The following review is spoiler free, read with delight!
I wasn’t really worried about Age of Ultron, given the pedigree behind the film and the fact that Marvel has Disney’s backing to do whatever it takes to please the growing fan base. What I was kinda worried about was the fate of certain characters I’ve grown to love since Phase 1 kicked off all those years ago, given Joss Whedon’s well known ability to kill off your favourite characters when you least expect it. But let’s step back a bit and talk about the movie proper.
Some have said that Age of Ultron doesn’t really push the boundaries of the action genre, and that’s true, but that isn’t its purpose. Joss and his team have created a fun, energetic and creative collection of heroes within a world that’s made purely to entertain in the classic sense. Age of Ultron in particular has been streamlined compared to its predecessor team up movie, ensuring the action kicks off almost straight away and hitting all the right character notes for everyone involved.
The first Avengers had an alien invasion that was really just there to bring the team together, an enemy that was rather forgetful to be honest. But the Chitauri still have a part to play here, with their alien technology and Loki’s staff ensuring a cameo appearance that has Tony Stark using said staff to create a new kind of AI. In typical Hollywood style, that AI (voiced by James Spader) goes bonkers and decides humanity deserves to die, but at least in this case Ultron isn’t a maniac like other bad guys who find themselves in this situation. He’s like a bastard love child of Stark and his AI companion Jarvis, determined to prove his point that humanity needs to evolve in order to survive no matter the cost.
Initially Ultron teams up with two new characters, Magneto’s children in the X-Men universe but here the brother/sister combo of Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, whose family died because of Stark tech. Both are handy additions to the franchise, initially out for revenge but soon discover their true purpose given their now powerful states. I can’t wait to see what happens with Scarlet Witch specifically, as her powers are the first true use of ‘magic’ in this movieverse.
As for the original cast, everyone is present and accounted for, including a few cameos from many of the solo movies. The biggest change compared to Phase 1’s Avengers is the increase screen time and importance given to Hawkeye. A fan favourite to many, Jeremy Renner gets far more to do here and even quips about his hatred for mind control techniques which raised a chuckle or two. There’s a surprise or two in his story arc that I wasn’t expecting but was glad to see, making him seem far more human than almost any of the other cast members.
Stark has the biggest part to play, not too surprising given Downey Jr’s pedigree. Stark essentially takes over the role of chief Ultron creator from Hank Pym (Ant Man), who built Ultron in the comic storyline to defend Earth when the Avengers couldn’t. That rings true with Stark, though his reason stems from his fear of what’s ‘out there’, following his altercation and subsequent mental breakdown in Iron Man 3. It’s a fair point, the Avengers probably don’t have what it takes to defeat a REAL alien invasion, so why not create somewhat of a backup plan.
Massive explosions and Hulkbuster armour aside, the story is fairly simple. What makes it work, however, is Joss’ always strong and witty dialogue. Everyone has a moment that will leave you chuckling, even Thor, who’s arguably the weakest link in the franchise. In fact, Thor has the least amount to do in this movie, but Joss does at least give him a moment or two and his connection to Vision is intriguing. Honestly though, it felt like the only reason he existed here was to setup his next solo outing, despite some really cool team-up moves with Cap during the action sequences.
You could say the same about the whole ‘just setting things up’ with the rest of the cast, but at least they have more to do here than just filling the gaps. Given Hulk only appears in the Avengers movies anyway, his role is again significant, though for some reason Joss decided it would be a good idea for Black Widow to suddenly have a crush on Banner. That … kinda came out of nowhere, right? I mean, they didn’t say anything previously in the other movies, though I guess you can see their connection (of sorts) in Avengers. Still, it seems a little forced here and perhaps unnecessary.
Cap has plenty to do, especially confronting Stark and taking on Ultron SINGLE HANDED. But it’s Hawkeye, the eventual introduction of Vision and Ultron himself that steal the show for me. I was super pleased with how they all turned out, especially the handling of Visions creation and how the world may see him. It could have been cheesy but it was handled with care. Perhaps a little more could have been done in terms of a backlash against Stark and his use of AI, but I can understand that there’s only so much you can do with that given the run time is already over two and a half hours.
The other big reveal is the introduction of Wakanda, future birth place of Black Panther and used here to explain where vibranium comes from. Ulysses Klaw (a neat cameo appearance by Andy Serkis) is also introduced, though its a fleeting appearance that really only serves as a plot point that will picked up again in a few years. I get the feeling a lot of the Black Panther references were removed in post after the Sony/Spider-Man deal was made, given Marvel were setting Black Panther up as their backup character in case Spidey couldn’t be added to Captain America: Civil War. That’s a shame.
Age of Ultron was born to pull the Avengers apart slowly from the inside and change the landscape for what’s to come. Yeah, the heroes win in the end, but the movie does a good job of sewing the seeds of doubt that will play a major part in setting up Marvel’s Phase 3. I’d go so far as to say it does a better job than the first team-up attempt, largely because it doesn’t waste time figuring out where everyone fits and just runs with it. That and it has less to do with backstory and more with pushing this team forward into darker and stranger territory.
It’s kinda sad that Joss only got two movies to work with, though he’ll continue to serve as an Executive Producer or some such role. He’s done a fantastic job of not only making us believe these characters can exist cohesively, but also that the fantastical, the magical and the intergalactic can exist within a setting that began with a man in a robot suit fighting terrorists.
All the pieces are now in place for easily the most exciting phase in Marvel’s plans yet. Sure, I’ve heard a few people say that Phase 2 was the ‘Empire Strikes Back’ of the franchise, but I have to disagree. Phase 3 will be far darker for everyone involved, especially if they stick to the comics, so no ‘oh look, Ewok’s’ and far more ‘oh no, he’s dead’. Speaking of which, screw you Joss for leading us all to think someone’s going to die that we didn’t want to die only for something else to happen just to get us all riled up.
The Avengers: Age of Ultron doesn’t break new grounds, it wasn’t supposed to anyway. It’s an exciting addition to the franchise that introduces a lot of new elements that fans will greatly appreciate, leaving us all ridiculously anticipating the Infinity War. But before all that, we still have Ant-Man, Dr Strange and a Civil War to get through. It’s a great time to be a Marvel fan!
Marvel’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron gets 9 ‘Hulkbuster punches to the face’ out of 10.