‘The Avengers’ in 2012 set a new benchmark for superhero and comic book films. Marvel movies since have tried to live up to those high standards, and opinions vary on their success. Will this much hyped ensemble installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe match the quality of those before?
‘Age of Ultron’ opens big. Really big. Thor is back, helping the rest of the Avengers hunt down Loki’s missing Sceptre, which sets in motion the events of the rest of the film. This opening is key, as it gives fans an idea of what our heroes have been up to off-screen. Relationships have developed, technology has progressed, and adaptations have been made in the wake of the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. And here’s a rather large issue with ‘Age of Ultron’: it’s made for fans: proper fans. If you haven’t seen the rest of the MCU films, you are going to struggle with what happens here. Even those who have will experience a few “WTF?” moments; luckily all is revealed by the closing titles.
Once the team have their hands on the Sceptre, Tony Stark (Robert Downy Jr) gets all mad scientist with his bud Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and experiences a nasty Victor Frankenstein moment: they create a monster in the form of an artificial intelligence program designed to bring “peace on Earth”. This program is Ultron, who quickly sets about trying to exterminate the Avengers and the rest of humanity. Joining him are newcomers, the Enhanced Humans Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson).
Performances are all solid, though it's a shame we only ever hear James Spader (as Ultron) instead of seeing him too. Speaking of seeing, it’s a treat to finally see Paul Bettany join the cast in the flesh, though his considerable talent is wasted a little; explaining why is venturing into spoiler territory, so I’ll let y’all draw your own conclusions there. Many familiar faces make appearances including
Robin Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and James Rhodes (Don Cheadle). Absent are Pepper Potts and Jane Foster, which brings me to one of the little issues of ‘Age of Ultron’: there just aren’t enough female characters. It’s great that the women we do see are strong and capable, but this is still a male-dominated cast, and it would have been better to see more women in leading roles. The only other thing that really bothered me was technical – Robert Downey Jr’s height. One minute he’s close to Chris Evans’ 6’2” and the next he’s back to 5’8”. It bugged me that a film as big as this could have trouble with a detail like that.
The special effects and action are, quite simply, mind-blowing. You have not yet seen better. The action scenes are jam-packed with, well, action. There’s so much going on at any one moment that it’s hard to know where to look, but no detail here has been overlooked. This film is visually spectacular, as it should be, with the 3D enhancing without distracting. The score is as grand as we’ve come to expect from these films, and weaves in many familiar themes.
There’s so much going on at any one moment that it’s hard to know where to look.
The story moves along at a cracking pace, with no wasted time, and with the occasional red herring thrown in to keep a little depth to an otherwise standard comic-book storyline. We get a lot more of Hawkeye’s backstory and for a while I was worried writer/director Joss Whedon would follow an overused "redshirt" trope; I need not have worried – one should always have faith in His Jossiness. Some viewers might find the relationship between Romanov (Scarlet Johansson) and Banner a little contrived, but it’s a small thing. The film also takes a brief look at the ethics of AI, and rather cleverly asks us to consider what defines a monster. This is a running theme through the movie, and is handled quite well.
Another Whedon stamp is heavily evident in the script - this film is funny. Properly laugh-out-loud funny, with some really great one-liners. Whedon hasn’t wasted the cast’s brilliant chemistry either, with dialogue full of sparring, teasing, and some delicate sensitivity, and it’s clear why he’s one of the best in the business.
Overall, ‘Age of Ultron’ is a worthy instalment in the MCU franchise. It’s not as good as one or two of the other movies, but it holds its own, and definitely worth a trip to the cinema with your 3D glasses.
P.S. Don't forget to stay for the post-credits scene: it's a special treat for Marvel fans.