[WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS]
Director: Joss Whedon
Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johannson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Samuel L. Jackson
Release Date: 23rd April, 2015 (UK)
With an eye-widening roster of new characters to introduce and some of the biggest shoes in movie history to fill (yeah, I said it), Avengers: Age of Ultron was always going to have a bit of an uphill struggle in order for it to live up to its own hype. Fortunately, the teasers and trailers (and teasers for trailers) gave us all hope, drip-feeding us choice moments of dialogue and glimpses of actions sequences that promised to deliver the same ensemble superhero awesomeness that made the original Avengers movie such a runaway success. Plus, Joss Whedon was still at the helm, so there’s that.
Firstly, to the good; this is a film that effortlessly manages to capture the same distinctive ‘vibe’ of its predecessor, seamlessly integrating this diverse cast of characters without any of them really feeling like an afterthought. Well… almost. If anything, Thor actually feels a little superfluous to requirements here, occupying Hawkeye’s role from the first movie (a role which is noticeably beefed up this time around). The new characters are integrated smoothly, with the Maximoff twins and Vision each standing out in their own unique ways and providing distinctive characteristics and personality traits to add to the mix. Ultron himself was a little less serious than I was perhaps expecting – a lot more Loki than, say, Thanos – but Spader’s terrific voice acting and the impressive visuals of both he and his drones made him a more than worthy antagonist.
The character development for the original roster was also clearly a focal point here, with the complicated relationship between Banner and Romanoff providing perhaps the most intriguing aspect to the team. Steve and Tony continue to butt heads (I really hope those guys can make up before the next Captain America movie), Hawkeye was actually presented as an actual character this time around, rather than ‘the dude with the bow’, and Thor… well… Thor pulled off some nice stunts with Mjölnir, I guess?
As good as the good bits undoubtedly were however, this still is a film that was just held back from achieving its full potential by a couple of noticeable flaws. Firstly, Joss Whedon’s apparent terror that his film ever be taken ‘too seriously’, and resultant use of a joke, gag or one-liner every few of minutes. Don’t get me wrong, some of the banter here is classic Whedon (the previously released ‘hammer lifting’ scene being a prime example) and really helps to forge the bond between the characters, but it all just becomes a little too much at certain points, especially when it seems like the story could use a little gravitas or some sense of consequence. I think there may have been a period around ten to fifteen-minutes long during the middle portion of the film that was ‘gag free’, and it actually proved to be one of the most interesting, character development-filled and ultimately significant sections of the movie.
My other niggle with the film – something that others, including our very own Greg, have already pointed out – is the fact that it seems very much like a transitional movie with far too much time devoted to setting things up for the future, resulting in an uneven and occasionally bloated narrative. Ulysses Klaw served no real purpose other than to name drop Wakanda, and Thor’s ‘vision’ seemed a little too convenient, quickly becoming exposition for the sake of exposition. Once again, don’t get me wrong, some of the set-up was beautifully integrated into the flow of the movie – Tony and Steve’s growing difference in ideologies paving the way for Civil War, for instance – but I think Whedon at times may been worrying a little too much about leaving material for his successors rather than focusing on telling his own story.
If it sounds like I’m being overly picky, well, I probably am, but only as a result of how much I absolutely loved the first movie – not to mention the crushing weight of fanboy expectation that was thrust upon this one. At the end of the day though, this is still a tremendously enjoyable film, packed with great moments, crackling dialogue and some of the most jaw-dropping action set-pieces Marvel Studios have ever created. The future looks bright with the rebooted Avengers roster, and with Civil War now set to soak up the majority of the fan focus, the springboard that Age of Ultron provides for that particular chapter in the Marvel movie canon makes it a truly mouth-watering prospect.
Overall, while it may not quite crack the rarefied air occupied by the likes of Winter Soldier, Guardians, the original Avengers movie and – most recently – Daredevil, Age of Ultron is still well worth your attention, and should provide casual fans and die-hards alike with more than enough of a ‘fix’ to carry them through to the next phase.