What it's about:
When Tony Stark tries to jumpstart a dormant peacekeeping program, things go awry and Earth's Mightiest Heroes, including Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye, are put to the ultimate test as the fate of the planet hangs in the balance. As the villainous Ultron emerges, it is up to The Avengers to stop him from enacting his terrible plans, and soon uneasy alliances and unexpected action pave the way for a global adventure.
What we thought:
The Avengers: Age of Ultron is a rollicking, endlessly entertaining joy from beginning to end but it's one that may also fall prey to its own build up. Indeed, even my own reservations about the film have less to do with the film itself, than certain expectations I have created in the intervening years between the Avengers' first big screen outing and this, their sophomore showing.
But first, the good stuff. Once again, the real joy of the Avengers is watching these disparate characters interact with one another and writer/ director Joss Whedon is unquestionably the man for the job. Known first and foremost for his witty, stylized dialogue and his beautifully on-point characterization, Whedon builds on the relationships established in the first film and even introduces a number of new elements along the way – some from other existing Marvel films and some making their debut here.
The way the different characters work together in the film's many meticulously orchestrated action scenes is a wonder to behold but, once again, the real fun begins when the action stops and the characters start riffing off one another with Whedon's genuinely funny, convention-busting dialogue. And, considering just how many characters there are in this film, Whedon's ability to balance all these different personalities remains truly impressive.
Sure, not everyone gets the same amount of face time but Whedon really knows these characters and he easily captures their personalities with as little as a cast off line. The primary focus on the film is on Iron Man (yup, again), Black Widow, The Hulk and, of course, on our main villain Ultron but veterans and newcomers (The Vision! The Scarlet Witch! Lindsey Weir of Freaks and Geeks!) alike get their chances to shine. More than anyone else though, this is Hawkeye's film, which more than makes up for his meagre showing in the first film. His characterization is different from the comics but, like the best of his print adventures, his status as the Avenger's everyman character comes very much to the fore here.
The cast is unsurprisingly brilliant, more than doing justice to Joss Whedon's excellent scripting, with James Spader in particular bringing real menace along with humour and creepiness to the voice of Ultron, making him easily the Marvel Cinematic Universe's best villain this side of Loki. Even the million and one supporting players kick ass in their own right, thus making sure that this is a true ensemble, rather than the “Robert Downey Jr Show” it could have been.
And, once again, “plot” is still not Whedon's main concern but this is still a far better plotted story than the first Avengers film, even if its still driven primarily by character over anything else.
Now, as for the film's problems – or is that “problems”. First and foremost, ignore the trailers, this is not, by any stretch of the imagination a “dark” film. This might disappoint the group of fans who would prefer a more “mature”, “edgy” take than the light, hopeful and funny tone we get here but, as I still consider Superman: The Movie to be the ultimate blueprint of the superhero film, they certainly can't count me as a member. Also, anyone looking to Age of Ultron for a MAJOR MCU game changer should definitely temper their expectations because, even if the film is hardly lacking in event, it's more like a really good story arc of the regular Avengers comic book than a prestige format event – if you catch my (slightly outdated) comic-book-jargon drift.
More problematic this time though, is the film's adherence to the Marvel movie formula. The action scenes are really well done here, easily surpassing the first film in excitement, choreography and sheer visual cool but the Marvel tradition of dedicating the entire final act of the film to a sprawling action sequence that pits our heroes against a usually sky-bound, world-ending threat. Again, it's done really well and I wasn't bored for a moment but I can't help but wish that this sequence was shortened to make way for more talky character interaction. And yes, I realise I might be entirely alone here.
Finally, this is Whedon's last film for Marvel (for now?) and I'm really looking forward to him getting back to doing his own stuff because however great he has been at helming both Avengers films, they simply haven't afforded him to really delve into the allegorical and metaphorical aspects of genre storytelling that he's explored so intelligently in “creator-owned” work like Firefly and, of course, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The Avengers movies are really, really, really fun but I miss the substance that Whedon brings to his best work.
In short, Avengers: Age of Ultron isn't going to win over new fans and existing fans might want to keep their expectations in check but, that said, I could not recommend this film highly enough as a slice of expertly written, wonderfully acted, funny, exciting and just flat out FUN entertainment.
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