Avengers: Age of Ultron (12A) | Close-Up Film Review

 Avengers: Age Of Ultron poster

Dir. Joss Whedon, US, 2015, 141 mins

Cast: Robert Downey Jnr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo 

This second instalment in the Marvel jigsaw puzzle is a huge movie for many reasons; it’s a conclusion to Phase 2 of their all-conquering plan, Ant-Man will hope to put its troubled production behind it to kick-start part 3 this summer, it’s also the end of Joss Whedon’s role as the orchestrator of lycra clad chaos, and it’s literally HUGE.

With S.H.I.E.L.D. dissolved after the events of Winter Soldier, our heroes are now operating without an ulterior agenda, and under the command of Captain America (Chris Evans). That doesn’t mean there aren’t still factions within the group, most notably Tony Stark (Downey Jnr), with his Banner (Mark Ruffalo) allied plan to create an artificial intelligence that can bring world peace and allow The Avengers to cease being a necessity, and “go home”. Born through accident, their creation limps into the world as a fully formed, self-aware automaton named Ultron (voiced by James Spader), who interprets his creators wish for peace as an opportunity to press the reset button on the human race. With blame assigned, fractious relationships formed, the barely assembled group must find a way to destroy this Supreme Being.

Age of Ultron, despite its multitude of movie panning plot-strands, has a fluidity hitherto unseen in the canon thus far, both in the way in which Whedon frames the movie, and the way that a potentially film-capsizing juggling act of characters and story unfolds in such a linear fashion.

It’s stunning to consume. The way in which the characters interact verbally as well as during the action set-pieces is seamless. The opening Bond style snow assault is a master class in visually coherent action choreography; Thor and Caps combined use of their weapons to take down the bad guys will make aficionados giddy, but it’s not style over content, as you get an early indication of Scarlett Johansson’s brilliance as she offers a mid brawl “thank you” to The Hulk as he smashes through a gun turret. The small moments make as much impact as the grandstanding special effects.

Whedon also employs his camera gracefully as he attempts to afford as much time to each Avenger as possible, gliding through the characters and their disparate locations in a balletic fashion rather than using choppy editing to cram in as much as possible.

He is also a director for whom character is paramount, so not only do we get superb performances from Johansson, building on her first film stealing role with a gentle, back-story embellishing turn that makes you long for a stand-alone Black Widow movie; we also get a fleshed out Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), the franchise pariah to this point gets some great one-liners and an arc that accentuates his importance to the group as whole, but best of all, we have a brilliant bad-guy in Ultron.

Marvel has struggled to present a definitive threat so far; Loki was fun, but he was hardly end-of-the-world material, and the glowing Macguffins were getting a bit tedious, so James Spader’s sarcastic turn as the human flecked robot gives this real momentum. Whedon always created excellent baddies throughout Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s seven season run, Ultron is an amalgamation of those, and Spader’s voice work is simply delicious.

The only real fault with Age of Ultron is one that is inherent with the Marvel world building as a whole; once again, despite a minor twist on the set-up, this features a finale in which a large object is falling from the sky very slowly as our heroes attempt to prevent it crashing to Earth. At this point they’re better off ending the next film with a thumb war between Tony Stark and Josh Brolin’s Thanos, it’d be more effective.

We’ve come to expect a certain standard of film from the brand, and this exceeds those in almost every department, offering a multitude of surprising narrative beats, drama that resonates, and a tantalising post-credits sting for a future that has a lot to live up to.

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Now take a look at Daniel Woburn’s take on the film…..

Avengers: Age of Ultron is the much-anticipated follow-up to 2012’s record-breaking game-changer, wherein five solo Marvel films led to the stars of each being teamed up to fight a foe larger than any single one of them. Unprecedented in the industry, Marvel Studios have created a tangible Cinematic Universe (as they have christened it) in which a continuity flows through each, one film affecting another either directly or indirectly. This time around, as it can be assumed that we all know the players in the game this time around, Downey Jr’s Tony Stark inadvertently creates a malicious AI, originally designed to protect the world – only problem being, Ultron (as named by Stark and Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner) sees that the only way of protecting the world is to remove its greatest threat – humanity. So begins our intrepid team’s mission to eradicate the threat of Ultron (given suitable menace and gravitas by the voice and movements of James Spader, a welcome addition to the cast) and save the world, again.

