Director: Joss Whedon
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Paul Bettany, James Spader, Jeremy Renner, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smoulders
After the Avengers disbanded at the end of Avengers Assemble they swore to reunite if ever the Earth needed its mightiest heroes. Iron Man still struggles with the aftermath of the battle of New York, and has created an Iron Legion of drones to help the Avengers. In an effort to create an artificial intelligence to ensure peace in our times, Ultron is born, and starts to dismantle the Avengers.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has become a juggernaut. At first the films were all building towards Avengers Assemble but in the films between that and Age of Ultron there has been more crossover, and it’s arguable that The Winter Soldier was a more important pillar in the overarching universe than Age of Ultron is. It’s an enjoyable film, and a great spectacle with relentless action set-pieces. It moves at a brisk pace, and there’s enough here to satisfy people but ultimately I can’t help but feel that it wasn’t as great as it could have been. I read an interview with Joss Whedon after Avengers Assemble came out and he talked about how sequels usually go bigger, but the idea is to go deeper. It’s a good idea, and there are moments in Age of Ultron where this is true, but the film retreads some of the ground of the previous film, and the pattern is eerily similar. The Avengers are good, then something happens to make them doubt themselves and they have to rally, and the climax involves them fighting an army of faceless drones, while Iron Man again has to try and prevent something from falling to Earth.
It left me feeling that the novelty factor of seeing the heroes together isn’t enough anymore, especially after we’ve seen Black Widow, Falcon, and Nick Fury work together in The Winter Soldier, so the solo movies aren’t necessarily solo anymore, especially when Civil War is shaping up to involve even more heroes.
But perhaps that’s underselling Age of Ultron because it does a lot right. After Hulk stole the show in Avengers Assemble a lot of people were clamouring for another solo movie, but Marvel have wisely used the Avengers movies as they only place you can see the Hulk, and really it touches on the major points of Bruce’s story, so a solo movie isn’t needed. Bruce gets the main emotional story, and has the deepest arc, along with Black Widow. Hawkeye gets used far more in this film too, and Renner shows that he’s worthy to stand alongside the other heroes.
The new additions are cool as well. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver add some new powers, and although this version of the speedster doesn’t have the same impact as the same hero in X-Men: Days of Future Past, the twins bring something different to the film and an added pathos.
The one area in which the MCU has been lacking has been the villains, but in Ultron they can boast one of the most entertaining. Alongside Loki and Kingpin he’s a good character. Infused with a shadow of Stark’s personality, Ultron comes of as deranged and dangerous, and Spader’s delivery is perfect. Vision is cool too, and opens up some new possibilities.
The characters get moments to shine, and although this time Iron Man and Captain America take a back seat, they have moments that plant seeds for their eventual disagreement. Yet even then I felt things would be left on a more sour note between them (and this is another little quibble I have with Marvel – it’s all well and good releasing the titles of films for the next ten years but it does mean people are constantly looking forward rather than taking this film for what it is).
I did think the creation of Ultron was rushed, and the first part of the film dropped us straight into the action. I feel this was a mistake because at the end of the first film we were told that the Avengers would come back when Earth needed them, yet at the start we see that they’ve actually been working together for a while, and it undercut the drama of the initial promise. I mentioned the retreading the same ground before, and while this is a criticism I will defend, my friend also pointed out that it could be argued the real villain in these two films has been the mind gem (perhaps villain is the wrong term, antagonist perhaps), and again things are seeded here for the cosmic battle that will come in the future.
Age of Ultron develops the universe in a broader way and introduces new characters in a way that feels organic and natural. Ultron is a compelling presence and makes a good villain. It’s a fun movie and I enjoyed it a lot, but I do find myself looking forward more to the solo adventures.
I’ll also mention the credits scene here. I wasn’t a fan of this one. I was hoping for something about a character we hadn’t previously seen, as this one didn’t tell us anything new and it felt a little redundant. I’m also disappointed that there wasn’t anything hinting at Spider-Man. They managed to film the shawarma scene a week before the last one premiered, and I thought they could have had a little tease. I would even have taken a strand of web hanging from the edge of the screen at the end of the credits!