I’m going to pre-face this review by saying that I genuinely enjoyed 2012’s ‘Avengers’ or as we know it here in the UK ‘Avengers Assemble’ but there is no doubt that ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ is ten times the film that its predecessor was.
Clocking in at 141min this closing chapter to Marvel Studios ‘Phase 2’ movies is once again written and directed by Joss Whedon the utter genius behind not just the previous ‘Avengers’ film but also TV series ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, ‘Angel’, ‘Firefly’ and ‘Dollhouse’ plus having a creator credit on the Marvel series ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ for ABC.
‘Avengers” Age of Ultron’ had no choice but to go bigger, wider and darker than its predecessor but considering that film took Tony Stark in his Iron Man suit to the other side of the galaxy it was by no means going to be an easy feat but Joss manages to make it look easier than he did the first time around.
Hindsight it a wonderful thing and despite the phenomenal box office success of ‘Avengers Assemble’ when re-watching that film I can’t help but feel a little empty. The characters are all there, the threat to humanity is there but there’s very little of the soul that Whedon brings to so many of his projects. Part of me wants to put that down to the sheer fact that he had to bring together four characters who had appeared in solo films and add in two support characters and flesh out the world of S.H.E.I.L.D. which had been the string connecting all these films together.
What ‘Assemble’ did successfully was balance out the characters without leaving any – apart from perhaps Hawkeye – out in the cold. What ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ does is take those characters and show them as an almost fully coherent team who can play to each others strengths and comfort each other in their moments of weakness.
Do not by any means under estimate the huge amount of character that has been injected in to this film. It’s a dramatic improvement of ‘Assemble’ which almost makes the first film look like a complete misstep in Marvel’s cinematic history.
Where the last film had so much anticipation and also a huge amount of work to do to bring the characters together that is all dispensed with at this stage allowing the film to open with a brilliant splash page moment which feels like it has literally been taken straight from a comic.
Structurally the film moves from set piece to set piece via a vast amount of characters development for those who have yet to appear in solo franchise movies whilst still allowing breathing space for the A-listers like Thor, Captain America and even Iron Man to further develop.
In fact the crux of the movie is based around the insecurity that Tony Stark still harbours in the wake of the battle of New York in the previous film. That insecurity leads him to develop the artificial intelligence that becomes Ultron, a robot programmed to protect the Earth… what could go wrong?
Story wise Marvel perhaps now need to move away from sky based threats. Yes they give great potential for huge devastation to those of us on ground level but after the site of several of the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicrarriers crashing to Earth in ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ and the Chitauri filling the skies above New York it may be time for something a little different in the ‘Phase 3’ movies which begin with this summers ‘Ant Man’.
There are connections to all the previous films in ‘Phase 2’ as well as links to ‘Assemble’ and through in to ‘Phase 3’ films such as ‘Black Panther’, ‘Civil War’ and eventually the two part ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ which is releasing its first part in 2018 and second part in 2019. Of course the idea of the infinity stones also ties in to the idea of ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ without directly referencing or cameoing any of its characters.
Whedon is juggling a densely packed universe which grows with every new movie but he handles it like a pro as he always has with ensemble casts. With ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ he successfully introduces the characters of Wanda and Pietro Maximoff otherwise known as Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver.
Since the announcement of their inclusion in the film and the casting news of Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson fans have been wondering how the film would deal with the connection between the two and the X-Men universe. Fans of the comics will know that Wanda and Pietro are in fact the twin children of ‘X-Men’ character Magneto and both manifest their powers as mutants.
Well the term ‘mutant’ and the characters of the X-Verse are completely off limits to Marvel due to the rights being owned or film use by 20th Century Fox. So instead the two appear hear as genetically modified experiments fresh off the Hydra factory line.
Whedon perhaps missed a chance to connect the film universe back to the TV world by having both Wanda and Pietro pass through the mist currently creating inhumans over on ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ or perhaps Elizabeth and Aaron were too expensive for a TV appearance.
This aside the two characters work well on film and their back story is compelling enough to make us cheer for them when the fog lifts and they see Ultron for what he really is. Their inclusion in to the Avengers is an eventuality that the film faces from the beginning but in true Whedon style at the films climax this is turned on its head and sets up Scarlet Witch perfectly for her planned appearance in ‘Captain America: Civil War’.
After being sidelined for much of ‘Assemble’ thanks to the touch of Loki’s staff Clint Barton/Hawkeye is here the heart at the centre of the Avengers and in many ways he becomes the hero of the film. There are moments where the audience will feel the film pushing itself towards an inevitable conclusion with his character but when the moment arrives it will still be a surprise to many. After reading of Renner’s disappointment at his storyline in the previous film its great to see him chewing up the scenery and getting to show a full range of kick ass and emotional moments throughout the film.
Look for a brilliant moment between Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye where he refuses to allow himself to be hypnotised… again. It’s quite reminiscent of Xander on ‘Buffy’ and his relationship with Dracula.
Sadly there’s no room for the cast of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ here meaning the mystery of when the Avengers will discover that Agent Coulson is alive will be resolved is still unknown. The only time the film feels like it lets down the MCU is with the reintroduction of Nick Fury, S.H.I.E.L.D. and the helicarrier. In TV land we’re currently duking it out between Coulson’s S.H.I.E.L.D. and the ‘real’ S.H.E.I.L.D. with their slightly different logo and neither of those are mentioned here.
Granted ‘Ultron’ has been released a week earlier in the UK meaning that US audiences will have one further episode of ‘Agents’ to watch prior to seeing the film so here’s hoping there’s a lot of more a push towards this plot point in that episode.
Either way I need to see Tony Stark and Cap find out that Coulson lives before it becomes preposterous. The man has been running around alive for 2 seasons on his S.H.I.E.L.D. jet and has even worked with Lady Siff twice now yet word hasn’t made it back to any Avenger about this.
What Whedon does find room in ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ for much more than in ‘Assemble’ is his trademark humour. In ‘Assemble’ there were moments such as Hulk punching Loki which provided a good chuckle for the adult audience and howls of joy for the younger viewers. ‘Ultron’ is much more balanced and never panders to either age group at full force and as a result the film feels much more palatable. There are still some slapstick style moments but they’re played well and never feel shoehorned in to the script purely to improve enjoyment.
The best way to describe the differences between the two ‘Avengers’ films is to say that ‘Assemble’ now feels somewhat forced where ‘Ultron’ feels entirely natural. Even the plethora of cameos from characters in each of the solo franchises are welcomed here with the audience even giving Peggy Carter a cheer when she finally appears on screen. The only notable absences are Pepper Potts and Jane Foster but Whedon being Whedon he can even turn their absence in to a great moment of humour between Tony Stark and Thor.
Everything about ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ is bigger and better than its predecessor. The score, with hints of Danny Elfman’s handiwork is much more stand out the special effects are of course seamless without to the point where you could be forgiven for forgetting Mark Ruffalo doesn’t actually turn green in real life.
Marvel are setting the bar incredibly high for DC Comics/Warner Bros. and their upcoming two part ‘Justice League’ film but they’re also setting themselves up for a potential fall in handing the reigns of the next ‘Avengers’ movies over to the Russo brothers of ‘Captain America’ fame. With Whedon’s track record for handling huge ensembles it’s going to be difficult to follow up a film as well crafted as this.
Checkout the trailer below and then go see this film… now!