The second Avengers film is out here in the UK. I took the advantage of seeing this on the biggest screen in London at the IMAX. Avengers: Age of Ultron is bigger and darker than before, packed full of action. But how does it rank with the other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
Verdict: close but no cigar.
The Avengers are reunited once again and this time they face a new enemy that is much closer to home. When Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) tries to jump start a dormant peacekeeping program, he inadvertently creates Ultron (James Spader), a highly advanced and intelligent robot that rebels against his program and is hell bent on destroying the world. It is up to the Avengers (Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye and Hulk) to stop Ultron from fulfilling his plans. However the journey leaves Earth’s mightiest heroes more divided and conflicted than ever.
“In a world this vulnerable, we need something more powerful than any of us.” – Tony Stark
With every Marvel movie, there is a certain expectation and that is reflected by the incredible high standards that each film brings. Avengers: Age of Ultron represents the closing chapters of Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s now reached a point where the plot is now beginning to link the universes together. Whilst the film is bigger, darker, funnier and longer, does not necessarily mean its better.
There are huge positives in this film which marks an improvement over Avengers Assemble. Instead of spending half the film fixing a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier, the latest film uses the opportunity to explore the characters that make up the team.
If there was a theme that surrounds Age of Ultron, then it would the idea of gods and monsters.
After the first film when they stopped Loki and his Chitauri army, the team were treated like heroes by the public. Now as the battle has reached a global scale, their presence is not universally accepted and that is evidently clear in the opening battle when Tony Stark/Iron Man sends out his peacekeeping robots to protect the people and ends up being defaced. Whilst there is a sense of “we are getting the band back together”, there is an underlying fear factor and vulnerability within the team which is exploited by Scarlett Witch/Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen). The Avenger initiative has always had an altruistic purpose and gain – to protect the people of Earth from destruction. When that is your sole mission, what is the limit of going too far? How much power do you need to keep people protected? What is the cost of that protection? How do they view themselves – the heroes or the villains? These questions are key to the gods and monsters aspect and it hits home for Tony Stark.
The way science is handled in sci-fi films is a familiar plot device and yet it’s a classic tale of scientists never learning from things they don’t understand. As Stark and Banner embarked on their scientific adventure, I couldn’t help but think of this…
Tony Stark has come a long way. Within his cocky attitude and bravado, there is a sense of responsibility, staying a step ahead of the enemy and solidifying an end game. Given his recent experiences which was heavily explored in Iron Man 3, his goal is justified. With the fear of failure as his motivation, Stark becomes a modern day Victor Frankenstein. His program plus Loki’s Sceptre creates an uncontrollable monster in the form of Ultron, a villain capable of testing the Avengers and exposing their so-called nobility.
It therefore creates tension within the team, an attitude which has been ever-present since the first film. Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is the natural leader of the group. Given his recent adventures from The Winter Soldier, he continues to be a first hand witness of how technology and control can be abused and used for the wrong reasons. His persistent conflict with Stark as he disobeys or refuses to acknowledge the consequences are subtly addressed, something to look forward to in Captain America: Civil War.
The film gives Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) a bigger platform and insight by revealing his family which brings a “down to Earth” complex to the story. The biggest change belongs to Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and their Beauty and the Beast relationship.
Bruce Banner: “What’s a girl like you doing in a place like this?”
Natasha Romanoff: “A guy did me wrong. There’ve been a lot of people in my life, all of them fighters. Then there comes this guy, who’s not like anyone I’ve ever met; he doesn’t want to be a fighter.”
There is an unrequited love between two “broken” characters, fearful of their past and the mission ahead. We finally learn about Natasha’s tragic upbringing and Banner’s fear of losing complete control that a simple lullaby can’t calm him down. Is there a future for these two characters – who knows despite their similarities and trying to find a place in the world. I’m continuously loving how Black Widow is growing in each of the Marvel films, showing she is more than capable of holding her own. There is a natural strength which is a perfect compliment to Banner’s inner conflict and awkwardness. As a subplot it’s one of the stronger aspects of the film. Whilst Thor (Chris Hemsworth) does get left behind slightly, he’s involved in some of the humorous moments of the film such as who is worthy to lift up Thor’s Hammer aka the Mjölnir.
All in all, the character development in Avengers: Age of Ultron is an improvement as they try to identify their self-worth.
