Without the constraints of a wider-narrative, Joss Whedon lets loose with a largely stand-alone Avengers adventure, that will leave any and all fans of the genre and universe beaming with joy. Earth's mightiest heroes have never been this much fun.
How exactly does one go about making a viable sequel to the third most successful movie of all time? Such a question has very likely been bouncing around inside the perpetually inspired brain of geek-favourite filmmaker Joss Whedon, since the initial success of Marvel Studios’ Avengers Assemble in 2012. But only now, three years and an entire ‘phase’ of blockbuster delights later, can he finally deliver the fabled answer to the multi-billion dollar question. And his reponse? You don’t necessarily go bigger, you simply go deeper.
Finally tying together the many competing strands of the wider Marvel universe and its titular Avengers, Age of Ultron rejoins Earth’s mightiest heroes (for those still lost among all the comic lore, that’s Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Hawkeye and Black Widow) at the height of their success, hunting down the remaining agents of the villainous organisation Hydra in the most classy manner possible. But when tech-geeks Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) attempt to finally find a way to retire from all the constant avenging, their plan backfires and the sensationally sassy cyborg Ultron is born: an omniscient computerised force who quickly becomes hell-bent on the sole motive of worldwide destruction. Alongside a pair of super-powered twins (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen), Ultron wages all-out war on humankind, and obviously its up to the Avengers, both new and old, to save Earth from impending annihilation.
It goes without saying that following what was quite possibly the most significant superhero event of the century is no easy or desirable feat. With plenty of standalone adventures in-between the globe-trotting team-ups, Whedon did have what most would call a safe amount of time to construct his mega-sequel. But even so, any prospective follow-up comes with its expected notions, usually tied to the ideals of ‘bigger is better’. Luckily for Marvel fans and Whedonites alike however, the man in charge had other plans. Whereas Age of Ultron is in no way a step-down from the climactic events of the heroes’ first adventure, it certainly doesn’t pile on any unnecessary action either, opting to spread its focus wider across more characters, and deeper into their personal thoughts and histories, as opposed to simply amplifying the action sequences to a ridiculous degree. It’s this core principle that makes Ultron so effective and ultimately, allows it to be as ludicrously fun as it is.
Without these constraints of having to provide an enticing start-up narrative, or a decisive climax for the wider universe, this second outing gives Whedon plenty of room to flex his creative muscles, allowing him to draft a more self-contained adventure, more concerned with entertainment than world-building. This is not to say that there are no wider-references to the grand Marvel comic lore, but those that are shown off here, are done-so with a lighter and less domineering touch, allowing the more stand-alone central narrative to spread its metaphorical wings. Quite simply, the quips come faster, the jokes ring louder and the action lands slicker (and more gleeful) than ever before, matching a tone that so beautifully parallels itself with the source-material(s) that at times, sequences feel as if they have been lifted almost directly from the comics themselves. Whedon has such an embracive and loving relationship with the Marvel world, and here it is clearer than ever.
Phenomenally-rendered action aside however, the beating heart of any Avengers movie very obviously lies with its cast. Returning teammates Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth and Robert Downey Jr. all battle it out for leading-man laughs with the poise and delivery of honest pros, whilst the likes of Scarlett Johansson and – in particular – Jeremy Renner, benefit hugely from extended emotional arcs. Olsen and Johnson’s wacky twin-team are constant – if ever so slightly underused – delights, but it’s really James Spader’s positively theatrical turn as the villainous Ultron that gives this sequel its single best individual effort. Ultimately however, it’s the core team’s central chemistry that allows for the most fun, with Whedon’s witty back-and-forths hammering home some of the best humour the Marvel universe has seen since Shane Black’s giddy stab at Iron Man’s third lone outing.
Aside from one sole and largely insignificant plot thread that hangs a little too loosely, Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron is an unmistakable delight for both fans of existing Marvel properties, and those with even just a basic interest in blockbuster-based amusement. Whereas it may win few points for narrative innovation, Whedon proves he has at long last mastered the art of the comic-book movie, providing generous amounts of both wit and childish glee, allowing for what stands as quite possibly the definitive Avengers adventure.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), directed by Joss Whedon, is distributed in the UK by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Certificate 12A.