Avengers: The Age of Ultron has just raised the bar once again – with director Joss Whedon managing to craft the best Marvel superhero movie to date.
As Marvel’s ‘Phase Two’ of its superhero juggernaut nears to an end (there’s just Ant-Man to follow in July) you have to give immense credit to the consistency of their product.
Since Iron Man launched in spectacular fashion in 2008 there has yet to be a below-par movie (Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World being the weakest entries) from the comic book-originating movie studios, and their films just keep getting better with last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier as prime examples.
Now they’ve arguably blitzed their whole catalogue with this sequel to the Avengers, with Whedon deserving immense credit for providing equal prominence to a myriad of superheroes by intertwining several plot points – with an equilibrium of humour and emotion – along with oodles of fan service that will take geeks to Marvel heaven.
Throw in the special effects (and very good use of 3D) and you have to take a step back and realise how freakin’ hard it is to bring all this together in a two hour-plus film – and pull it off so effectively.
So to get the geek bit out of the way, here goes: Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Ultron (James Spader), Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), The Vision (Paul Bettany), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), Agent Hill (Cobie Smulders), Heimdall (Idris Elba), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann), Ulysses Klaw (Andy Serkis), Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), HYDRA, SHIELD, more infinity stones, a mid-credit’s (but no end credits) ‘stinger’, and the ‘Hulk Buster’ armour – all crammed into one film.
And a darker, more complex, well-crafted and emotive film – with an effective balance of action sequences – at that.
It all starts guns blazing, as the Avengers hit a secret HYDRA compound, held by Kretschmann’s (The Pianist) Baron Strucker and his cronies, in the fictional Eastern European city of Sokovia, which houses the disgruntled Maximoff siblings (who bear a grudge to Tony Stark) lightning fast Quicksilver (who doesn’t stand out like the X-Men: Days of Future Past equivalent), and energy-manipulating Scarlet Witch – played by Godzilla stars Taylor-Johnson and Olsen respectively – as well as Loki’s powerful infinity stone-wielding scepter.
But it’s when billionaire tech expert Tony Stark/Iron Man and nuclear physicist Dr Bruce Banner/Hulk use the power of the stone to try and create artificial intelligence inside a robotic shell in an attempt to create a powerful security army – without the knowledge of the rest of the Avengers team – that things go awry, and the evil super-robot Ultron is created, with the Maximoff siblings by his side.
The Avengers then face their toughest battle to date, particularly when Scarlet Witch manipulates some of the team – including Hulk (who is again awesome) being brainwashed which culminates in Tony Stark using the aforementioned ‘Hulk Buster’ armour in one intense action scene – and leaves the group of superheroes in complete disarray.
Whedon cleverly uses the introduction of Witch to give all the superheroes back-stories – Captain America, Thor and Black Widow are all put under her spell – to superbly ‘flesh out’ the characters, and sharp-shooter Hawkeye is finally given his own sub-plot and time in the spotlight.
But it’s the balance of the movie (that moves along at a fairly brisk pace with very few lulls) that is one of its endearing qualities, with a truly noteworthy blend of action, humour – see multiple Downey Jr gags and a great Thor ‘hammer’ scene – and surprising sentiment, showcased by Banner and Rominov/Black Widow’s burgeoning relationship.
There are some similarities with the first film’s final battle – which might be a bit like déjà vu for some people’s tastes – but several emotive moments during the finale changes the whole face of the Avengers, and sets it up interestingly for ‘Phase Three’, starting with Captain America: Civil War next year – which could include a mid-teen Spider-Man – and the addition of new characters on the horizon like Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel and Black Panther.
But one ‘spine-tingling’ pivotal movie-stealing moment undoubtedly comes inside a confined amphitheatre, where Ultron and his multi-hundred-strong army of robots pin the heavily-outnumbered Avengers inside – leading to a slow-motion battle that will make ‘fanboy’ dreams come true.
If you’re not a fan of the Marvel universe, feel free to knock a mark off, but Whedon’s ‘vision’ has been so impressively implemented that – coupled with his astounding abilities to piece this blockbuster together – makes this a strong four-star superhero film wrapped up in a five-star movie-going experience, that now puts him up there with the industry’s best.
And he’ll undoubtedly make this movie one of the biggest of all-time (and definitely this year) as the Marvel multi-billion dollar box-office machine shows no signs of abating.