And so one of the most highly anticipated films of the year is upon us and it delivers in a lot of ways.
This time the Avengers are after Loki’s staff held by Hydra (and twins Scarlet Witch/Quicksilver) in the fictional eastern European land of Sokovia and after initial retrieval Tony Stark convinces Bruce Banner that they should use the power of the staff to create something that can protect the world in place of the Avengers against what is to come… but instead what happens is the AI created (Ultron) becomes self aware/independent and see’s the Avengers as the problem and believes the world needs to evolve (through mass destruction) to find peace.
Whedon had a tall task after the first instalment to match what was incredible fun on the grandest of scales. The ambition is still there, the action set pieces are fantastic and brilliantly choreographed with nearly all the CGI looking spot on. Personally I enjoyed watching the team up fighting and seeing how each member compliment each other. It would have been easy for him to just try and replicate big frantic action sequences after big frantic action sequence but instead what he does in goes down the path of looking at what makes each Avengers tick. I think this is a really mature decision as it shows an evolution of the characters we enjoy seeing so much that there maybe hasn’t been so far. The script and the humour is perfect for this sort of ensemble and the banter great to watch from start to finish.
Much of this film looks at Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye, where as the first revolved around Thor, Captain America and Iron Man and you really do get a feel for just how integral the former are and that it’s not all about who is the strongest/fastest/can fly. There’s a strand of romance that is sold well (but any Whedon fan know how this would likely turn out) and we get a look at some scenes that humanise Hawkeye and see some of the emotional vulnerability surrounding other characters and how each responds to it. Doing this set a much different tone from the first but it works on a level that the former did not.
There are a lot of characters in this movie and it does not surprise me that the directors cut is well over 3 hours (the DVD will also have an alternate ending) so to have it cut down to two and a half hours there’s going to be compromises made. It didn’t bother me that we didn’t see more of cameo characters although while some of these compromises work some do not. At one point a characters motivations does a complete 180 after what is a one line explanation and just seemed… convenient and unexplored. On reflection it also felt like Ultron went from being made up of random scrap parts in Avengers headquarters to being the impressive shiny world dominating AI a little too quickly, one second he was one.. the next he was the other although I’m nit picking a bit really, I just like to have seen the process. As for new kids on the block Scarlet Witch/Quicksilver I liked them. They were good fun to watch in action and served the purpose of the plot. With a number of big well established characters on show they held up pretty well I thought.
Vision was awesome. Probably the character I enjoyed most, Paul Bettany did a bang up job bringing the AI/Sentient being to life after being created by our antagonist mid-film. On the other hand I was a bit disappointed in Ultron. I think James Spader’s voice was perfect for the role and when he was being dark/poetic about his plans it was great but where he fell down massively was that he was written to be sarcastic a given a quirky sense of humour. It just didn’t work and really took away what should have been a frightening yet charismatic villain. The villainy just wasn’t there. There was no stand out moment that I can remember or will be remembered in what he did or said which is a shame and a wasted opportunity. I think this again shows that while Marvel does a lot right that what they have not nailed is a memorable villain that strikes fear in the characters, there was never one point where I was convinced the Avengers were ever in mortal danger except on maybe one occasion.
I left the cinema with a completely different feeling than I did to the first one but Whedon has had a hard task in topping that. Number 1 was almost the hyperactive teenager looking to have fun whereas this was the self reflecting mid 20 year old that shows that there is depth and development. Some will prefer the first, some will prefer Age of Ultron but the common themes that make these films great are still there. Great action, humorous dialogue and solid performances from familiar faces that combine to be loads of fun.