Avengers: Age of Ultron, 2015
Written and directed by Joss Whedon
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, Samuel L. Jackson, Paul Bettany, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, James Spader, Thomas Kretschmann, Cobie Smulders, Claudia Kim, Andy Serkis, Don Cheadle, Stellan Skarsgård, Idris Elba, Hayley Atwell and Linda Cardellini
When Tony Stark tries to jumpstart a dormant peacekeeping program, things go awry and it is up to the Avengers to stop the villainous Ultron from enacting his terrible plans.
When Joss Whedon’s The Avengers/ Avengers Assemble burst onto cinema screens three years ago, thrilling audiences and critics alike while also making a huge amount of money, the pressure was on for the King of Geeks to replicate the success with his follow up Avengers: Age of Ultron. Whedon has said that his aim was never to ‘top’ the movie that came before it, but rather continue its storyline within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He called the movie his Empire Strikes Back; the dark night before the dawn. And in many ways he has accomplished this goal, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a tonne of fun to be had along the way.
Picking up after the events of The Avengers (while acknowledging the other solo movies), Avengers: Age of Ultron opens the way the last film ended: with a whopping huge action scene. Literally from the word ‘go’, Avengers: Age of Ultron races into fifth gear with a spectacular set piece of The Avengers storming the base of Baron Strucker (seen at the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier) with the simple mission of stealing back Loki’s staff that caused so much grief the last time this lot got together. However, Tony Stark has other plans for this staff other than just destroy it. Together with Bruce Banner, he uses the staff to create his vision of peace: the artificial intelligence being known as Ultron. But in true ‘Man Playing God’ fashion, Ultron interprets Stark’s wish for peace in a different manner and decides the only way to save humanity is to destroy The Avengers.
As with any sequel, Avengers: Age of Ulton will get many comparisons to the first movie in not just its tone and action, but in its plot devices. We are introduced to the ‘miracle’ twins Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch and discover that she can control and manipulate people’s thoughts to that of her choosing, which is not too dissimilar to Loki’s staff in the previous outing. Similarly the Ultron army is just a re-skin of the Chitari alien race, and the tensions that run high throughout the team never feel fully new. Avengers: Age of Ultron isn’t exactly on auto-pilot, but it does have a strong sense of sequelitis running throughout.
With that said, Avengers: Age of Ultron triumphs in many other areas. Those who saw the trailer and feared this would be another Iron Man & Friends show will be pleased to know that the likes of Stark, Thor and Captain America take a back seat in terms of character development to make way for other roles. In a rather smart play by Whedon, he understands that we’ve just seen solo movies for Iron Man, The God of Thunder and Steve Rogers and therefore are all caught up on the stories, so Avengers: Age of Ultron can give some more time to Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye. The relationship dynamic between Banner and Widow is a huge part of the movie, as is the exploration of her dark past that has been teased in previous Marvel outings. Having been tossed aside in The Avengers, Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye is almost moved front and centre in Avengers: Age of Ultron and is given a huge amount of character development that is another driving force of the film.
That’s not to say there isn’t a large amount of Stark, Thor and Rogers in the flick as the trio get their fair share of screen time. Iron Man has a huge part to play in the story as the creator of Ultron and there are some teases of tension between Ol’ Shellhead and Cap to lead into Captain America: Civil War (though you’ll be surprised there aren’t more). Thor is probably given the least amount to do (outside of fighting) and even his one plot point appears to be cut short for sake of the runtime.
And of course there are the new faces to the line up in the form of Aaron Taylor Johnson’s Quicksilver, Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch and Paul Bettany’s Vision. Taylor-Johnson was the one who had the biggest question mark hanging over his head following his rather poor showing in last year’s Godzilla, but here he’s pretty great. His Eastern-European accent isn’t too much of a deterrent and his sibling relationship with fellow Godzilla co-star Olsen is rather touching (though slightly incestuous). 20th Century Fox and Bryan Singer can boast the character’s first on-screen appearance, but Taylor-Johnson is far superior to the grating and silly-looking Evan Peters in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Olsen is certainly the stronger actor of the two and her showing here as Scarlet Witch is note-perfect. Her accent is on point and her selling of The Witch’s powers is phenomenal. She has several moments in the movie where comic book fans will be on the edge of their seat in fear that we’ll have another Genosha on our hands. Bettany is the longest serving of the three (at least in voice form) and now he can take shape as the powerful android Vision in Avengers: Age of Ultron. It can take some time to get used to seeing the voice of J.A.R.V.I.S in a human form, but Bettany pulls out some superb acting notes to ease the audience into his new role. Joss Whedon is clearly a fan of The Vision as the character as he is given a lot of the movie’s best moments (including one of which could rival ‘puny God’ from the first movie).
