And so we reach what is arguably the big dog of summer 2015. Sequel to the third highest grossing movie of all time and part 11 of a shared universe franchise which technically hasn’t had a flop yet.
So no pressure then.
As a deep core acolyte of the MCU obviously there is every change I could review this wearing Stan Lee’s massive rose tinted glasses but what good would that do? Sure, this is one of those films that the more up to date you are with past movies and incoming releases the more enjoyment will be gleaned from the candy covered chaos but does any of it matter if the whole two and a half hours plus are merely an expensive ad for Phase 3?
Thankfully, director and full time geek overlord Joss Whedon is waaaaaay too savvy for that. Just.
The first Avengers movie was a bright joy-gasm with intricate characterization and multiple bring-you-to-your-feet crowd pleasing moments (mostly involving the Hulk) that slapped a big dumb smile on the faces of most people who saw it.
Avengers 2 tries hard NOT that kind of movie, and deserves props for not going down established paths.
Knowing that that kind of lightning in a bottle simply cannot be forced the film makers take another route. The scale is still massive but the focus is far more intimate, the script is far more intricate and the in-movie ramifications are seismic. It’s truly tricksy stuff but they just about pull it off.
Main changes? Darker, obviously. More focus on the super-dense story (two watchings minimum are required, I feel, to hoover up absolutely everything necessary) and even more of an injection of heart (the MCU’s not-so secret weapon).
The cast veterans all have plenty to sink their teeth into, save Thor whose lone Quest For Exposition seems truncated and therefore leaves him a tad short changed, whereas Hawkeye is somewhat rejuvinated by his subplot of a hidden life and becomes far more interesting than he was before) whereas the new cast members land with various effect. Most fascinating is The Vision, who despite limited screen time looks to be a wonderfully dry addition to the long term MCU.
Villain Ultron voiced by James Spader is essentially… A robot James Spader, dishing out snark and put downs as much as he does lasers (although I did somewhat miss the vicious dreadnaught of the comics).
The action is stonking, with the brutal Hulk/Hulkbuster smackdown predictably taking gold, but praise must be given to the finale which (mostly) tries to avoid being a copy of the defeat-the-CGI-army of the first movie and concentrates a lot more on actually SAVING people (you paying attention Kal-El?)
Wonderful cameos are abound too and it’s not long until you realise how exactly Marvel are gonna stave off any competition from other super teams like the Justice League, Fantastic Four or any future X-Men movies. Marvel are no longer in dealing in the realm of the super team, but in the super community. This is now a legitimate universe.
The uninitiated may rankle at the sheer complexity of information being doled out (this is a VERY busy, dense movie, with multiple references to Phases 1, 2 AND 3, which hasn’t even STARTED yet) and Ultron becomes somewhat absorbed into part of the ensemble, instead of being a stand out villain. And it’s long. Very long. So kids may figit.
Oh, that reminds me. There’s no sting at the VERY END of the credits so make a break for the car park once you’ve seen the first one…
In closing, Age Of Ultron tries hard (maybe too hard) but despite ending up merely a 3 star movie wrapped in four star packaging, it actually emerges as a thoroughly decent Marvel movie, it’s just not exactly the most joyous one.
Being a long term comic book guy, wading through nearly 3 hours of superhero backstory and pre-empting comes second nature to me, but many may find their patience being dis-assembled…