Upon invading the remaining Hydra bases, The Avengers stumble across the beginning of a remarkably sophisticated artificial intelligence. Feeling he can capitalise on it, Tony Stark develops it to be a protective force for the world, but on self-awareness ‘The Ultron Programme’ has other ideas, which will include destroying the world if it can’t improve it. The Avengers, of course, have other ideas.
The first Avengers film was a true first in cinema. Not something that can be said lightly, but using a hitherto unused narrative architecture usually reserved for comicbook continuities, Marvel were able to bring many of their big-hitters together for a single epic adventure, which included seeing these characters clash, interact and team up, while presenting the best Hulk ever put to screen, and furthermore it did it with style, gusto and humour.
It was hard to find a fanboy that wasn’t blown away to some degree, and the general public seemed to dig it too, but after umpteen viewings that invigoration of originality has warn off to the point where, one suspects, we’re complacent with the Marvel cinematic architecture. We just expect it to be good.
So where does that leave the second Avengers film? It can no longer rely on it’s singular conceit of teaming up some of our favourite characters, it isn’t playing with that ball anymore, it just has to be impressive on it’s of filmy merits… Is it though?
It’s not perfect, and I’ll get some slight negatives out of the way first, so I can have fun geeking out later. Initially, to fit tons of cool hero-shots and story set-ups going, the editing and info comes at you at a break-neck pace, not so much that it’s hard to follow but enough that the rhythm seems a little off. It does find it’s pace though, but with the odd interjection of some slightly shoehorned scenes and story points.
Okay, so there’s that, but right up front, during a party scene, Joss Whedon really shows us what he’s best at and endears us with his snappy dialogue and fun character interaction while they’re at play. As with all of Whedon’s work, humour permeates, and never is it more consistent than in this scene, but in general this instalment is funnier than the first Avengers film which has you on the its side from the outset.
From here he deftly puts focus on characters that don’t have their own vehicles, giving backstory, texture and emotional punch to such characters as Hawkeye, Black Widow and Banner. Word of warning, these and other character beats widely vary from those of the Marvel Comics iterations, so purists might be irked throughout. I tend to embrace changes if they work for the story, it means I can be learning things about the characters in the way that’s new to me and not just have all the information at hand because I read comics.
In the same manner, this Ultron is not like any Ultron you’ve ever seen before, or even like any villain you’ve seen before; sure he looks like the comic Ultron, but from the moment he speaks, it’s clear we’re getting something truly different. He is, to put it lightly, an absolute lunatic, whose outlook is baffling yet intriguing.
The character motivations and threat combine to create a more complex story than the admittedly very simple story of the first film, and its not to the film’s detriment, nor is the introduction of several familiar and unfamiliar characters, it all weaves together to form something that holds your intense interest throughout.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, and perhaps even then, you’ll know which new Avengers characters are introduced in Age of Ultron, which is to say, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and The Vision. As unfocused as they are in the comics, Scarlet Witch’s powers are nonetheless handled really well, and Quicksilver looks cool and gets to indulge in some excellent action, though it has to be said Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s turn as Quicksiler is one of the least interesting performances of the movie. The real show though is without doubt The Vision; brilliant character moments, a tieing into the greater Marvel universe and a collection of visually impressive superpowers combine to create a practical walking, talking geekgasm, Paul Bettany does a great job.
The nods to that aforementioned greater Marvel universe are plenty, in both theme and material appearances. Yes, some of them are fitted in a little chunkily, but for the most part they occur seamlessly and with purpose.
Another thing that’s plentiful is the action, and this time the emphasis seems to be on the hero-shot. Seemingly no action set piece goes by without one or all involved looking truly badass, in that hyper-real, comic panel fashion. The action, you’ll be glad to hear, is as inventive as all hell, but with so many CG elements in play (as is symptomatic of the visuals in general), it never quite looks as seamlessly convincing as something like Captain America: Winter Soldier. Having said that, Winter Soldier is right at the top of the actiony pile and doesn’t have as many elements to deal with as Age of Ultron, so it’s not entirely a fair comparison. All that being said, from the impressive opening to the even more impressive climax, your inner geek will be as pleased as punch with the superpowered mash-ups.
With the odd wrinkle here and there, Avengers: Age of Ultron hits all the geekily beautiful notes; sporting impressive visuals, characters, performances, action, narrative, dialogue and all around superheroiness, it mixes in plenty of elements that will both excite fanboy/fangirl-dom and propel the Marvel cinematic universe into more complex and daring areas. They did it again; they went and knocked it out of the park.