Movie Review: ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’
Director: Joss Whedon
Cast: Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlet Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Cobie Smulders, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Don Cheadle, James Spader, Anthony Mackie, Samuel L. Jackson (did I miss anyone?)
Plot: After a mission to retrieve Loki’s staff from the hands of Hydra, Tony Stark initiates a scheme to protect the planet using an AI construct named Ultron. Upon achieving sentience Ultron sets out to destroy humanity in a misguided attempt to force evolution to move forward. The Avengers will have to bury old grievances and find new allies to combat this foe and his own super-powered fighters.
Review: It’s almost ridiculous that we’re still getting hyped for these things. This is the ELEVENTH Marvel movie out in only 8 years, not counting the 3 different TV shows. There’s not a franchise in cinema history with that kind of momentum or track record. Aside from the writers of Iron Man 2 getting a bit hyped up on sugar snacks and losing focus, they haven’t stumbled yet.
Avengers: Age of Ultron wastes no time with setting up the scene. No origins, not context – you’ve seen the previous films and we’re going into the action head first. We join the team mid-action sequence, tearing through Hydra troops and having their first encounter with the cocky Quicksilver and creeptastic Scarlet Witch. The story wastes very little time in bringing Ultron into the fray, it’s only a matter of scenes before he’s having his first throw down with the heroes.
Things didn’t seem to be settling in very well during the first portion of the movie. It feels like they’re in a hurry to get the show on the road and a number of things get glossed over. Thor is suddenly on Earth again, Pepper and Jane are nowhere to be seen, a pair of super powered twins are giving them a beat down and Stark can extract some information out of Loki’s staff that a quick montage later turns into a new arch-foe. All of this gets explained away in throw away dialogue that really does feel forced into the script sideways. It’s true that we don’t want to dilly-dally on the set-up when they’re are robots to beat up but it could feel a bit more natural. Given how much forward planning these movies get they could’ve even done some of the set up in the solo films.
As usual the best scenes during the set up are the scenes with lots of banter between the characters. Whedon’s a master at dialogue and when we have a party scene with all the Avengers ribbing on each other plus War Machine and Falcon for good measure it’s a genuinely fun time. The running joke about Captain America scolding Iron Man for his bad language never failed to raise a smile (although it’s a shame no-one was there to scold Evans and Renner for their recent bad language incident during an interview). It’s no wonder they used the hammer scene from the end of the party in the trailer because they’ve cast a group of people with fantastic chemistry between them. There’s a spark to these scenes that can’t be faked no matter how good the actors are.
On that note, Johansson and Renner get the chance to flesh out their characters, having not yet had the luxury of a solo film. Black Widow gets a romantic sub-plot and reveals some of her disturbing back story (adding to what we saw in Agent Carter) and Hawkeye gets much more dimension that he’s ever had. It’s very cool seeing what the characters are like outside of their day job.
The second half sees everything falling into place and it moves along at a great pace. Set pieces abound and we get knee deep into the action. Maybe it’s because I marathoned the entire franchise in the two weeks coming up to this screening but there was a sense of fatigue as some of the action scenes played out. We’ve seen all these characters going through these paces a couple of times each and it’s only the big creative moments that stand out, such as Thor smacking Cap’s shield into a horde of Ultron robots. That said there are very few effects heavy actioners that are this good.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen are the most prominent new additions to the franchise as the Maximoff twins Pietro and Wanda. Taylor-Johnson is almost unrecognisable from his previous superhero stint as Kick-Ass with a shaggy mop of white hair and stubbly face, rounded out by a thick Eastern European accent. Quicksilver is wonderfully smug, showing a sense of mirth when using his super-speed to get the drop on people. Olsen continues to impress as an actress, adding a bit more heart to the story as the vulnerable yet powerful Wanda. Her powers are less flying, punching, running and more mind manipulation, making it harder to translate to the screen. The scenes where she gets into the Avenger’s heads are extremely well handled, giving Whedon the chance to get back to his horror stylings. Cameos from Hayley Atwell and Idris Elba help add an emotional resonance to these sequences.
We also have Paul Bettany, who has voiced Jarvis throughout all the Iron Man adventures, taking a more physical role as the android Vision. We won’t say anything about the role he plays except that people familiar with the characters from the comics will be happy with the way they’ve brought him to the big screen, and newcomers will find him an interesting addition to the cast. James Spader is a great pick for the voice work and motion capture of Ultron. He almost feels like an old-school Bond villain with his posturing and demented philosophies.
If you’ve enjoyed the Avengers franchise up to this point, you’ll be happy to know that they’re still delivering the goods in this second mash-up. Cool characters, snappy dialogue, blistering action…they’ve managed it again.
Rating: NINE out of TEN.
BTW, there’s a mid-credits scene, and nothing at the end of the credits. No Spider-Man despite what you’ve heard on the internet. You don’t need to wait it out.