Avengers: Age of Ultron hits the ground running, with a digitally enhanced tracking shot of the team – Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) – crashing through a wintry forest. Their destination is a castle stronghold where Baron Von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) is keeping hidden Loki’s sceptre holding the infinity stone, and using it to develop new weapons and conduct biological experiments for HYDRA (a plotline indicated in the final moments of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.) Within five minutes Avengers: Age of Ultron delivers its most crowd-pleasing shot of the six heroes hurtling forward in glorious slo-mo and I felt the frisson of a supressed cheer run through the cinema audience.
The original film was partly devoted to bringing together these disparate superheroes, and much of the fun, drama and humour came from them trying to learn to work together as a unified fighting force. Perhaps inevitably, Age of Ultron suffers in comparison because writer/director Joss Whedon has already outlined the tensions and conflict of egos that occur when these larger-than-life heroes are forced to work as a team.
With Whedon again at the helm as writer-director, Age of Ultron still delivers stunning effects and an impressive spectacle but it comes up short when faced with the task of creating genuine excitement and surprise regarding this second adventure. In general, the characters don’t show any new sides to their personalities and merely reinforce their predominant features. Evans maintains Captain America’s wholesome decency, Hemsworth again endows Thor with a regal, old-school naiveté and Downey remains ever the wise-cracking egotist as Tony Stark. Stark feels guilty regarding the lucrative weapons company his family created, Captain America continues to struggle with being a man out of his time, the Hulk agonizes over his lack of control, while Black Widow tries to escape the ghosts of her past.
A little flirty chemistry is allowed to develop between Ruffalo and Johansson, who show the dawning of romantic attraction between Banner and Romanoff. Somewhat overlooked in the last movie, Whedon expands Hawkeye’s character. Renner makes his Hawkeye joke that he can’t compete with his larger-than-life colleagues – he’s a mere mortal brandishing a bow and arrow. Hawkeye is allowed to emerge as more of a personality in this movie, developing his backstory and demonstrating his place and importance in the Avengers crew.
Whereas the first Avengers felt like a reimagining of the paradigm for superhero movies, Age of Ultron has the whiff of Deja Vu. Though visually arresting, Whedon sets the stage for a variation on a similar theme, by initiating a “peacekeeping” program named Ultron that transforms into a megamaniacal form of artificial intelligence intent on killing the Avengers – for starters.
But let’s talk about Ultron – voiced by James Spader, who growls every line with evil seductiveness and icy calculation – I could listen to Ultron trash talk all day. He has been designed in Stark’s image and is the mirror of his hubris and arrogance. His plans are empowered by twin villains Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, aka Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen) who provide a welcome distraction from the superheroes we have already grown to know too well. (Although Evan Peters’s quirky Quicksilver is so much more imaginatively used in the X-Men movie). The supernaturally empowered duo trick Stark into appropriating Loki’s sceptre, which is the catalyst for endowing Ultron with his rapidly evolving independent intelligence.
Unfortunately, the plot descends into a familiar finale – the Avengers battling another multitudinous enemy horde. The showdowns in South Korea and the fictional East European and East African republics, however, make a change from San Francisco, Los Angeles, London or New York. Ultron’s murderous tendencies also allow some rarely seen action devoted to actually saving civilians rather than the wholesale destruction of a large city.
The birth of ‘The Vision’ that is Paul Bettany actually allows for some moments of respite and grace amidst the carnage and chaos. Other characters, such as Samuel L. Jackson’s one-eyed S.H.I.E.L.D chief Nick Fury, or Don Cheadle’s Iron Man sidekick War Machine, surface in bit parts to remind us that this movie is interlinked with other Marvel creations.
Since Avengers: Age of Ultron is another film by comic-book veteran Whedon, the structure somehow holds together and contains the requisite pop-culture references and humour, as well as a pinch of Frankenstein and apocalyptic-Blakean-vision thrown into an entertaining enough mix. But, as Ultron declares as he contemplates a new age, “How does humanity save itself if it doesn’t evolve?” – after this second installment of the Avengers franchise, it’s not too hard to relate to his sentiment.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), directed by Joss Whedon.
Written by Joss Whedon.
Based on the Marvel comic book series The Avengers by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth and Scarlett Johansson.
Avengers: Age of Ultron is the eleventh installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Tagline: “A new age begins.”
Released: 21 April 2015 (UK) / 1 May 2015 (USA)
Certificate: 12A (UK) / PG-13 (USA)
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