Whedon’s hand is much more assured here, his colour palette has darkened in true sequel form, and his script remains as full of delightful quips and insightful character tics as ever. Characters who got short shrift last time round, most notably Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, happily receive centre stage here. However, this has led to a domino effect in which newcomers Wanda & Pietro Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen & Aaron Taylor-Johnson) receive the least development of the cast.

Introduced as sympathetic villains, volunteers for superdouche organisation Hydra’s bio-experiments, they are revealed to have been given powers in the form of telekinesis/mind games in Wanda’s case, and super speed in Pietro’s case (you may have seen another version of this character, Quicksilver, in last year’s awesome X-Men entry, Days of Future Past). This is all in order to get revenge for the use of Stark Tech weapons on their fictional home country of Sakovia; weapons sold in Tony Stark’s pre-Iron Man years, which resulted in the death of the Maximoffs’ parents.

This motivation is all explained away in one well-sold monologue (although the pair’s Eastern European accents are iffy, to say the least – that said, show me the Western actor who can pull off a decent accent of this nature and I’ll give you a biscuit), and before you know it the pair are allied with Ultron. Seeing as in the comics these two are Avengers, and are pictured on all the promo materials for this film with the Avengers, it should be no surprise that there comes a time in the film when the two swap allegiances.

Like Hawkeye in the first film, it’s an easier mechanism of the script to introduce them as villains of a sort, and redeem them just in time for the big final battle where they get to have all kinds of cool “hero” moments. The scenes between Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are among the best in the film, and it’s a shame there’s so little of them – especially when you hear that Whedon and Marvel have cut around 40 minutes of time from the flick. What, pray tell, was left on the cutting room floor? We’ll just have to wait for the extended edition Blu-ray to find out – an agonising wait, for fans of the film.

As permanently enthralling as it is to see all these characters on the big screen at the same time, partaking in such banal activities such as ‘talking’ and ‘partying’, the film does seemingly suffer from an over-abundance of material, resulting in a lack of focus, a brevity in its scenes and explanations, and a similar feeling to the most recent Fast and Furious entry in that you simply feel carted from action set-piece to action set-piece. However, in a film where the action set-pieces are so well choreographed and gosh-darn fun to watch, is that really a bad thing?

Where other word on the street is a genuine appreciation of a surprisingly logical Bruce Banner/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) romance sub-plot, it’s a situation where giving so much screen time to this story meant something else gets short-shrift. Ultron feels like he has some scenes missing which could have fleshed out his character and motivation a bit more, and a Thor-led side adventure/vision quest has obviously been hacked to bits – puzzling, considering it ostensibly reveals a major plot point of the film. However, as it is also dutifully serving as set-up for the next Thor film and the grand destination of Avengers: Infinity War Parts 1 & 2, to be released in 2018 and 2019, it is understandable that it was first on the chopping block – Whedon probably wanted to focus on relationships in the here and now, and not constantly be moving things into place for future films in which he’ll have little involvement.  The resultant chopping has, however, left the segment feeling almost nonsensical.

Ultimately, fans should get a real kick out of seeing their favourite heroes together again, the final scene is fist-pumpingly awesome, Ultron is a great villain to watch our heroes fight, the final battle is jaw-dropping, and MVP Paul Bettany finally steps in from doing off-camera voice work as an insanely well-realised cinematic version of comic book fan-favourite, The Vision. People will be watching and re-watching this film for years to come as multiple viewings reveal new elements previously missed. The new cast are great additions, the old cast all get their moments to shine; any faults to be found within the film can simply be attributed to the film buckling under its own weight and the high expectations Whedon himself set with the first outing – a sin for which I’ll be first in line to forgive. The simple fact that we’re in an era where we have been given a sequel to an Avengers film is fucking incredible, and will make these films a delight to watch for as long as Marvel keeps pumping them out. As a lifelong fan, I hope that will be a good long while.

Author: Matthew Rodgers

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