Director: Joss Whedon
Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Cobie Smulders and James Spader
Plot: When the Avengers hijack dangerous Hydra technology, Stark (Downey Jr) uses it to build an AI that could succeed their team. Ultron (Spader) is born.
Marvel movies have been missing something. It must be said that since Tom Hiddlestone’s terrifically pantomime Loki, there hasn’t been too much to be desired when it came to villains. The Winter Soldier was nameless and stoic. Malekith was devoid of dimension. The Guardians of the Galaxy were terrific, but with Ronan as their rather simple bad guy, their adventures lacked a much-needed bite. Even the endgame nemesis, Thanos, is strangely dull at the moment. Ultron changes that. The moment, his AI wakens, in a brilliantly well-directed scene, we are captivated on the new threat to the world. James Spader croons through his dialogue with a threatening purr, so velvet soft that you never know if he is going to kill or befriend the character in front of him. And it’s not just the actor, Whedon helping Spader with pitch-perfect dialogue, laced with a dark humour that chills the other characters, while it is suggested Ultron finds it wickedly amusing. Visually, he is stunning to behold too, especially in the early stages, when he lumbers around in the decaying body of a burnt out Iron Man suit. He evolves several times in the movie, each time getting more and more intimidating. Let’s be honest, it could have gone horribly wrong: the AI gone rogue storyline done to death a million times before, especially with 2015 boasting Chappie and a new Terminator movie. However, Ultron is a different breed of robot, one actually cursed with emotion. His plan might be the one thing that raises a few disbelieving eyebrows, but his motives fuel this movie. Like a child cursed with all-encompassing knowledge (Ultron’s main weapon is complete control of the internet), Ultron cannot control his sudden burst of wisdom and feelings. As one of the heroes tells the rest of the team, Ultron is in pain. He evolves so fast that it is easily forgotten that his entire reign in this film lasts just under a week, his transformation condensed into a harrowing few days. As the Avengers attack, there is a frustration, or better yet a sadness, to Spader’s delivery. He is a villain that is hurting, making him the most three-dimensional bad guy Marvel Movies has conjured up yet. Luckily so, because there is a tragic sense that without such a great baddie, Avengers 2 would have ended up a bit of a spectacular failure.
In defence to the film, it does what it says on the tin. Age of Ultron probably will leave 2015 with the award of Most Honest Trailer. Marvel once again bring out all the stops, when it comes to delivering us a big budget superhero spectacle. If you don’t mind CGI so recklessly used, then it is another glorious two hours of Thor and Hulk smashing rows of helpless enemies to a pulp. The last stand in the church ruins is especially fun, as Whedon has a field day, almost hitting the heights of his finale to the 2012 original (it feels weird calling Avengers Assemble an original, as I guess it was a sequel to four different films). However, there is something a little crash, bang, wallop about the pacing in this movie. With the Dark Knight trilogy, the films felt like a slow crescendo into a nail-biting finale. Whedon doesn’t quite know how to do that, because he tries to make every scene as awe-inspiring as the last. This is commendable, but it does mean that there isn’t a slow build-up, rather a load of awesome fight scenes one after the other. The movie was often too busy having fun to conjure up the sense of impending doom, except for a few heart-felt moments. The structure of this movie is fights interspersed with talking about how serious the situation was. However, as soon as the fight kicked back off again, it was back to having as much fun as could possibly be had, which made some of the pay-offs less satisfying than one would hope. Again, this is probably what is to be expected of the second Avengers movie; this is Kevin Feige’s M.O after all. However, the best superhero movies, or movies in general, are the ones that do what you think they are going to do, but go that one step further and grow into something unexpectedly wonderful. Like The Winter Soldier, for example, which stepped away from the fantasy of the superhero genre and became a good old spy movie. As a result, Age of Ultron is predictably good, but not surprisingly great.
So the action and pacing is hit and miss. Find solace in the characters. Seeing as the Marvel movies have grown into a serialised blockbuster event, by now, these characters are fully three-dimensional and we care for them. The guy left on the side-lines last time around, Jeremy Renner’s powerless Hawkeye, is given endless amounts to do. He almost becomes the closest thing to the pure Avenger here, selflessly bound to the cause yet not as naïve as Captain America. There are a few twists with the character in store for us and he is given a handful of moments where he impresses us, makes us laugh or sometimes summons up deep emotional responses from the audience. Then there is Black Widow and the Hulk. I always liked how Widow was the one female in the gang, yet she didn’t get weighed down by a mandatory love story. Here she does, finding an attachment in Bruce Banner, seeing as she is the only one who can calm down the Hulk, when he flies into a green rage. However, it must be said, that it feels more natural than forced, as I feared. As she tells Banner why she is falling in love with him, it is a beautifully poignant scene. The other characters, including newcomers Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, are also given some great moments. While few suffer from being put on the backburner (a subplot with Thor slows down the movie, rather than enhancing it), they all get a good slice of the fighting. And if all else fails, the jokes still work. Whedon knows that sometimes we don’t want total talk about the doomsday and sometimes we just want to see the Avengers get drunk and attempt to lift Thor’s hammer (the punchline comes several scenes later and could be the best joke in the entire movie).
Final Verdict: Age of Ultron is good, perhaps a little too stuck in formula, but it hits the right spots to act as good popcorn entertainment.