Avengers: Age of Ultron, directed by Joss Whedon is a film with a darkness throughout it, a film that perhaps for the first time tries to deal with the realities of its universe. This is a Marvel film that will certainly divide its hardcore fan base but it is one that in the end will be seen as a necessary evil in the grand scheme of things.
This time around it is the job of the Avengers to right the mishaps of Tony Stark and his attempt to build the world’s first A.I. named Ultron, who would be tasked with protecting the Earth. Ultron however has other more unsettling plans, plans that not only threaten the safety of the world but also the very thin fabric that is holding together the self-destructing Avengers.
So what is most noticeable this time round for the Avengers is tonally how much darker the film is, the vibrant colour that was so present in the previous Avengers film is this time visibly drained from each scene and while there are still the trademark Whedon quips between the characters, Avengers: Age of Ultron takes on a much darker journey on this outing. This point specifically is what will probably divide fans the most, going with a darker tone and taking the time to step away from the all-out action, sit down and have our main characters discuss the morality of what it is they do and how they go about it, is a bold choice on Whedon/Marvels part and it is one that may come back to bite them in the long run. I personally really enjoyed these moments; yes the action is fun to watch but to have that breathing space in between them be dedicated to unpacking the loftier aspects of the Marvel Universe came as a refreshing approach to what are very much pop-corn guzzling, eye extravaganza’s, that leave the more wanting of audience members yearning for something a little deeper.
Now that’s not to say that Age of Ultron is a film that forgets what it is, Avengers still very much delivers on the over the top action and constant quip off between our very well established batch of heroes. Whedon returns and brings all his writing and directing idiosyncrasies to the screen, in particular is his unique way of writing a large ensemble cast so effortlessly. Back are the perfectly timed jokes and realistic feeling dialogue but we also have Whedon’s ability approach some of the more serious topics within the Marvel Universe and actually bring a bit of credible weight to them. It really is amazing how Whedon is able to juggle so many characters at one time and have them all feel like they’re getting an appropriate amount of time to develop and play their part. Such a task is certainly not easy and Whedon does as well of, if not better of a job with this task, than his first outing with this assortment of characters.
Some of the most joyous and rewarding times in Age of Ultron are the more jovial moments between our heroes, whether its them making jabs at one another during a fire fight or its them all sitting around the Avengers tower just chatting and enjoying one another’s company, it is these moments that are some of my favourite from the film and not only do they highlight the brilliance of Whedon’s writing capabilities but also just how far the characters have come in the way of development. You really feel like these characters are more real than ever (helped of course by Whedon’s expertly on point dialogue) but this is also a situation where the star studded cast show off how much they have become their respective characters, the chemistry between all the actors/characters is very apparent and definitely help lighten the film in its more darker of moments.
So how do the large and varied cast of characters shape up? Well for the most part everyone gets their chance to shine, the only two characters who felt a little forced in where the newbies, Scarlett Witch, played by Elizabeth Olsen and Quicksilver, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Both of these characters origins and development were the epitome of being rushed, so quickly and sloppily are we given their path from unknowns to new Avengers and though it’s fun to watch them in the action moments of the film, they don’t necessarily add much else.
Now of course the big hitters of the film, Iron Man, Captain America etc, they all get plenty of opportunities to build upon what they’ve been doing for multiple films and frankly just getting to see more of these very well rounded characters that are supported by the great actors behind them is just really fun to watch, you just can’t have enough of their bantering back and forth.
What was perhaps most rewarding when the usual cast of Avengers is concerned is that the few that perhaps didn’t get the proper treatment or time in the previous Avengers certainly got it here. I’m of course talking about Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson and Hawkeye, played by Jeremy Renner. Hawk Eye in particular was completely mishandled in the previous film and thankfully he was given his time to shine more than once in Age of Ultron, there is a speech in particular that the character gives that might be one of my favourite moments of the whole film. Scarlett Witch is given an odd relationship with Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner/Hulk, I’m not entirely sure I was on board with it but I’ll be interested to see what they do with that going forward.
The final character that I have to touch on a little bit in this review is the big antagonist of the film, Ultron. I wasn’t expecting much from Ultron as the bad guy but I was pleasantly surprised with the structure of his character, much more sarcastic and wittier than I was expecting, for the few times that we got see James Spader who voices the character get to let loose and have fun with it really helped sell this character to me. Unfortunately though, Ultron suffers from the same problem that almost every other Marvel based villain faces and that is he isn’t given anywhere near enough time to develop into a strong enough character. His evil plan is ridiculous and woefully unexplained and the final pay off with him is rushed and unsatisfying. Ultron is a character that with just a little bit more time could have been one of the best Marvel villains yet (next to Loki) but sadly he just slightly misses the mark.
Which leads onto what I struggled with when it come to the Avengers or any Marvel based super hero film is when the subtlety and character building disappear and are taken over by ridiculously large set pieces, a plot that leaves a lot to be desired and a sickeningly tedious happy ending where the good guys win and all is righted once again, in the now very messy Marvel universe.
What was always going to be a problem for Avengers was that it would have to try and top the last one and don’t forget that was a film that ended with areas of New York being levelled as a giant alien spouting worm hole appeared in the sky. Age of Utron as expected, escalates to a ridiculous level. So much starts to happen that it does become a bit of a mess to follow, Whedon does do a competent job of trying to keep some semblance in it all but the final showdown gets to a point where you can just shut off the brain and let the montage of explosions and decapitated robots wash over to you. Now don’t get me wrong the action is fun to watch but it does get a little much after a while.
When Age of Ultron isn’t assaulting your various senses with all out action it is trying to clean up the mess of previous films while also trying to launch the new beggings for the upcoming movie slate. It’s safe to say that things become muddled and noticeably forced quite quickly. So eager are they to tie up loose ends and shoe horn in new elements that I quickly became frustrated with the lack of cohesion in the plot. It’s a shame because like I pointed out earlier Whedon is able to juggle the large assortment of characters so easily but really seems to struggle with a stimulating and follow-able story. I mean he was able to right the wrong of how badly utilised Hawk Eye was from the first Avengers but a satisfying and engaging story he couldn’t do.
Avengers: Age of Ultron is an interesting beast, there are a lot of moments to love from this film and is one I would like to go back and re-watch but it is also a film that is lacking in areas that the past Avengers film seemed to do better at. Like I said before Age of Ultron will certainly be a divisive one for Marvel fans and I can understand why in some respects but I did still enjoy my time with the film, for its many flaws there is still a fun film here to watch and though I would say the first Avengers film is better than this one, there is still a lot here to enjoy.
I would recommend Avengers: Age of Ultron. It would be silly not too, plus let’s be honest everyone is going to go see this film anyway. What will be most interesting about this big Avengers outing is the reception it will receive over the days and weeks to come.