“I was designed to save the world. People would look to the sky, and see hope… I’ll take that from them first!” – Ultron
In the villainy department, Ultron is a good adversary for the Avengers. I loved James Spader’s performance. Whilst his impact fell away in the last third of the film, his strong, menacing introduction and presence delivered where it mattered. For an artificial intelligent machine, I love the Pinocchio vibe from the character, free from his master to do his own bidding. Ultron is pretty much a child with an adult abundance of knowledge, trying to understand the complexities of the world. In the end he takes something like the human race and creates a simple ideology – evolve or die.
There is an element of sympathy for a character whose prime directive is to help. Don’t forget, his ideas didn’t randomly appear out of thin air. His core objectives are derived from the mind of Tony Stark who means well but ultimately can’t tell the difference of when he’s crossed that line. He’s effectively a mirror image, using Stark’s idealistic ambitions against him. When Ultron is compared with Stark, he reacts angrily, rejecting his creator because he knows he’s better than him. He looks at the Avengers with disdain and by utilising Scarlett Witch and her powers, he’s able to mess with every Avenger and exploit their fear. In his red, calculating eyes, there is nothing better watching a team tear themselves apart with their failures instead of doing what’s necessary for the people of Earth.
As for the two new additions to the MCU in Scarlett Witch and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), whilst they’re playing different interpretations, Age of Ultron’s Quicksilver is not a patch on Evan Peters and his show stealing performance from X-Men: Days of Future Past. Scarlett Witch does have potential for more but with a film already bloated with so many characters and cameos, screen time with the Maximoff twins was limited.
“No matter who wins or loses, trouble always comes around.” – Nick Fury
Avengers: Age of Ultron despite the many positives and interesting aspects mentioned above, it is far from perfect and didn’t have that instant satisfaction that I normally get from watching a Marvel film.
The last third of the film is a huge, long battle between the Avengers and Ultron and his drones which lasts for about 45 minutes. In all honestly, if you’ve seen one explosion, you’ve probably seen them all! It becomes a little tiresome with a level of destruction that is on par with Man of Steel. When you think about it some more, the battle is a deja vu re-hash of the battle in New York from the first Avengers film but on a bigger scale. Swap out Ultron’s army with the Chitauri and there you go.
It brings up another issue which coincides with Ultron’s lack of impact and conviction towards the end. Despite the Avengers being tested (at least mentally), they still relied on brute strength and force to defeat Ultron. It would be nice to see them mix it up a little bit and be a little more calculating as Ultron was during the strongest parts of the film.
I don’t want to sound downbeat about a film I enjoyed but it also raised concerns about future Marvel films within the cinematic universe. Age of Ultron utilises the main Avengers and surprise cameos and supporting cast from the other films. However it was so telling towards the end when they all teamed up how convoluted and over-saturated it became. Whilst I suspect there will be some big changes ahead as we embark into Phase 3 of the MCU, it makes me wonder how they’re all going to fit in that is fair and will satisfy avid fans.
All the Marvel films have that TV episodic feel about them where every Easter egg or plot device is interwoven and connected. However you might find yourself at a slight disadvantage if you’ve not been totally immersing yourself. It might be trivial but I had that slight feeling of missing a beat when trying to figure out why the Avenger team was in Eastern Europe going after Hydra, who were in possession of Loki’s sceptre. Turns out, there’s a mention of that reason in an episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It also has the tendency to gloss over previous plot devices from the other films which don’t get a mention in Age of Ultron.
Furthermore, like all long running TV shows, it can become draining especially if the same plot devices are being repetitively used again and again. In Age of Ultron, it’s no different with the familiar Marvel formula still intact, the films constantly building up towards Infinity Wars and a character dying to escalate the plot further.
Some aspects of Age of Ultron can be underwhelming and when you compare it to other Marvel films, Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier are still my firm favourites for their consistency and ability to change the game which Age of Ultron doesn’t quite live up to.
Is Age of Ultron still worth seeing – absolutely. Like all Marvel films, they’re still designed to be entertaining and I was entertained. There’s great laugh out, action moments such as the fight between Hulk vs. the Hulkbuster. The cast is great, especially Robert Downey Jr. who has not lost any of his charm.
Avengers: Age of Ultron is a good film but may fall short of your high expectations.