Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo
In an attempt to make the world a safer place, Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) creates a sentient robot called Ultron (James Spader), but when things go awry and Ultron plans world destruction, the Avengers face overwhelming odds to stop this all powerful creation.
The Marvel cinematic universe is now surely one of (if not THE) biggest franchises in the film industry, but of course with that comes increasing pressure as well as the risk of complacency. Well, self-confessed fan boy Joss Whedon managed to defy a lot of the scepticism by making the 2012 ensemble piece work, and now there is even bigger pressure on him to recreate that winning formula again with an even bigger cast list of big names and avoid Age of Ultron being a cacophony of chaos.
Well, of course when writing a film where a vast majority of the main characters have had their own individual films all to themselves means you do not have to worry too much about character development and can focus primarily on plot. That is just as well really, as at 141 minutes Age of Ultron is already a bit too long. However Joss Whedon proves that he has not rested on his laurels and sticks to the formula of combining genuine comedy, engaging characters and involving drama that made Avengers Assemble such good fun. However it is of course quite vacuous, bloated and it is best not to question a lot of the plot points too much, but while on the screen Age of Ultron is on the whole an enjoyable ride.
For me the main reason that Whedon does this so successfully is that instead of panicking at the prospect of having so many characters, he is essentially an excellent manager in that he utilises the unique traits of each character and the talents of his big name cast (not to mention the fact that they have now seemed to find good on-screen chemistry with each other – they should considering the films they have done together!). Though it certainly does not try to be quite the light hearted and incredibly fun romp that was Guardians of the Galaxy (and quite rightly too!) Age of Ultron is most certainly at its best when the focus is on fun and the banter between the characters (an early party scene when they all having a go at picking up Thor’s hammer is a most certainly a hilarious stand-out). Occasionally some attempted moments of humour do misfire and feel out of place, but there is certainly a generous plethora of laugh out loud moments.
Whedon is however also not afraid to tackle some intelligent and serious themes, and how intelligent and deeply these are examined is most definitely open to interpretation, but there is most certainly an element of allegory behind the main plot of Age of Ultron. Part of this is down to a huge focus on who in my opinion remains the franchise’s most intriguing character; Tony Stark. Stark’s brilliance, genius, arrogance, cynicism (“I don’t trust a man without a dark side”), narcissism and borderline hubris are not only what essentially drives the plot as it is what brings about the creation of Ultron, but also Ultron himself has all the character traits of his creator (with the sarcasm and dry humour thrown in too for good and very effective measure). Though Ultron’s actions are of course more extreme and almost the polar opposite of Stark its original intentions him/it, his motivation and intentions are essentially the same in what is very much a less than subtle Frankenstein’s monster element to the narrative.
All the best blockbusters have great antagonists that are in many ways equally intriguing and sympathetic and despite being a CGI robot, Ultron is actually in my view one of the best antagonists of the franchise so far (though of course he is no Loki!). The primary reason for this is because he mirrors the character traits of his creator and is often childlike in his behaviour. As the voice of Ultron James Spader proves that when just doing the voice of a character, if done effectively it still requires some serious effort and talent, and his vocal performance certainly brings extra charisma, presence and depth to the character of Ultron.
The rest of the cast seem to have never felt more comfortable in their roles; Robert Downey Jr. is predictably the standout, but Chris Hemsworth also seems to be only getting better as Thor and certainly has mastered the art of comic timing. Whedon does manage to give every character their own moment, and the likes of Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Black widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) get moments in the narrative that explore not only their abilities but their individual characters.
Though they do essentially feel like their inclusions are convenient and slightly contrived plot devices at times, the other new additions of Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and The Vision (Paul Bettany) also get their own defining moments and certainly provide potentially interesting developments for future films in the franchise. There is also an abundance of appearances of familiar faces from the franchise; these could easily feel forced, cheap and tacky in the wrong hands, but Whedon does show discipline and these appearances of familiar faces only enhances the film’s enjoyment and engagement.
As the film goes on, the constant action sequences do get occasionally repetitive and tiresome, but thankfully due to Whedon’s writing and the performances it is impossible not to care for all the main characters and so there is still engagement and a genuine sense of danger. Age of Ultron certainly delivers on thrills and spectacle, and though Whedon occasionally gets carried away with the sporadic cringe worthy shot (one slow-mo in the film’s opening sequence is particularly embarrassing) he demonstrates that he is not only a talented writer/ director with genuine passion for the characters he is writing about and filming, but more importantly a good manager. 2015 is a year where some very big name titles are entering the blockbuster market, and Avengers: Age of Ultron has most certainly set a reasonably high (but by no means insurmountable) standard and its satisfying conclusion makes for an intriguing setup to 2016’s Captain America: Civil War.
Though perhaps not quite as good as its 2012 predecessor, Whedon once again delivers blockbusting thrills, laugh out loud humour and enough seriousness to make Avengers: Age of Ultron another welcome addition to Marvel cinematic universe.