23rd Apr2015

‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Paul Bettany, James Spader | Written and Directed by Joss Whedon


You’re probably all well-aware of the plot to Avengers: Age of Ultron by now, given just how many trailers, posters and clips have proliferated the internet these past few months: After recovering Loki’s staff from the evil Baron Von Struker, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner discover that it holds the key to a new form of artificial intelligence. Scientists that they are, the decide to tinker with the AI, unleashing the Ultron program – originally a safeguard for the human race, with a plan to put a robot in every country to protect Earth from alien invaders – on to the world with one goal, to annihilate Earth’s protectors, The Avengers. So, to state the obvious, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye are tasked with stopping Ultron and his legion of robots from unleashing all hell on the earth. And along the way they encounter some new super-powered humans (woe betide we call them mutants in case a Fox lawsuit cometh) Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, along another new future member of The Avengers, who is spawned from a very familiar face voice…

Let’s face it. The Avengers is an easy sell for Marvel these days. After all they’ve invested a LOT of time, money and marketing behind their “universe” and when even a film featuring relatively unknown characters can pull in audiences, an Avengers sequel is easy money. So, to be fair, Marvel could have gone the easy route with this film – packing in the action over the story and cramming the film with the kind of jokey humour that DC fans wouldn’t dare dream appear in their movies (harsh I know). But, they didn’t. Instead Avengers: Age of Ultron is, for wont of a better phrase, a TRUE comic book movie. That might sound like an obvious statement given the source material but let me explain.

To me, as a long-time comic fan, all superhero stories are grounded firmly in the very human stories that they tell. Be it dealing with prejudices (see the X-Men), dealing with pain and anger (see the Hulk), the angst and tribulations of youth (see Spider-Man or Runaways), or – as a lot of superhero team-up books do – telling stories about family. And that’s what this movie does. It tells a very human story of family, relationships, love and finding oneself, all wrapped up in one of the the most visually stunning, most comic-like movies of the Marvel oeuvre. Between the myriad of high-impact, fast-paced, non-stop action sequences, many of which look like they have been ripped directly from the pages of an Avengers comic, we get scenes that – befitting a Joss Whedon production – show us the very essence of what it is like to lead the life of a hero: to feel a connection with others or to feel like an outsider even amongst friends; to wonder about your place in the world and your effect on it; to try and live up to the standards of the very term “hero”. For fans of Whedon’s previous work these themes are nothing new, but to see them wrought on the big screen in a huge Summer blockbuster is surprising.

Of course this IS a Summer blockbuster and where would a Marvel blockbuster be without action? From the get-go the audience is thrown in at the deep end with an opening battle that at once hooks you in and sets the tone for how these post-Chitauri heroes now work (and occasionally don’t work) as a team. As I mentioned previously, a lot of the action within Avengers: Age of Ultron echoes that found in the comics, to such an extent that the shield/hammer combinations, so often used by Thor and Captain America during the fights in the pages of The Avengers, are used to the same great effect here; providing the same gloriously manic spectacle on the big screen as found in the pages of the comics. Also ever-present is is the witty banter between the cast, which could have easily been taken from the pages of any Brian Michael Bendis-penned Avengers book. Each and every character gets a least one laugh-out-loud line in the film, none of which seem out of place or out of character – such is the rapport with not only each other but with the audience. It’s amazing to see how much, in the space of just two movies, the audience is invested in the Avengers as a team and, more importantly (at least for this viewer), as a family.

There are also plenty nods, not only to previous Marvel movies, but also to some classic comics of the past. In fact there’s a particular scene, I don’t know if it was intentional or not, that offers a nod to the classic Avengers Disassembled storyline (and by extension the no more mutants plot that would effect X-Men comics for years) when Scarlet Witch unleashes her rage of the Ultron army. It’s a story that cannot be told within the canon of the Marvel universe, so I guess this is the next best thing. Avengers: Age of Ultron also hints at future movies and other stories that take place in the Marvel universe, from a trip to the arms dealer Ulysses Klaue which sets up Black Panther, to what – I hope – is a precursor to a “Planet Hulk” tale. Although given Marvel have stated Hulk will not be getting another standalone movie that seems unlikely. Perhaps it was yet another knowing wink to those more hardcore comic fans?

By now, given just how many Marvel films there have been, the cast are all totally comfortable with their roles, and we know what to expect too. But that still doesn’t stop Avengers: Age of Ultron throwing in some surprises for our heroes. The biggest surprise is that this time round the central characters are not the big names – nope, Thor, Iron Man and even Captain America, take a backseat to Black Widow, Hulk and – most of all – Hawkeye. It’s Hawkeye who grounds this most-comic book like of all the Marvel movies (Guardians of the Galaxy excepted) in reality; it’s Hawkeye who provides the humanity that our heroes need to balance their huge egos; it’s Hawkeye who, as seen in the trailer, delivers the rousing speech that rallies the troops (well, Scarlet Witch at least); and it’s Hawkeye who reminds us that, despite their superhuman feats, these characters are as flawed and fragile as anyone else. Even newcomers the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver take something of a centre stage come the films final third – and I for one am interested to see how the addition of those characters and Paul bettany’s outstandingly creepy, yet naively human, Vision, fit into the Avengers going forward.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is an outstanding sequel that builds on not only the previous Avengers movie, but the Marvel universe as a whole and proves that Joss Whedon is as vital to Marvel as uber-producer Kevin Feige. For without Whedon I have to wonder if this story would have had half the heart, and half the much-needed humanity, it does…

***** 5/5

Avengers: Age of Ultron is in UK cinemas now.


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