For a film with so much baggage it could clog up a whole fleet of invisible S.H.I.E.L.D jets, this latest instalment in the unstoppable Marvel juggernaut somehow manages to avoid collapsing under the weight of its own cinematic universe.
Guided by any hand other than that of Joss Whedon, Avengers: Age Of Ultron could so easily have turned into another Spider-Man 3 (2007) – overloaded to the point of bewilderment.
Despite having enough characters to fill a whole season of Game Of Thrones and a plot that, when boiled down, follows a very similar thread to its 2012 predecessor (supervillain exposes the underlying tension between our team of superheroes before they assemble stronger-than-ever for the good of humanity), Whedon just about keeps the plates spinning.
Ignoring Jeff Goldblum’s immortal warning from Jurassic World that man shouldn’t be “so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should”, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), with the help of Dr Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) creates artificial intelligence to give life to his Ultron project, a global defence force of Iron Men to help thwart threats both terrestrial and extraterrestrial.
No sooner does Ultron (James Spader) spark up then he unleashes a diabolical plan to wipe out the Avengers; a scheme bolstered by the assistance of the super-fast Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and the mind-bending Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen); mutants whose grudge against Stark seems well founded.
With the odds stacked against them, the Avengers – Iron Man, Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Hulk – must come together as never before in order to stop Ultron.
In some ways, Age Of Ultron is actually superior to its monstrously successful forebear. The time given to each character is more democratic, in particular Hawkeye, who virtually becomes the beating heart of the team.
We also finally get to see Hulk properly lose it in an epic bust up with Iron Man, while the film’s final extended set piece endeavours to keep the action grounded (a bad pun for anyone who’s seen the movie, sorry) while all hell is being unleashed and – unlike some other superhero flicks – actively gives a damn about the poor civilians caught up in the ensuing chaos.
It is at its strongest when it takes the time to let the characters breathe and interact with other, most amusingly at a party at Avengers HQ (formerly Stark Tower) in which the team kick back and chew the fat alongside some of the franchise’s periphery characters, including Don Cheadle’s War Machine and Anthony Mackie’s Falcon. A scene in which Thor challenges his comrades to pick up his hammer is lovely and mirror’s the film’s best exchange late on between the crown prince of Asgard and a character whose origin I won’t spoil.
In spite of Spader’s cooly malevolent delivery, Ultron fails to leap off the screen as effectively as Loki managed to in Avengers Assemble. However good the visual effect, a human villain will almost always engage more with the audience and if that bad guy is a maniacally grinning Tom Hiddleston then so much the better.
Whedon has now taken a step back from Avengers duties and it’s not too difficult to see why. In a recent interview he said: “There’s basically 11 main characters in this movie, which is quite frankly too much.” When your writer/director acknowledges there’s simply too much stuff to crowbar into one movie you have to start wondering if he maybe has a point. That he’s kept this stew from boiling over is, frankly, remarkable.
The torch has now passed from a seemingly relieved Whedon to Captain America: The Winter Soldier‘s Anthony and Joe Russo who, before helming the two-part Infinity War will first serve up Cap’s next solo outing Civil War – it’s safe to say there’s a lot of war coming up.
Avengers: Age Of Ultron may not be the game changer its predecessor was, but Whedon has closed this particular chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe about as well as he could. Now what’s next?
Nice review, thoroughly enjoyed AoU and as you point out there’s more character depth in this one (glad Hawkeye got more focus). You can read my thoughts here: https://geekbloggeruk.wordpress.com/2015/04/25/film-review-avengers-of-ultron-spoiler-free/
Hi Chris. Thanks for the feedback; I’ll make sure to check out your review.
Great review. I haven’t seen this one yet (have to admit I’ve never been much of a Marvel fan) but it’s nice to hear Hawkeye gets a bigger piece of the pie here.
Cheers! I’ve always been more of a Batman guy, but I have to give credit to Marvel for what its done.
I thought it was very mediocre, the scene where they pick up the hammer was indeed lovely, but so much for the fun scenes. The worst thing was the atrocious writing of Black Widow/Hulk romance.
Completely agree. Black Widow’s such a great character, but to throw her into a romance plot out of nowhere was really awful. At least Hawkeye got some more to do, but I had a ton of problems with the characters in this movie.
It does kinda go against what her character has been built around doesn’t it?
Yes, I couldn’t quite get my head around why they went in that direction with Banner/Black Widow. The only reason I can think of is to ensure Banner stays out of the picture for the time being. If that’s the case it’s a bit lame.
Great piece! Watching this later today. Hope I like it!
Hope you do too!
Can’t. Wait. Killer review, Mark!
Ah, thanks Vic. Hope you enjoy it mate; look forward to your review.
Great review! I agree It was miraculous that Whedon managed to keep everything in order, and I also loved the hammer scene!
That hammer scene was pretty much the best thing in the movie. Thanks very much for the feedback buddy.
Great write-up Mark. I’m with you on the Ultron problem (or maybe it should be called the Loki problem). Hiddleston was so good as Loki that it’s going to take something, or someone, special to usurp his villainy. Spader’s voice-work is really good, but I struggled to buy into the machine threat, especially since the whole AI thing played out fairly conventionally.
Thanks mate. I’ve always had an issue with flooding a film with visual effects and this falls into that trap. Goodness knows what Infinity War is going to look like!
Ha, I know! Maybe Part 1 will just be the gang travelling through forests and camping out in tents as they search for infinity stones.
Ha ha! You never know!
I thought it was ok but not something I’ll remember even a week later or one I’m eager to watch again anytime soon. The worst part is the tacked-on romance between Hulk and Black Widow, whatever the heck was THAT?? Sooo cringe-worthy.
Hey Ruth, sorry for the late reply. Yeah, Whedon dropped the ball with that Black Widow/Banner/Hulk romance. Bizarre.
It was just okay in my book. I regret giving it as high a score as I did to be honest.
Wonderful overview of a simply overwhelming film, though Mark!!
Sorry for the late reply old sport! Thank you as always for those kind words. Just okay sums it up.