Though not as universally perfect as its predecessor, Marvel's latest ensemble film is still immensely watchable. While die-hard fans may shake their heads in dismay, for the regular viewer, it's another pleasingly fun action-adventure.
The penultimate movie of the second phase in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, Avengers: Age of Ultron was an unequivocal box office success. Currently the fifth highest-grossing film of all time, millions flocked to the cinema to revisit the heroic exploits of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye. But as well as being undoubtedly successful, Joss Whedon’s film has also caused its fair share of controversy.
The film sees The Avengers – who have become a very close-knit team since their troubled beginnings in the 2012 film – pitted up against malevolent AI menace, Ultron (James Spader) and the highly powerful mutated Maximoff twins (otherwise known as Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch). With Scarlet Witch’s mind-ploying tricks inside their heads, and Ultron on a deluded quest to eradicate the very race he was designed to protect, The Avengers must once again overcome their struggles and come together to save the Earth from extinction.
Naturally, in a film where so much is packed in to accommodate Marvel’s future plans, there are elements that work wonderfully and, contrarily, elements that don’t. For one thing, the chemistry between the main actors is as riveting and hilarious to behold as it was in the first film. The humorous atmosphere that Whedon weaves into even the most dramatic of fight sequences is joyously entertaining, without ever being hokey – which is perhaps Marvel’s most acclaimed trademark in this cinematic climate, wherein many superheroes are getting the dark, gritty treatment.
The main villain of the piece, Ultron, is also incredibly effective. Though his character could have perhaps done with a bit more exposition/screen time, James Spader absolutely nails it as this sinister, yet juvenile AI with a vengeance for mankind. While his appeal may not be as broad and charismatic as Loki’s, Ultron is for all intents and purposes, a perfectly astute bad guy. Tenacious, merciless and with a razor-sharp wit, he may just be one of the most watchable villains in the MCU so far. Paul Bettany’s portrayal of The Vision is also a delightful surprise, while Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen give very agreeable performances as the Maximoffs.
The main problem with the film is the way in which it has been cut and chopped to meet the required running time. While its predecessor flowed relatively smoothly, gliding easily from plot piece to plot piece, this film seems to be missing such a tight sense of cohesion. In their preoccupation to ensure that future films are astutely set up, Marvel have arguably marred the epitome of their franchise. As brilliant as bringing together all your favourite superheroes sounds, the actual technicality of interconnecting all these characters and their individual storylines is becoming more and more difficult to pull off. As the most alien member of the Avengers, Thor gets especially lost in this story; with his attempts to quickly segway into Ragnarok territory coming off as a confusing aside to what is otherwise a very exciting and action-filled plot.
There is also the very controversial subject of the romantic entanglement Whedon has created between Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). While it is interesting to delve further into the Widow’s emotional arc, it does seems unnecessary to conjoin it so closely with the tryst she attempts with Banner. Contrastingly, the way Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye is developed into a more well rounded character with more than a bow and arrow to his name, is extremely gratifying.
Ultimately, this is a very functional superhero movie – it does most of the things you expect it to. It has badass heroes and menacing villains, as well as a few tears to counter the many, many laughs. It’s just a shame that there are some notes that don’t hit as well as others.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), directed by Joss Whedon, is released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Certificate 12.