I went into Avengers: Age of Ultron trying to keep my expectations as neutral as possible. When I went to see The Dark Knight, and then later the first Avengers film, my expectations were very high – online reviewers had already been raving about The Dark Knight, and The Avengers (no, I’m not calling it Avengers Assemble, despite being based in the UK – does anybody call it Avengers Assemble?) was possibly the most ambitious superhero movie ever, having taken several other films just to set up. I definitely enjoyed both films very much, but they didn’t quite meet my expectations, because most likely, very little could have. So I am wary about the power of expectation, and tried to hold it in check this time round while just taking Age of Ultron for what it was.
So long story short? There’s no sequelitis here – it’s at least as good as the first film.
We open quickly on a brilliant action sequence as the Avengers – Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Captain America, Black Widow and Hawkeye – are attacking a HYDRA base in Eastern Europe to get their hands on the sceptre used by Loki in the first film. Afterward, before having to relinquish the sceptre to Thor’s care, Tony Stark uses it to bring one of his most ambitious projects to fruition: the creation of Ultron, an artificial intelligence which is designed to keep the world safe from any threat. Unfortunately, when Ultron (James Spader) comes to life, he quickly gets some disagreeable ideas about how best to aid the world – ideas which involve the destruction of the Avengers. Teaming up with HYDRA experimental subjects Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), he begins wreaking havoc, and only Earth’s Mightiest Heroes can stop him.
This film has just about everything to offer the average movie-goer. Obviously, there’s a lot of action; it’s hard to pick a highlight, but Iron Man taking on the Hulk in his giant Hulkbuster armour is certainly up there. And just as in the first film, there’s no shortage of humour, most of it coming from Robert Downey Jr’s still flawless portrayal of wise-cracking Tony Stark – it’s a very enjoyable kind of humour, funny without being corny or silly like in some other superhero films. A good example is a party scene early on, where we see such things as Tony and Thor trying to prove that they’ve got the better girlfriend, and everyone taking turns to try and pick up Mjollnir. There’s drama, and heart, and a sprinkling of romance, though I don’t want to spoil who that’s between. It’s not a pairing that everyone would predict, but then, just about every romantic combination of Avengers has been explored by some fanfiction writer or another. There’s even some unusually surreal moments when the Scarlet Witch gives some of our heroes disturbing hallucinations about their insecurities. And for the most part, all these different elements balance very well.
And as well as keeping everything that worked in the first film, there’s plenty of fresh stuff as well; not just new elements like Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, but new approaches to older elements. Much of the conflict in the first film came from the Avengers learning to work together; here, they’re clearly an established team who can gel very well when they need to – Captain America and Thor can pull off some punishing combo moves with their respective weapons, for example – and conflict stems from any changes in how they already see each other, such as how the others view Tony Stark deciding to go ahead with Ultron in the first place. Also, Hawkeye gets more focus than he did before, with even some acknowledgement of his relative physical weakness and just what his role in the team is.
Ultron, as a whole, is a good villain. He’s clearly an extreme threat, able to build new bodies for himself and create mechanical armies, and I like how he combines his intelligence with some surprising informality. During a certain procedure, for example, he asks, “How long will it take? I’m not being pushy.” However, his way of speaking does seem to go back and forth through the film so it’s hard to get a proper feel for him as a character. I would also have liked some more explanation of how his thought processes and programming lead him to what he ultimately tries to do – plus such things as how Tony originally intended Ultron to protect the Earth, or why he rebuilt his Iron Man suits again after the events of Iron Man 3. (Maybe as a response to HYDRA?)
One slight problem with the film is that it’s so fast paced, and throws so much at you in its entire 2 hour 22 minute running time, that it gets very exhausting. This may have something to do with the structure being a bit unconventional: normally you get the ‘lowest point’, where the heroes seem least likely to achieve victory, occurring at the end of the second act, but here it’s around halfway through. There’s little time to rest throughout, though the massive fight in the climax does get your mind livened up again: while it can’t help but feel a bit similar to the first film, it does its best to stay fresh.
Overall, if you liked the first film, you can go to see Avengers: Age of Ultron safe in the knowledge that you’ll almost certainly enjoy it too. The best stuff is still there, with some enjoyable new ingredients to go with it. Rating: 4/5.