Which brings us to James Spader as Ultron. Certainly no first timer in the world of movies, Spader is an incredibly intimating presence even through all the computer generated visuals over his mo-cap performance. His deep voice is perfectly suited for the role of Ultron and his delivery of dialogue is both threatening and soothing at the same time. The robotic tone we first heard in the trailers falls by the wayside as he moves into his full Ultron form, which certainly helps in terms of understanding his point, and Whedon’s design of this iconic character is really fitting for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Sadly though not everything is perfect in the world of Avengers: Age of Ultron, particularly in the titular character. It seems to be a common thread in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that villains are so poorly defined and Ultron is no different. While his intentions and motivations are certainly more clear than the likes of Malekith, Ronin and Whiplash, he still feels underdeveloped. In a movie that has no less than 15 established roles, this is probably to be expected – but that doesn’t help the fact that Ultron never gets the full screentime needed to flesh out his character. And as with the previous movie, Whedon’s style is writing is both a blessing and curse. His sharp wit is perfectly suited to this batch of characters, but his inability to write unique voices means everyone sounds the same. In their solo movies, Iron Man, Cap and Thor all sound like their own beings, but here they are all singing from the same hymn sheet, which is bound to annoy many. Ultron is the one who suffers the most from this, but there is the argument to be made that he shares similar personality traits to his creator, but that doesn’t excuse this terrifying and villainous character from cracking wise at every opportunity.
And yes, every scene has to end with a punchline.
Avengers: Age of Ultron spells the end of Whedon’s role as director in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (for the time being at least) and that does show in this movie. As stated before, the movie isn’t on auto-pilot, but there doesn’t seem to be as much love on show for these characters as there was a few years ago. At the screening which he introduced last night, he looked tired and beaten by the film – even noting that he ‘hates’ it. At the press conference this afternoon, he noted that he was stepping away from the world of Marvel for the time being.
There are a couple of other minor gripes with the film, most notably a couple of story threads that don’t seem to amount to much. As mentioned earlier, Thor has a plot strand that is key to learning Ultron’s motives, as well as laying further groundwork for Avengers: Infinity War – Part 1 and Part 2, but it’s given virtually no time at all and just ends up feeling like the character took a special bath with lightning while Stellan Skarsgård watches. Moments like this feel like there was more to be established and discussed, but had to be pushed aside to make way for the epic finale.
And what a finale it is. Taking a page from Michael Bay’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon playbook, Avengers: Age of Ultron‘s final act seemingly lasts around a week and is often in fear of dragging, but unlike Bay’s CGI headache Whedon cleverly layers his finale so that it never feels boring. It’s the complete opposite to the one seen in The Avengers as it’s designed to keep adding new threats, problems and thrills rather than just act as a spectacle. If this was a comic book, it would be a six-issue series. It’s never dull, you always know what is happening and it has a clear message that it drives home nicely: these characters are heroes who are here to protect the world and those who inhabit it. In what almost feels like a response to the criticisms against Man of Steel, Avengers: Age of Ultron goes out of its way to show our heroes protecting civilians.
At the end of the day, any complaints aimed against Avengers: Age of Ultron are minor due to the fact the film is so awesomely fun. Every single action beat in the movie is breathtaking and will have all the hairs on the back of your neck standing to attention – the fight between Hulk and Iron Man is particularly exhilarating. Avengers: Age of Ultron is everything you could ask from a comic book movie and so much more. It’s action packed, it’s humorous and incredibly fun. This is why we have summer blockbuster movies, and few will come even close to Avengers: Age of Ultron this year. Brilliant from start to end, Avengers: Age of Ultron is absolutely awesome.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth and the host of the Flickering Myth Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeWritesStuff.
Listen to the Flickering Myth Podcast review using the player below: