The task laid out before Avengers: Age Of Ultron is one worthy of any superhero; top, or at the very least equal, the third highest grossing film of all time. So while Thor has been off fighting Dark Elves, Captain America has been getting used to the 21st Century in a surprisingly Cold War film and Iron Man has been suffering from post traumatic stress disorder Joss Whedon has been looking at how to Assemble these Avengers once again. Because last time he set the bar pretty high, having all those heroes in one film complete with banter, bickering and Marvel’s best bad guy, Age Of Ultron has a lot to live up to. Thankfully, like any good hero, it doesn’t just rise to the challenge it stands tall with the wind unfurling its cape and the sun setting behind it.
Age Of Ultron doesn’t hang about, there’s no ‘putting the band back together’, when the film fades in they’re in full-on Avenger mode, storming a Hydra stronghold in order to retrieve Loki’s sceptre. But they come up against a new foe in the form of twins Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), the former possessing super-speed the latter telekinesis and the ability to plant terror into those around her. Instilling that fear in Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) reminds him of how vulnerable the world is so, with the technology in the sceptre and the help of Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), he creates Ultron (James Spader); a sentient artificial intelligence that, unfortunately, multiplies faster than “Catholic rabbits” and whose only goal is to wipe The Avengers from the face of the earth. So Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) and Banner are making goo-goo eyes at each other, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is worried about his place in the collective, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) fears the sceptre may be even more powerful than any of them realise and poor old Captain America (Chris Evans) is desperate to keep the gang together, and more importantly, alive.
As with the first film, Avengers: Age Of Ultron is at the pinnacle of fun cinema. It is a break-neck adventure peppered with loveable characters always bouncing off each other. Take a bow writer-director Joss Whedon because juggling this many characters, this many narrative threads, this many elements of Marvel Universe continuity, and managing, some how, to make it all wonderfully entertaining and thrilling is frankly staggering.
There isn’t a character on offer here who Whedon doesn’t find a way to form an attachment with. Indeed not only does he juggle them all he manages to give the fringe Avengers, those without their own stand-alone films, more meaty roles. So Renner’s Hawkeye gets a nice subplot, Ruffalo and Johansson get a typically Whedon adorable romance, and the new kids on the block, Olsen and Taylor-Johnson, aren’t just your run of the mill villains or henchmen, they’re fully fledged characters, complete with back stories and everything.
And therein lies The Avengers’, and Whedon’s, brilliance. That this isn’t just an excuse to have a whole load of CGI buildings exploding, robots flying and heroes smashing, but instead a chance to hang out with a group of characters who all love each other and who we all love in return and hope, pray, beyond what is normal for this kind of movie, that they all make it to the finish line.
That being said the set pieces are spectacular. The opening gambit of witnessing The Avengers catapult themselves into action has you fist-pumping from the first frame and it never lets up. Iron Man Vs. The Incredible Hulk in South Africa is a particular highlight but so too is Cap’s Korean pursuit of Ultron with Black Widow acting as his maid, picking up after the mess he’s made.
Like any good sequel Age Of Ultron does go darker, not distinctly so and the tone always remains jovial, but there is a sense of these guys, as was mentioned in the first film, not always being a team but a “ticking time bomb”. It’s brave but what it does, especially given Whedon has form in killing off fan favourite characters (RIP Firefly’s Wash), is give a sense of emotional investment. It’s something that is often lacking from other superhero films, you never really believe Superman is going to die, Wolverine is apparently indestructible and other Marvel characters seemingly always rise from the dead, but here, in this film there is that worry, always the suspicion that Whedon is planting seeds that you hope never come to be harvested by the Grim Reaper.
By now the actors are all so ingrained in their characters you suspect they walk around their houses in costume. Downey Jr does cocky swagger better than anyone, even when it does look like his character could have designed the downfall of his teammates. Chris Hemsworth is always that Errol Flynn-like laughing-in-the-face-of-danger kind of hero, although here gets a slight moment to brood as he would in his solo Thor movies. Chris Evans continues to be the franchise’s secret weapon, playing a character, that could so easily have been a boring boy scout, with such charm and grace he’s the foundation upon which Avengers comfortably rests. Spader’s Ultron is a wonderful villain. Not including Loki was always a risk but Spader means his absence is never felt, his matter-of-fact delivery is able to create a chill and a giggle simultaneously. Ruffalo is always bankable, and here his presence is felt more than ever before in the motion-capture of Hulk, his doe-eyes wonderfully rendered in the visual effects. Renner meanwhile is clearly revelling getting the chance to play-up the fact that Hawkeye is “just a guy with a bow” and injects some great emotions into the role.
But the real standouts here are the ladies. Hardly surprising from the man who gave us Buffy but Whedon is always at his best when dealing in strong female characters. Elizabeth Olsen has rapidly proved she is one of the next generations most dependable actors, her portrayal as The Scarlet Witch is both terrifyingly powerful and adorably timid, it’s that ability to one minute look on the verge of tears before unleashing hell on all who dare cross her; The Vampire Slayer would be proud. Scarlet Johansson in her now tried and tested Black Widow guise is stunning. We’ve seen glimpses of her conflicted nature and past but in Age Of Ultron we sense that she wants more from life and in Johansson’s hands it’s a beating heart to the film, her calming of The Hulk is pure cinematic magic. It’s high time someone made a Black Widow film.
Avengers: Age Of Ultron more than lives up to the expectation created by its predecessor, the kind of film that cinemas were made for: big, bold, balls-to-the-wall roller-coaster fun and all done with characters you know, love and care deeply for. Take a bow Joss Whedon and someone give this man a cape.