Marvel’s Avengers Assemble set some pretty exceptional benchmarks. Not only is the film the highest grossing comic-book movie of all them, it’s the third highest grossing film of all time worldwide with 1.518 billion dollars. It marked the culmination of over four years of universe building that has set the standard for other studios to emulate. In short it changed the dynamic of cinema. Despite all of these achievements director Joss Whedon was not happy with the film, stating that he sees nothing but flaws, compromise, and laziness. With its sequel Avengers: Age of Ultron he aims to learn from those mistakes and deliver an action spectacular that can be a summer tentpole and a personal experience at the same time.”
Age of Ultron is more than just a sequel to Avengers Assemble, it’s also the culmination of Phase 2 (saving the parallel story of Ant-Man later this year). Taking place after the events of Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier in particular, the film starts with the gang all back together and on a mission. That’s it, straight back into the group dynamic as if nothing had happened and off to the races. The outcome of this mission will impact the very nature of the Avengers, and when Tony Stark and Bruce Banner decide to build a artificial intelligence capable of defending the world they accidentally unleash a sentient robot, named Ultron, upon the world who promises to wreck havoc and destruction. It’s up to the Avengers to assemble once more in a bid to stop Ultron from completing his plan.
One of the strongest things about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the reason that other studios struggle so much to mimic their success, is the cast. After 5 films (and one cameo) Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark, the two are indistinguishable from one another. This familiarity allows him in Age of Ultron to accept a lesser role, allowing other characters to grow rather than overpowering proceeding with his charisma and wit. The major recipient of this space, in both script and screen-time is Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton aka Hawkeye. This is a double edged sword because, as good an actor as Renner is, Barton is just not that interesting of a character. His expanded scenes offer a heart to the film, but serve to slow the proceedings down. The audience can understand the need to stop an maniacal robot without being shown the American heartland. Scarlett Johansson is also given more to do and that works well for the most part. Fleshing out her backstory through flashbacks we get to know Natasha Romanoff better, and see what led her to become the Black Widow. However the burgeoning relationship between Romanoff and Mark Ruffalo’s Banner is another drag on the pace of the film and offers little. With so many characters and the need to flesh some of them out there were naturally going to be issues. Chris Hemsworth’s Thor has some of the best lines in the film, but is relegated for the most part to a secondary mission that is there to more the plot of the universe forward, rather than the film. Chris Evans too takes something of a back-seat, despite adopting leadership of the Avengers. Of the new cast Andy Serkis is fine, but fleeting, as weapons dealer Ulysses Klaue, Aaron Taylor Johnson fails to match the superlative Quicksilver performance of Evan Peters in X-Men: Days of Future Past, and Elizabeth Olsen lends her considerable acting prowess to the second most realised new character in the guise of Wanda Maximoff aka Scarlet Witch. The best of the new characters, and it will come as no surprise, is the titular Ultron. James Spader embodies the CGI creation with his unique movements and distinctive voice, offering a completely different, and utterly engaging portrayal. Don Cheadle, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, and Samuel L. Jackson all return to their roles to help aid the story and serve as a reminder of the bigger universe out there.
Age of Ultron is a fantastic spectacle. In fact it’s probably the best comic-book action committed to screen to date, and when it’s motoring it performs like a billionaires supercar. When it slows down and the audience is allowed to think more about the events onscreen it begins to become more muddled. The romance subplot, the excursion to Barton-land, and the shadow of the Infinity Stones and what they mean for the future films and the expanded universe are a drag to the sheer enjoyment of the action and camaraderie. Marvel’s decision to announce there Phase 3 slate in October 2014 meant that fans were already planning and speculating the events post-Ultron, and that is keenly felt. Age of Ultron, rather than being the joyful culmination of years of effort, becomes another instalment in a longer running saga (the 11th in this case). A successful and enjoyable instalment, but not the unique pleasure that Avengers Assemble was. These are the things that will follow you home from the screening, but while you are ensconced in the 3D IMAX big-screen, loud noise, visual feast you won’t be thinking about any of these. You’ll simply to wondering where the next action set-piece is coming from, and how can it possibly top the last? The answer is it cannot, as the film adheres to the standard-issue Marvel movie ending by asking our heroes to fight to protect the people from the massive object lingering overhead. Just once it would be nice to see them shake that up a little. Then again the Hulk v Iron Man fight, which has featured in much of the marketing material, is worth the price of admission on its own.
On the whole Avengers: Age of Ultron cannot compare to its predecessor, but as a Marvel film, and a comic-book film, it checks all of the boxes for a thoroughly enjoyable time at the cinema.