When I wrote on the first Avengers all those years ago, I rambled in a giddy haze of how amazing it was simply because it didn’t fall apart. Actually having several, high profile superheroes as the protagonists, having them not drown each other out by vying for more screen time and for having an excellent script. Avengers was great for the simple fact it didn’t mess itself up!
But here we are, round two, and superhero team up stories are no longer a new thing. Was the first time a fluke?
Word to the wise: contains brief plot details for both Ultron and some previous Marvel films
Now Showing this week is Avengers: Age of Ultron, directed by Joss Whedon. Following the collapse of S.H.I.E.L.D in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the Avengers have been hunting the remaining pockets of HYDRA forces to try and locate Loki’s sceptre. Upon retrieving it in an explosive opening battle, Tony Stark/Iron Man and Bruce Banner/Hulk discover that the blue gem inside the sceptre appears to resemble an artificial brain, much like Stark’s JARVIS program only much more advanced. Stark sees this discovery as the perfect opportunity to launch his “Ultron” experiment, in which his automated Iron Man suits would be run by an artificial intelligence with the base prerogative to “protect the world”. But after installing the gemstone’s AI, the team soon realise that it is not the peacekeeper they intended and rather sees the only path to peace on Earth is humanity’s extinction.
The first thing that struck me about Age of Ultron is that we can no longer watch the Marvel movies as individual films for the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become far too large. It’s now more like a TV show, only each episode is feature length and comes out every six-ish months. (And I thought the wait for Game of Thrones was bad!). The reason I say that is because Ultron makes little effort to catch you up on anything you may not have seen if you missed one of the films, nor does it introduce you to the characters should this be your first MCU experience (as silly as that would be, I’m sure it’s happening). I know this sounds like a no-brainer, we are talking about a sequel in a series of films here, but I feel it’s relevant because all the films strengths come from all this context leading up to it, which it could not possibly give on its own.
Much like the original, Age of Ultron successfully maintains a balance among its core cast of characters. They all bond and clash in believable ways, they each have depth to them through actions both great and small and this is all due to the many films worth of development that has come before them. We all know who they are, what their roles are, and it allows Age of Ultron to drive them forward starting at their complexities without wasting time on introductions.
Character development in a project like this, with pre-established films you had no hand in, is due to Joss Whedon’s excellent dialogue writing skills. He weaves darkness and witticisms together with ease to formulate hearty banter and serious discussion. He takes the well-established characters in directions I would never have expected, particularly in a sub-plot involving Hulk and Black Widow that I was quite fond of, and that’s exactly what makes him great.
As for the new characters featuring in Age of Ultron, they were fine but could have been better. Without going into spoiler territory, newcomer twins Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch were interesting additions but ones I didn’t find particularly necessary, coming across more as a means of introducing more characters to the MCU without having to finance another standalone film. Perhaps they will become more interesting or bigger players in future movies, but for now I wasn’t wowed.
As for Ultron himself, he certainly commanded presence. Voiced by James Spader, Ultron was ominous, clever, funny and extremely formidable; all things you want to see in a villain. If I had to pick out a problem I had with him, it was that the film seemed to go with the angle that he was simply born evil, that he was doomed to villainy from the start, which I think missed a great opportunity to explore the cold, AI logic approach to peace on Earth. To see him be neutral and to learn of all humanity’s failings, and to make the logical decision of eradicating us all would have made for a more powerful villain, a more poignant form of “doomed from the start”.
Age of Ultron is nothing short of entertaining, and goes to show that the first film was not a fluke. I have been asked by many as to whether it is as good as the original, and I would say that it is but just for different reasons. Avengers was great for merely coming together well, Age of Ultron on the other hand kept what originally worked and further pushed the character focus to bring out better internal/external conflicts, a cooler villain and just as awesome action. While Age of Ultron may not end with any sense of finality, it sets up interesting prospects for the films to come (though the Phase 3 announcements spoils that a little already).
So yeah, check it out, it’s pretty awesome. Although I still maintain that Hawkeye would in no way be able to fight alongside the rest of them and survive. Man, that guy is useless.
See you next time!