Director: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jnr, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson
UK Release Date: 23rd April 2015
Say what you want about superheroes dominating the modern blockbuster, but when a franchise’s newest offering can sell out 2 screens at midnight on a Wednesday, they must be doing something right. Avengers: Age of Ultron, like most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, doesn’t sway far from the established formula that clearly works: combine massive fight sequences, a world-threatening villain and popular comic book characters, using an enormous budget to create an exciting, action thrill ride that entertains audiences all around the world. It’s not cerebral cinema by any means but Age of Ultron ticks all the necessary boxes required of a great popcorn movie, becoming a worthy entry into the series in spite of considerable imperfections.
Age of Ultron picks up where Captain America: The Winter Soldier left off, with the collapse of S.H.I.E.L.D. leaving the Avengers gang to keep the world’s evil at bay. Tony Stark’s attempt to jumpstart an automated peacekeeping force leads to the creation of Ultron, a monstrous composite of twisted metal and diabolical A.I. aiming to cleanse the Earth of its parasitic human infection. As per usual, it is up to the Avengers to thwart this robot nemesis and save mankind from extinction.
Enormous action scenes, the franchise’s bread and butter, will definitely live up to the high expectations of fans. Opening with a Battle of the Bulge inspired winter battle with Hydra, and finishing in typical Marvel style with a climatic final clash, the large-scale set-pieces are relentless and gleefully enjoyable. The only real problem is some weaker than expected CGI work in places (especially apparent in occasional shots of the Hulk), disappointingly uncharacteristic of such a high budget production, although a few dodgy moments spread across over two hours is almost certainly forgivable.
Fleshing out existing characters and introducing new faces to the mix, Age of Ultron is packed with heroes. First off, fans of Hawkeye will be pleased with the increased focus on the “Master Archer of the Avengers”. Like Black Widow, Clint Barton has never received a full introduction movie but now feels less like the awkward bolt-on to the main group. Super-twins Pietro and Wanda Maximoff are the feature stars of the new additions category, with Elizabeth Olsen giving a brilliantly dark and brooding performance as Wanda / Scarlet Witch. Paul Bettany, the voice behind JARVIS, becomes considerably more present in this sequel. He’s stepping into a new role that hasn’t been revealed in the marketing and therefore won’t be further discussed here (except to say that he’s excellent) for fear of spoiling the surprise!
While the plethora of latex-clad heroes on offer are likely to be a comic book aficionado’s dream, the sheer number of them demonstrates one of the franchise’s future challenges. Balancing all of these characters becomes increasingly difficult and Age of Ultron sometimes struggles with exactly this problem, the story seeming as though it’s spread too thin between the sizeable cast and their respective subplots. As a result Ultron himself is noticeably under-utilised, just popping up when necessary but lacking the overarching presence of a fully fledged villain; it’s a great shame as James Spader’s voice work for the demented robot foe is excellent.
Maybe it’s because it lacks the charm of the first Avengers, but Age of Ultron never quite lives up to the dramatic and epic atmosphere that the trailers implied. It does everything you expect a superhero film to do, but it isn’t game changer in the series and feels a little like the Marvel machine is idling while they prepare to rev up again for Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity Wars.
Unfortunately Age of Ultron can’t help being compared to its franchise counterparts, and although it may not be as special as Guardians of the Galaxy or as different as Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Joss Whedon’s final Marvel feature is an undeniably enjoyable experience. It’s not quite as solid as Thor’s hammer but still packs a weighty punch, complete with all of the high adrenaline action and quick quipping dialogue that we’ve come to expect from the MCU. Fans are sure to love it and there’s no doubt that it’ll be sitting at the top of the box office for quite some time.
★ ★ ★ ½
3.5 out of 5 stars
Written by James Excell