avoiding civilian casualties and collateral damage. Buildings, skyscrapers, streets and cities are caught in the crossfire, but preserving and protecting human life is of paramount importance.
When the fighting subsides momentarily, the film does attempt to move briskly through the necessary exposition scenes, although there are some minor pace issues during these times. However, it is in these moments that Whedon’s excellent writing skills come to life. Armed with a smorgasbord of hilarious one-liners and quips, Robert Downey Jr. once again relishes the opportunity to spit out Whedon-esque dialogue as Stark/Iron Man. While the rest of the cast benefit greatly from Joss’ witty banter, Downey Jr. is the true beneficiary of the script and the character has never been handled better than when he’s under the auspices of Whedon.
That isn’t to say that his script is without a few minor blemishes. In a move that is both admirable and slightly unnecessary, two characters without their own individual films, Hawkeye and Black Widow are given fairly lengthy amounts of screen time to develop their characters further. In a film that is bursting with so many larger-than-life characters, new members (including establishing Paul Bettany’s Vision) and story arcs, these detours are an indulgence that although welcome, would have benefited from a tighter edit. It’s a delicate balancing act, but these scenes do deviate from the greater plot line that I felt needed stronger justification.
The monstrous creation Ultron, voiced by character-master James Spader, is a dark, exciting albeit confusing villain. The character’s genesis is introduced in spectacular fashion and his Frankensteinian-connection to his creator Tony Stark, makes for complex and compelling storytelling. As the film progressed however, Ultron’s overall plans and motivations become muddled and unclear. In the end, unless I missed it, Ultron sought mass extinction for the planet, a master plan that is all too familiar for this genre. I thought Mr. Whedon may have had more up his sleeve than this. It doesn’t denigrate from everything else on offer, but it is noteworthy all the same.
Overall, this film slots perfectly into the greater and ever expanding universe that Marvel has created. Age of Ultron does an excellent job at escalating the stakes for these characters, as well as setting up for the coming Infinity War saga. The film stands firmly on its own two feet, never feeling like a frustratingly inessential middle chapter, and provides plenty of hints at the greater conflict that is to come.
Perhaps the Mad Titan Thanos does need to do it himself…