Complex action, character development and plenty to entertain, but more of a storm in a teacup than the Age of Ultron?
It’s almost 1 a.m, I got home from the cinema about half an hour ago having seen the latest Marvel superhero team-up movie, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and I’m buzzing. I couldn’t sleep if I wanted to, the adrenalin is still pumping through me. This is the effect of Joss Whedon’s final hurrah in the Marvel cinematic universe – for now at least. You see, the much loved writer/director has been busy building this beast for a long time and needs now to recoup with a fresh challenge and a change of pace. The next two Avengers movies (Avengers: Infinity War parts one and two) are set to be helmed by the Russo brothers who steered Captain America: The Winter Soldier to box office success last year.
Whedon directed the first Avengers movie in 2012 to almost unanimous acclaim. Fast forward three years and we find the same balance of jaw dropping action sequences, mild peril and moments of humour present in the sequel. The team of now familiar heroes led by Captain America (Chris Evans) are joined by some new faces, and to a large degree it’s the fresh blood that really makes the film interesting.
Twins Pietro Maximoff aka Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff aka Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) as characters are an anomaly in Marvel cinematic terms. Technically part of the X-Men universe, on account of being the offspring of Magneto, license for which is contractually owned by 20th Century Fox which prohibits, the now Disney owned, Marvel Studios from crossing over mutant characters into their own productions. However, these two characters are also integral to the Avengers official canon making them uniquely available for both studios, except Marvel cannot acknowledge Magneto as their father. It’s why Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch appeared in both Age of Ultron and 2014s X-Men: Days Of Future Past. It’s complicated.
Superhero license geekery aside, it’s really Scarlet Witch that shines of the two. Sending Earth’s mightiest heroes to tatters with her mind controlling abilities, Elizabeth Olson is engaging as the character on-screen pitching the perfect balance of vulnerability, doubt and resolve. Aaron Taylor-Johnson as her more cocky sibling is competent enough but doesn’t shine quite so brightly in a less pivotal role.
The titular villain of the film, Ultron, is brought to life by the voice of James Spader and almost Transformeresq CGI. Veering far from Marvel’s comic book plot – from which the film takes vague inspiration – where Hank Pym (Ant-Man) plants the seeds for the creation of Ultron, the movie finds the Iron Man, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr reprising the role) giving sentience to an artificial intelligence that evolves throughout the course of the film (echoing the many forms of the character over years of comic book stories), gaining strength and resolve along the way. Ultron forms the central focus on which the plot balances, and it’s not a particularly ground-breaking premise. In fact it’s one that’s doing the rounds with increasing frequency of late. Man creates artificial intelligence, artificial intelligence deems man to be a threat to world peace and sets about destroying humankind. It’s not a complex storyline when you break it down, but presented on the big screen with the ferocity that this movie has, it plays out pretty well.
Whilst Ultron may take the movie title, there is one character that simply stands out above all others. Paul Bettany as The Vision is simply magical. The antithesis of Ultron, The Vision is an intelligence evolved from Tony Stark’s J.A.R.V.I.S AI system. A calming influence and an equaliser that rises at a time the Avengers are at their most vulnerable.
Of the familiar characters Iron Man, unsurprisingly, has the coolest toys – not least the ‘Hulk Buster’ armour seen in the trailers. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is larger than life, forthright, virtuous and commands the viewers full attention whilst on-screen, whilst characters from across the Marvel cinematic universe like War Machine (Don Cheadle), Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Agent Carter (Hayley Atwell) form a rich supporting cast.
Surprisingly we find the most character development dedicated to Clint Barton aka Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Often considered by fans a rather redundant member of the Avengers given his lack of any other talent than being extremely accurate with a bow and arrow, we discover Hawkeye‘s clandestine life that works well to make the, generally uncharismatic, character endearing to moviegoers. The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) is also progressed with a romantic involvement and subsequent cliffhanger to the characters future.
Where Age of Ultron underachieves, in my opinion, is in the presented timescale of the movie. Don’t drink too much fizzy pop ahead of this cinema visit, at 2 hours 20 minutes it’s not a short film, and yet… with the abundance of action, number of locations and amount of storyline crammed into that 141 minutes you’re never once checking your watch. Everything progresses along a breakneck speed. And that’s part of my grievance. What’s billed as the ‘Age’ of Ultron, feels, in this augmented timeline, like a heartbeat. Where the comic book from which the basic premise is taken felt like a war of attrition for the characters – a battle fought over an extended period where humanities existence dangled by a thread – we never really feel that sense of hopelessness and suspense in this film. It all feels pretty safe and contained within the space of only a few days. It’s more of a terrifying, but brief, uprising of Ultron. It really lacks a sense of grandeur. I left the cinema feeling like I’d gotten giddy from eaten too many E-numbers rather than savouring a three course meal. You receive instant gratification rather than epic longevity. It’s fine. In fact it’s what I expected from an Avengers film and I am in no way disappointed. I just hoped that the lows would be a considerable bit deeper and darker so that the highs had a greater impact and shined a little brighter.
Die-hard fans of Marvel comics and films will love the details hidden in Avengers: Age of Ultron from casual movie goers. Reference to Wakanda (Soon to be seen in Marvel’s Black Panther movie) and Stan Lee’s inevitable cameo, with the utterance of his famous catchphrase, are highlights. Our favourite heroes on-screen together once more, the comedy, the excitement and explosive fun all add up to a cinematic treat. A fun movie indeed, but not epic.
A must see for superhero movie fans, Avengers: Age of Ultron is in UK cinemas now and US cinemas from May 1st.