MOVIE REVIEW: AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON / CERT:12A / DIRECTOR: JOSS WHEDON / SCREENPLAY: JOSS WHEDON / STARRING: ROBERT DOWNEY JR., CHRIS EVANS, CHRIS HEMSWORTH, MARK RUFFALO, SCARLETT JOHANSSON, JAMES SPADER, AARON TAYLOR-JOHNSON, ELIZABETH OLSEN / RELEASE DATE: APRIL 23RD
The Avengers are finally back and this time, thankfully, they already come pre-assembled, assaulting a Hydra base in ‘Sokovia’, home to Baron von Strucker, introduced in the post-credits sequence of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. If you didn't understand any of that sentence then A) nice of you to come out from under that rock and B) this film is not going to explain who these people are or what's going on for you and there's not enough room here to do so.
Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye and a (mostly) tame Hulk are in search of Loki's ‘pokey stick’ from the first Avengers film and once the mission is complete, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner have a few days to examine Loki's spear to see if it can be of any use to their ‘Ultron’ project – Tony's vision to protect the world from another invasion on the scale of the Chitauri one from the previous film. Predictably enough, things soon go awry and the Avengers have to deal with a rogue artificial intelligence, loose on the internet and in multiple drone bodies, with Loki's spear in its possession and one goal: force humanity to adapt to change or eliminate it.
Writer/director Joss Whedon then takes the audience on a spin around the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the characters’ relationships, with tensions fraying within the group thanks to both Tony's actions and a little meddling from the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), introduced along with her speedster brother Pietro/Quicksilver (Taylor-Johnson). Along the way there are stops for the Hulkbuster Iron Man vs. Hulk fight we've all been waiting for, an examination of Hawkeye, and, yes, a deepening of the relationship between Black Widow and Bruce Banner/The Hulk, with plenty of murderbot vs. Avengers punch-ups along the way.
The real question everyone wants to know the answer to is "has Marvel finally messed up", and based upon this and the superlative Netflix Daredevil series, Marvel are more on form than ever. Whedon lets his geek flag fly, adding neat little touches like giving the team some neat new ‘tag-team’ manoeuvres and dropping in characters from all the main casts' back histories, either simply as chums popping by to party or help out, or as part of Scarlet Witch-induced hallucinations. There are also some intriguing hints dropped about the future: who is the ‘missing person’ that Falcon is looking for? What is ‘Wakanda’? Whedon is also probably one of the few writers who could drop a joke about American playwright Eugene O'Neill into a movie about mad scientists, gods, monsters and evil robots battering each other half to death.
The fight scenes are excellent, peppered with fantastically funny banter, all the relationships between the cast evolve (it's a lot more nuanced and a lot less dark than the trailers make things appear) and best of all, Whedon lets James Spader run riot as Ultron. Spader lends Ultron his ultra-sardonic tone, superior and petulant, the genocidal robot providing the perfect adversary that requires the Avengers to work together to defeat. The rest of the main cast ARE their characters by now and feel completely natural, with very little feeling forced to enable Ultron's creation without Hank Pym, or to put things in place for 2016's Captain America: Civil War. Olsen and Taylor-Johnson fit in nicely, and even if only in a small role, it's great to see Don Cheadle's Rhodes or Anthony Mackie's Falcon, amongst many others, pop up. Whedon must have felt a deep debt to Renner for spending most of the first film brainwashed as he gets a great deal more to do here, with lots of added background, but there's still not an awful lot of character yet.
The ending of the film doesn't massively change the franchise but pieces are set in motion for the future; the Avengers are finally aware that something is going on with the Infinity Stones (and it's confirmed that Loki's spear does indeed hold the ‘Mind’ stone), Thanos is going to have to get up off his ass if he wants all the stones and there's a very compelling reason why one of the stones will be remaining in close proximity to the Avengers. All this and no mention of the rumoured creation of The Vision? Needless to say, it works in the context of the film, if coming off a little rushed and looking a little odd, but it does work. Oh, and there is only a mid-credits sting, nothing after the credits.
Big, bold, fun.Your move, DC.
Expected Rating: 9 out of 10