After the monster hit that was the first Avengers movie, Age of Ultron was always going to burst into cinemas with force, carrying with it hoards of superhero fans eager to engage in the latest round of the monster Marvel Cinematic Universe. All of the world building comes to ahead as the stars come together. Future movie plans give as an idea with what to expect, but when Earth’s Mightiest Heroes join forces, you know it’s going to be a spectacle.
The movie kicks off with a bang as the team hunts down Loki’s scepter, which went missing at the end of the first Avengers, and the opening scene as the Avengers fight their way through the snow is a masterclass in choreography, intertwining the different team members and reintroducing them with various displays of heroic strength and wit. Straight away you feel like you’ve been transported into a comic book brought to life. Through this scene we also meet the twins, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch (the opening events are all teased at the end of Winter Soldier), and the groundwork for the movie’s plot is laid down. With the scepter Tony Stark and Bruce Banner try their hand at true A.I, but when their tech wizardry fails them Ultron comes to life, becoming sentient and starting an international hunt to try and stop him from realising his notion of peace in a perfect world, which is one without the Avengers.
A movie like this will live and die on how it carries the entirety of the team, and thankfully this isn’t the Tony Stark and friends show even though he has the most screentime and plot influence. Everyone has an important role to play, everyone has their side plots that are given the attention they demand, and everyone gets a chance to be both fun and dramatic. And Hawkeye fans can rejoice, Clint Barton is much more than the guy on the ends of the poster this time around. He gets a much bigger role this time both in and away from the action, and his star shines brightest.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most glaring weakness has been its villains. Outside of Loki none have really stood out as strong and interesting antagonists. Ultron isn’t perfect, but he’s still better than a lot of what the MCU has previously put forth. He’s suitably menacing and even sympathetic at times, but his motivations for world domination aren’t fleshed out as well as they needed to be, and while Spader does a great job there a few moments where his dialogue is clumsy. It seems intentional, he is after all a child to the world, but it feels Ultron could have been even more menacing with a few tweaks.
The new stars are fun and better executed for the most part. Quicksilver is different enough from his X-Men Days of Future Past counterpart, and while his abilities are put on display they don’t try to top the magical slow mo scene we saw in the other movie. Scarlet Witch is enjoyable, but both suffer from being collectively characterised, and aren’t given much chance to grow as their own beings. The surprise was Vision, who despite coming into it a bit over half way is captivating and a visual delight. Paul Bettany nails the role and while we don’t get a lot of him, it works as a small dosage.
The Avengers shines when it wants to have fun. And its pursuit of fun also helped sell the concept of the shared universe to anyone who doubted it. The party scene which ties in characters from nearly all of the movie franchises represented in Age of Ultron are present is a joy to behold, and perhaps the standout part of a movie filled to the brim with action. As the MCU continues to grow future scenes like this in upcoming Avengers movies will only get better. We can only hope to see characters like Netflix’s Daredevil making an appearance in the future so we can begin to see the real scope of this kind of venture.
Here’s the thing. For all of the great things in this film (and there are many things to like about it) there is something it is ultimately lacking. I loved the first Avengers when I saw it in cinemas, but on repeated viewings I don’t think it lives up to the standards of other top tier superhero movies like The Winter Soldier or The Dark Knight. With so many characters designed to be the sole protagonists trying to juggle time, the main plot ends up being a little weak and by the numbers. The same issue arises in Age of Ultron. The plot does the job, but it doesn’t hide behind the visual spectacle and team-ups because, well, we’ve seen it before now. It’s fun seeing Thor and Captain America link up moves and combo’s, but now we’ve seen The Avengers together on screen all they can do is up the ante. And while they do that (the tension is higher than it was in the first) it never bares the full weight of its consequence, in part because the universe is still waiting for Thanos to make his move. Because of the Infinity Wars looming in the distance, it feels like a middle movie, and while Ultron’s plans are certainly threatening enough, the story has to move around so much to accompany the subplots that the internal threat always feels more dangerous than the external.
I wanted to love this movie, and in a way I do. It’s a fun and action filled time. But there is something about it that doesn’t quite work. Both Avengers movies seem more like an experiment in what is possible within the world of cinema and franchising. And they’re both trailblazing in that respect. Seeing so many big names both in universe and in our world is a sight to behold, but the trade off seems to be at the expense of something deeper. For all of its high octane action and witty scriptwriting it is a little hollower than it should be.
Meanwhile it feels the trauma and events of Iron Man 3 are more or less forgotten when it comes to Tony Stark, and S.H.I.E.L.D’s shakeup barely warrants a mention. It doesn’t help either that much of the movie’s tension is already spoiled. They ask us to worry for heroes when we already know Iron Man and Captain America are in Civil War and Thor in Ragnarok. At least in that respect much of the foreshadowing is placed on characters whose futures as less contractually assured, and it’s not afraid to make you wonder through much of the movie who will be around for the start of the Infinity Wars.
Age of Ultron is a fun ride, with plenty of nods to the shared universe and the comic books it spawned from to give fans a smile. But for all of the glitz and glamour it suffered from being the second movie where all of the heroes came together to fight, and some of the magic was lost as a result. It wasn’t the actors fault, and it wasn’t even really Joss Whedon’s, because without his deft hand at ensemble maintenance this could have been a wreck. But in an effort to make everyone matter, it loses the density it could of have. Big ensemble pieces like this are naturally better suited to longer mediums, and the need to give everyone the spotlight means spreading out the time at a cost of depth.
If you are a fan of the Avengers, or really superheroes in general, then there is a lot to like about this movie. It is a fun summer blockbuster in design and execution. It isn’t without its flaws though, and they are significant enough to have you leaving the cinema feeling less satisfied that you would want to after such an event. It’s not really a bad movie, but it misses the mark of great, and that’s not because it overhyped itself, just that it carries noticeable enough flaws to drag down some of its good. Marvel had a chance to put all of the pressure on DC, but after Age of Ultron they failed to deliver the killer blow they could have.