Earth’s mightiest heroes are back for director Joss Whedon’s (Serenity, Buffy) final turn at the helm, and any doubts as to whether Age of Ultron will meet its lofty expectations are more or less extinguished thoroughly within minutes by the bombastic, fist pumping, all action opening sequence. It’s a doozy, with each of the growing ensemble of heroes getting their moment to shine, not just through large scale destruction (though there is plenty of that), but through the now trademark witty dialogue and interactions between our well established protagonists.
Having handled large ensemble casts for the majority of his career, Joss Whedon once again does exactly this style. With the Marvel Cinematic Universe expanding and each of the characters getting a bigger slice of the pie, it’s perhaps even more impressive how well the film is balanced than in the first Avengers movie. Not a single one of the characters is sidelined, and each gets a big set piece, with the likes of Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow, (Scarlett Johansson) and most significantly – Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) feeling more fleshed out than ever before.
Hawkeye is the real big winner here. In two and a half hours of thrills, spills and drama he’s transformed from a secondary, and less loved hero, into the heart of the team – and one of its funniest members – thanks to an outstanding performance from Jeremy Renner. In amongst all of the chaos, there is humour by the bucket load – Hawkeye gets his fair share of jokes, Captain America (Chris Evans) is the butt of many, and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is at the centre of Age of Ultron’s lightest moments.
Once again Iron Man’s (Robert Downey Jr.) actions are crucial to proceedings, with him not only sharing the film’s best action set piece with Hulk (Hulkbuster!), but with his actions being the driving force behind the woes of his fellow Avengers, and the creation of the titular villain – Ultron (James Spader). Ultron, quite simply, is excellent. Combining the cockiness of Tony Stark himself, with a misguided will to rid the Earth of the Avengers, he is a formidable foe. He’s at once both scary and funny, and he acts as a great foil to Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man, highlighting his flaws and setting him on a path that will likely lead to devastation.
Ultron is not on his own on his path to the destruction of the Avengers though, with newcomers (bar a brief cameo in The Winter Soldier) Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch entering proceedings with aplomb. Whilst Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Quicksilver is undercut slightly by Evan Peter’s pitch perfect run at the same character in X-Men: Days of Future Past, Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch is one of the highlights of the film, and a very welcome addition to the fold. Her manipulation of the Avengers, and the resultant trips into each hero’s psyche gives a platform to provide backstory creatively. The final significant new character Vision is also a treat – sparingly used yet a scene stealer each time.
Despite there being a lot to like, Age of Ultron is not without its flaws. A fair amount of time is spent setting up the future of the franchise, rather than focussing on the story being told in this instalment. There’s a Hulk/ Romanov romantic thread which comes a little out of the left field, and Thor takes an excursion which as far as I could tell only served as a way to shoe-horn Stellan Skarsgård’s Erik Selvig into proceedings – but with so goodness much crammed in elsewhere the flaws are easily overlooked.
Avengers: Age of Ultron gets so much right that despite the long runtime, it feels zippy, light, and manages to raise the stock of each of its multiple parts, whilst amping up excitement for the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The new additions fit in seamlessly, whilst leaving you wanting more (Vision, in particular), and the seasoned veterans of the cast are left in an interesting space, with the closing scenes shifting the makeup of the team. This, along with the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier leaves much to look forward to moving onwards, with Age of Ultron setting a very high standard indeed.
Witty, grand in scale and chock full of excellent, well defined characters, Avengers: Age of Ultron is a treat for Marvel fans. With dazzling set pieces, and a memorable villain, it’s right up there with the best in the franchise, and whets the appetite for what’s yet to come.
Rating (out of 5):