Avengers: Age of Ultron: Film Review
Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, James Spader, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Elisabeth Olsen, Jeremy Renner
Director: Joss Whedon
Peace in our time, existential angst and a lot of setting up for Phase 3 of Marvel's Cinematic Universe are the big issues explored in the latest Avengers' movie, helmed by Joss Whedon.
Following on from events in Manhattan where the Chitauri invaded under Loki's malevolence, the film begins with a raid on a fortress to secure Loki's Sceptre.
But when Robert Downey Jr's Tony Stark and his hubris tries to jumpstart a dormant peacekeeping program by using the tech from the sceptre, things go badly awry, birthing the villainous Ultron (James Spader) and threatening the safety of the universe due to his malign God complex.
Foregoing his usual style of quippiness and ditching his lighter touch in favour of a darker psychological movie with character in amid the chaos, The Avengers: Age Of Ultron strives to make the superhuman gang a little more exposed to their human foibles with the introduction of fan-fave, the insidious and devious Ultron (brilliantly brought to life by James Spader, whose tones swing between outright disdain and anger at a moment's notice).
In fact, the whole movie feels darker and broodier in tone to previous outings, with more emphasis on the relationships and the human scale of the team providing the, at times, underdeveloped drama.
From the fractious dynamic of the apple pie Captain America squaring off against the cocky and cocksure Tony Stark to the burgeoning will they / won't they of Romanov and Banner's Beauty and The Beast relationship - and a surprising turn of events for Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye (who was a relative blank slate in the previous film). New additions to the fold include Aaron Taylor-Johnson's lightning fast Quicksilver and Elisabeth Olsen's Scarlet Witch, who both harbour a resentment and connection to Stark's military past.
This mournful movie isn't perfect though it has to be said; at times, Whedon feels constrained from his customary quip and wit - and the one inclusion of it sticks out like a sore thumb.
Equally the film's "Coulson moment" lacks the resonance of the first time around in The Avengers, even if it does come with a self-referential line for the character involved. A scene where Hulk and Iron Man go at it reeks of 9/11 allusions, right down to the dust and cuts on victims' faces and it packs a power that's nervously divisive. It feels as if ironically Whedon is more a puppet within the road map that Marvel's laid out rather than free-wheeling.
In fact, I'd go as far as to say this doesn't feel like Joss Whedon film in many ways (which, I admit, I respect it for).
There's a quiet dissonance throughout the at times dour The Avengers: Age Of Ultron, a feeling of endings and of set up for pay-offs further down the franchise, which may lead some to feel latest Avengers' film isn't quite the air-punching blockbuster and calibre of the first, with some probably feeling a little too much time is given to semantics and discussion about whether you should or shouldn't enact the Avengers' equivalent of the Patriot Act as well as delaying pay-off until the ominously titled Captain America 3- Civil War.
Still, at least Marvel's offered up an old school good guys vs the bad guy scenario in this transitional piece rather than the usual Infinity Stone MacGuffin fuelling the action (but still rely on the same style endings as befits all their films); there are some impressive action sequences and the usual space to let them breathe; and the end where the broken team reacts to their own ideologies, their fracturing and a different future is mapped out is an intriguing one.
Avengers: Age of Ultron will still be incredibly popular, though I suspect this darker, more introspective and slightly over-long piece won't be raved about in the same breath as the previous entry, but it may serve a long tail life; it's a film to be appreciated and applauded for Whedon's refusal to repeat the formula the second time around and proffers up a tantalising, if not entirely gripping or engaging, peek at what lies ahead for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.