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Should I Watch..? Avengers: Age Of Ultron
What's the big deal?
Avengers: Age Of Ultron is an action sci-fi superhero film released in 2015 and is part of Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), a single continuity linking each Marvel Studios production. It is the sequel to the runaway smash hit Avengers Assemble (1) and reunites most of the main cast from that film. Written and produced by Joss Whedon, the film sees the Avengers reform to fight against a malevolent artificial intelligence intent on wiping out humanity from the face of the Earth. Like its predecessor, the film also took over $1 billion at the global box office and received positive reviews upon release. But this is a much darker and more personal film than before, focusing on the characters and their individual battles as well as that against an extremely deadly foe. The film also introduces some new characters who will doubtless be seen again in future Marvel releases.
What's it about?
In the eastern European country of Sokovia, the Avengers raid a suspected HYDRA base where they discover Baron Wolfgang Von Strucker using Loki's sceptre to experiment on humans. Two of his experiments - the twins Pietro and Wanda Maximoff - demonstrate extraordinary powers battle the Avengers but Von Strucker is apprehended and the staff claimed by Tony Stark.
Stark and Bruce Banner discover an artificial intelligence within the sceptre and use it to power up one of Stark's secret projects - a global defence program known as Ultron. However, Ultron develops his own cognitive abilities after destroying JARVIS (Stark's personal AI assistant) and flees back to Sokovia to construct an indestructible body for itself, intent on extinguishing mankind in order to save the world. Faced with an enemy that develops its own army of drones, the Avengers begin to come apart at the seems when they appear unable to stop Ultron and unable to stop public opinion turning against them when the collateral damage starts to build up...
Robert Downey Jr.
Tony Stark / Iron Man
Steve Rogers / Captain America
Dr Bruce Banner / Hulk *
Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow
Clint Barton / Hawkeye
Pietro Maximoff / Quicksilver
Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch
Samuel L Jackson
James Rhodes / War Machine
Joss Whedon *
Release Date (UK)
23rd April, 2015
Action, Sci-Fi, Superhero
What's to like?
Marvel had a lot riding on this, knowing that expectations would be stratospheric and they've pulled out all the stops to provide an experience designed to blow you away. The number of characters, if anything, seems too many for Whedon to juggle but somehow, he has created a film where everyone gets their own moment to shine. Personally, I was pleased to see Renner get much more to do this time around, fleshing out Hawkeye in a way that has been too long coming. Johansson also has a bit more back story provided and her budding romance with Ruffalo's Banner makes the future a little more interesting. Of course, the banter between the characters remains and this is what makes any Avengers movie so good - performances are also of a high standard now, given that most of these actors have been playing these characters on-and-off for a few years now.
Spader's Ultron is a wonderful baddie - utterly menacing (calm voices always are, aren't they?) and without apparent weakness, he is a great foil for the Avengers to tackle with. The other new additions offer viewers something new to see as well - Scarlett Witch's mind-bending powers mix things up well and offer a tantalising glimpse into what lies ahead for the series. The action, naturally, is suitably bombastic and fantastic to look at, even if there aren't as many Avenger vs. Avenger clashes as there was before. There are also plenty more hints at what lies ahead for the MCU for the die-hard fans to get excited about - the sequence set in Wakanda sets up the forthcoming Black Panther (2) movie nicely while Stark and Rogers have sown the seeds for Captain America: Civil War (3).
- Johansson was pregnant while the movie was being filmed, meaning that most of her scenes were shot early on in production. Ultimately, CG was used to hide her bump for some scenes.
- The cast were so impressed with James Spader's first take as Ultron that they burst into applause and cheers.
- When the trailer was leaked onto the Internet two days before its official launch, Marvel's Twitter account blamed SHIELD's long-time enemies HYDRA for the leak. When Marvel issued the HD trailer on the same day, it was viewed 34 million times on YouTube - a world record.
What's not to like?
Ultimately, this constant drip-feed of titbits for forthcoming films is what scuppers Avengers: Age Of Ultron. It makes the film feel like the classic 'difficult second album', full of promise for the final part of the grand trilogy but containing little to remind the fans how great the first one was. This is not a bad film - it's exciting and full of the sort of detail Marvel fans love - but compared to Avengers Assemble or the brilliantly entertaining Guardians Of The Galaxy (5), it is nowhere near as fun. There is barely a laugh in there and some characters (Quicksilver, Fury and Captain America especially) are underwritten and needed more to do besides pop up in the fight scenes. The story also didn't feel as strong this time around - the whole subplot about The Vision was completely lost on me so I had no idea how he came into being or why. Perhaps it was drowned out during the action scenes, which also seem to make up more of the film than before as well.
It also completely ignores anything which happens elsewhere in the MCU, specifically the Agents Of SHIELD TV show which is supposedly to run alongside the films. There is no mention of what happened in the show (despite it apparently having ramifications for the films) or even the destruction of SHIELD in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (4). Maria Hill pops up for a cameo where it's mentioned that she now works for Stark but nothing more is said. Because of this, Avengers: Age Of Ultron is reliant on its audience already being clued up on the rest of the MCU in order to fill in its plotholes which feels presumptuous and slightly arrogant on Whedon's part.
Should I watch it?
Just because the magic and surprise is missing this time around doesn't mean that you should give the film a wide berth. It's perfect summer blockbuster fare, offering viewers an edge-of-your-seat ride through exhilarating action scenes and some truly gobsmacking CG effects. I just wanted it to make me laugh once, to provide me with some escape from the apocalyptic screenplay besides the haunting visions Scarlett Witch initiates in some characters. It's good but just as not as good as the first film...
Great For: action fans, Marvel die-hards
Not So Great For: fans of the first Avengers film, fans of Guardians Of The Galaxy because that film was so much more entertaining
What else should I watch?
Given that the first Avengers film closed out Phase One, it's a little surprising that Marvel chose to close Phase Two with the underwhelming Ant-Man (6) which also proved to be something of a let-down. I think that maybe the task of topping the first film with so many characters was beyond Whedon so hopefully, the two part finale named Infinity War will be able to fit everyone in. It might even try to bring Coulson back in, you never know! We know from Captain America: Civil War that multiple characters can work in one film, after all...
Superhero team-up films aren't that common unless you count numerous animated features. Those of you disappointed by Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice (7) might want to check out the animated adaptation of Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns which sees the Caped Crusader lock up with Krypton's most famous son. Be careful, though - it might be animated but it's certainly not a cartoon. Alternatively, try checking out Suicide Squad (8) which has the novel idea of baddies teaming up for once. Don't get your hopes up, though...
© 2015 Benjamin Cox