You know what’s weird? The amount of times characters say the word “weird” in Avengers Age of Ultron. I’m pretty sure everyone gets to say it. Even Ultron. That was weird. Probably one of those Whedonesque things I keep hearing about. Anyway, Avengers: Age of Ultron came out here in the UK today and so I have done my duty unto you and have gone and done seen it. So, some spoilers may be ahead, but nothing too big. I’ll warn you if I’m about to spill something huge. Click the link below and I’ll tell you about how Thor become Lady Thor in the new Avengers film!
Thor doesn’t become Lady Thor. I was joking. What does happen though is, after a successful pre-credits mission, The Avengers manage to finally get their hands on Loki’s staff. I can’t remember how that ended up left on Earth, but it did and was in the possession of one Baron Von Strucker (Thomas Kretchmann). Tony (Robert Downey Jr) decides to do the thing he keeps doing like an idiot and starts tampering around with the staff, which appears to house a super computer beyond Earthly means. He leaves J.A.R.V.I.S. (Paul Bettany) to decode it’s secrets and you can probably tell what goes wrong here. Yup, that computer starts learning and very quickly has found a way to give itself a body and a mission. That mission doesn’t involve The Avengers being alive. Or anyone for that matter. Everyone blames Tony and then they get on with fighting Ultron (James Spader) because that’s the movie.
Let’s start with the big evil himself, Ultron. You know what? I was expecting a robot with sadistic tendencies. Something moody with a cold, threatening demeanour. In reality though, Ultron is actually quite a personable guy. I’m not kidding. Despite being crazy evil he actually has some of the best jokes in the film. He actually has something of a personality. It’s a twisted personality, but it’s there. He’s pretty much the worst traits of Tony Stark in a near 9 foot tall robotic form. It’s a bit of a shame, then, that he really just spends a lot of his time going about grabbing parts. I suppose it’s good that he’s proactive, rather than making his minions do all the work, but for a lot of the actual action scenes he’s just kinda involved in the fight. A lot of the fights against Ultron involve a load of his robots attacking various Avengers and not a lot else. Still, for what could have been a dull, literally robotic, villain… Ultron is genuinely quite entertaining. Trouble is, we kinda know he’s just a stepping stone to other things. The film even brings up those other things a few times. You know what I’m taking about.
The rest of the characters are a bit of a mixed bag. As you’d expect with such an ensemble film certain characters get left a little out in the cold. The film still knows that Robert Downey Jr is the star, but he’s not so in your face as he was in the first Avengers. Captain America (Chris Evans) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) get the short shaft, with little character time to get their teeth into. Although they do both get plenty of moments in other ways. The bulk of the character narrative is spent on Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), which I won’t go into due to spoilers, and the relationship between Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). Black Widow has essentially become the one that helps calm the Hulk down to get him back to puny Banner size. It’s nurtured a closeness between them and a desire to get out of this superhero game. This is a good shift as these characters, along with Barton, were given very little to really do in the last Avengers film.
The film’s pacing is a little haphazard at the start, seeming to be stalling at times with a strange amount of slow build to the Avengers victory party scene you may have seen clips from. That party is bigger than the trailers have let on and goes on a lot longer. There’s also a pair of scenes a little later on involving Ultron that play out back to back but feel like there should have been a break between. Or, at least, they should have flowed together as one. It’s not uncommon to carry one thread of a conversation between two scenes taking place at different times, but there’s something about how one scene seems to end logically, only to be picked up a few seconds later that makes the pace suddenly feel weird.
Once the film gets over it’s early few humps it runs along at a pretty brisk pace. The action keeps ramping up, until The Avengers suffer a massive defeat, which gives the film a chance to slow down and catch its breath, before ramping back up again and never really stopping. There’s less hero vs hero fight scenes than the previous film, although a out of control Hulk vs Iron Man in his Hulkbuster armour is pure fanboy payoff of the highest order. There’s still plenty of inter-team conflict, which pretty must write itself when you have as nice a range of archetypes as we do here, which all helps keep the team dynamic interesting. This is really one of Whedon’s best skills. Putting together interesting teams is pretty much his forte. It’s definitely not his cinematography or his complex narratives.
Effects work ranges wildly, as is often the case when a film is so big that the effects are likely handled by a few thousand small companies. Some effects such as The Vision are really top notch. There’s moments where the performance capture they did of Paul Bettany makes The Vision look almost like they just chucked him in make-up. But no, he’s all computer crafted. Also, The Vision is excellently portrayed here. There’s other times where digital actors for stunts, particularly during an early one-shot action scene, look like puppets being flung around a set. Iron Man’s suit looks oddly less real than normal. And I say that having only watched Iron Man 3 again 2 days ago, so the look is fresh in my mind. Ultron himself jumps about in quality but is, mostly, really nicely done. Generally though, Avengers: Age of Ultron, is quite a spectacle. Would have liked to have seen more practical work after Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy and the excellent Daredevil series pulled that off, but we’re dealing with a lot more robots here.
Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) are the film’s main new super powered people. Last year we saw Evan Peters play a different take on Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Smartly Joss Whedon hasn’t tried to recreate the effect of speed that was used there. That said, he hasn’t really replaced it with anything too stand out. There’s a few cool moments, like Quicksilver catching a bullet and placing it on a table a fraction of a second after it’s fired, but there isn’t a moment that comes close to the Time in a Bottle scene from last year’s X-men film. The twin’s backstory has been completely reworked to avoid mentioning Magneto, who was recently retconned out of being their father in the comics anyway. The change is likely only going to annoy the sort of fans who’d already be upset at how Ultron and Vision’s origins have been changed too. Which, by the way, is nicely done and makes plenty of sense given the film’s universe. Although it does mean Michael Douglas’ hank Pym will have a few less things to boast about in the upcoming Ant-Man film. I suppose he’ll still have his rampant alcoholism though! Probably not.
Overall Avengers: Age of Ultron is a very solid action movie, if not a particularly amazing one. The big dumb wonder of seeing all the heroes on screen has worn off after the pure joy it brought to the first film. The team is still a lot of fun to see though. The humour and the conflicts within the team give just enough to keep them from feeling stale. It’s just that I didn’t feel the same sense of grinning silly fun that I got from the last film and, more recently, from last years Guardians of the Galaxy. It feels like we’re just going through this film to establish what is to come. There really is quite a bit of establishment going on too. Seeds are laid for the arc that will likely dominate the future Marvel films, and there’s even some stuff in there to edge us towards the Black Panther film too. Age of Ultron is a great popcorn flick and a welcome addition to the series, it’s just not got quite that same magic. Which is weird when you think about it.