After the first Avengers film in 2012, the Marvel universe has only gotten bigger with ‘phase 2’ of the film series consisting of Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, last year’s massive Guardians of the Galaxy, and Ant Man, out later this summer.
Avengers: Age of Ultron sees the main cast of the Marvel universe joining forces again with Joss Whedon as director, this time to defeat a threat created from within with the power of Loki’s scepter, which they retrieved from a raid in Eastern Europe. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), without the awareness of the other Avengers, create an artificial intelligence that, unbeknownst to them, spreads digitally around the world, known as Ultron.
The threat of Ultron (James Spader) is intensified by the assistance of Pietro and Wanda Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olson), twins with special abilities who blame Stark for the deaths of their parents and are in it for revenge.
Age of Ultron does all the right things. It has a solid plot, plenty of action, lots of great effects, star power, it continues from the other Marvel films but isn’t completely dependant on them to make sense to casual viewers, and has humour that appeals both to hardcore and casual movie fans. That’s always been key. Serving the longtime fan while being accessible to new people. The most delightful example is the party scene in which the superheroes are socializing. It’s hard not to appreciate everyone’s attempt at lifting Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) hammer while laughing over drinks. It was perfect.
But the cracks are beginning to show. It works so well that it almost feels too comforting. It’s pleasing in all the usual ways and as well as it works, it’s that expectation that begins to serve as a fault. It meets expectations, but it didn’t floor me. I expected more.
Clues of what to expect with the team have come out based on what we know about future Marvel films, mainly the next Captain America film. We know the team can’t and won’t always agree and signs of that are evidenced pretty early on in Age of Ultron, with Steve Rogers, aka Captain America (Chris Evans) and Tony Stark aka Iron Man at odds. It’s an angle that didn’t get played up as much as it could have, especially since the theme of ‘togetherness’ is once again at the core here, as it was in the first Avengers.
My biggest gripe, which seems to be a common criticism, is with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). Her romance angle with Hulk felt out of place and forced, as if there wasn’t enough for Black Widow to contribute to the story so she was thrown into an emerging romance. It seemed like filler. While I wouldn’t go as far as to say Whedon is misogynistic, as some have accused of him (did they do his homework before trashing him on Twitter?), I do think the criticism is at least justified just to emphasize how off this subplot is. Whether a stand-alone film centred on Black Widow could work or not, her character was vastly underused here.
Avengers: Age of Ultron works too well to be disappointing. In addition to the main plot of the Avengers vs. Ultron, we catch glimpses further into the characters and what makes them tick, particularly moving Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) to the forefront this time around.
There’s a lot packed into the almost two and a half hour movie, and it isn’t overwhelming. In fact, the biggest fault with this second Avengers is that it doesn’t push itself the way many of the previous Marvel movies have – in itself a compliment to the series as a whole – and is starting to become its own cliche. With the perfectly-angled camera capturing the team in action to the self-deprecating jokes, it’s giving us what we’ve responded to before. When success is comfortably guaranteed and hype is high, it can start to buckle under its own weight and the first signs of that are here.