By Joe Strange
I do not envy Joss Whedon and the rest of the team behind The Avengers Age of Ultron, they had no small task on their hands, not only to top Avengers Assemble, but also to maintain the great level of quality that we’ve seen in the second phase of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe.
But the question is, do they do it? Is Age of Ultron better than Avengers Assemble? The short answer is… probably? Maybe?
The first Avengers was a huge deal; never before had so many characters that lead their own films been thrown together in such a fantastic way. But that was the first Avengers movie, you may notice that Age of Ultron is not.
Instead of the giddy excitement of seeing our heroes coming together for the first time, Age of Ultron leads with a well established team on a routine mission. What we see is a group of people comfortable with one another, talking and joking casually as they attack a fortified castle, whether it be Captain America scolding Tony for bad language, or Black Widow sweetly thanking the Hulk for tearing apart a bunker.
It’s a bit of a shock, and the first battle seems a little strange because of it. It all seems a little ‘planned’, but on reflection it’s just testament to how well this team works together now that they’ve been through the crucible of an alien invasion.
By the end of the battle though, it seems comfortable and right, and it’s a great set up for the Avengers’ evolution from the first film, it’s full of some great action pieces, funny quips and shout outs to the first film.
But while all seems good, there are other players on the field; the Maximoff twins (Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson). After their first encounter during the assault Maria Hill sums them up perfectly; ‘he’s fast and she’s weird’. These ‘enhanced’ twins hold a personal grudge against Tony Stark, and by extension, the Avengers, and that’s where the film kicks off; by working off of Stark’s fear of failure, they set in motion the discover of the advanced AI that would become Ultron,
So, Ultron, really the biggest talking point of the film, does he live up to the hype that Whedon has been building since the announcement? Actually, he totally does.
James Spader plays a great line between terrifying genius and petulant child who just wants to get his way by any means necessary, add this one to the thankfully growing list of brilliant Marvel villains. Ultron starts off naive but assertive, and only grows in confidence and conviction from there. As a peace keeping program, he deduces that the Avengers are the figurehead of violence and war, which isn’t hard to spot; Tony’s an ex weapons dealer, Thor is the god of thunder, Captain America was bred for war, Hawkeye and Blackwidow are trained assassins and the Hulk? Well he’s the Hulk.
To this end he enlists the Maximoff twins to help tear the Avengers apart and to help complete his mission of world peace. Which works, for a time; the twins, overcome with their hatred of Stark, are more than happy to help, with Scarlett Witch (Olsen) shining as a force to reckoned with (also that weirdly janky scene where she backs through a door is really odd and awesome) preying on all of the Avengers’ worse fears, besides one who’s had enough of that mind game crap. Scarlett Witch is a great boon to the plot, countering Ultron’s sheer force with trickery, while Quicksilver (Taylor-Johnson) adds a bit of a humour and attitude to the trio, with an immediate rivalry appearing between the speedster and Hawkeye. Quicksilver is far from just comic relief, however, as he has some of the heavier scenes in the film, and his relationship with his sister is incredibly touching; there’s genuine care and concern for one another here.
We’ve been told again and again that this is a darker story than The Avengers, and that’s certainly true. It’s far from gritty and moody, but it deals with more of the consequences of the main character’s actions across the board, with the turmoil that appears between some of the team really weighting the scenes down. Not that it’s bad, we can’t all have fun and games the entire time, and the film does a great job of developing the entire roster of characters, which is incredibly impressive considering the size of that line up.
These things, as well as a more threatening antagonist, possibly make the film less re-watchable than the previous, but its story is great, with there being less ‘what a coincidence’ moments than many films tackling this sort of scope, and it’s a more dynamic story than the first. Because of the more serious tone, the comic relief moments really stand out, and it’s in this where you see Joss’s mark; tension builds and builds, but then a joke brings you back to earth, and the greater the tension, the better the joke.
I’ve mentioned the growth of the Avengers since we last saw them all together, and each one goes through their own arcs that are self contained but also work well into the previous entries as well as future films.
Speaking of future films, we learn a little more about the infinity gems, and the state and stakes of the universe in the third act, which is another step in the set up to the Infinity Wars.
You may note that I’ve not mentioned the Vision as of yet, and this being a spoiler free review, I won’t delve too deep into the character, but he’s freaking fantastic. Paul Bettany does a great job as the character, bringing a patient gravitas to the role, while also having that familiar charm of Jarvis, who he’s played since Iron Man, really Vision’s reveal is one of the highlights of the film.
We also see quite a few cameos from previous instalments, War Machine and Falcon return for a party, Selvig returns to help out Thor and we get a few mentions of Jane Foster and Pepper Potts, even if they don’t appear.
Really, I don’t need to tell you to go and watch Avengers Age of Ultron, the chances are that if you’re on Axby you’re most likely a fan of the MCU anyway, and you’ll go and see it without me telling you to. So I’ll say this instead; it’s an incredibly good film, with the great writing and action that we’ve come to expect, but don’t go into it thinking it’s as light hearted as the Avengers. It’s a different beast, it’s the next step in Marvel’s Evolution, it’s heavier and more poignant, but still fun and entertaining at its core.