Avengers: Age Of Ultron

By this point in the trajectory of their cinematic careers, the World Mightiest Heroes, either singularly or as a group, had managed to fend off numerous attempts at world domination from foe both earthbound and cosmic, but the Avengers still would have their greatest test placed in front of them. No enemy, not evil secret societies nor alien invaders, would test the righteous do-gooders as strenuously as the sheer, unbridled weight of expectation from an audience desperate for their next Marvel fix…
It’s a regular occurrence that Tony, Steve, Thor and the gang can perform miracles at the last moment but when you rack up the stats of Joss Whedon’s deliriously successful comic book romp – that managed the impossible and combined four different franchises into one super-movie that blew through the box office as solidly as a back handed Mjolnir hurl – you start to see what a tall order it was to equal that literal super human task. No pressure, then…

We join our Avenging pals with the story already in motion (we’ve a lot to get through so there’s no time to waste!) as they lay waste to the remaining vestiges of world conquering wannabes, HYDRA in order to reclaim Loki’s scepter from the first film but there are few suprises in store on the shape of twins Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, two augmented young adults that (like 50% of all MCU characters) have a personal beef with Tony Stark. Boasting powers that are glibbly summed up as “He’s fast and she’s weird”, the twins escape as the Avengers reclaim their goal, but big brains Tony and Bruce Banner have an extra use for the sceptre and that’s to utilize it in order to create a highly advanced A.I. in order to protect the earth from terrifying visions of invasion that’s plaguing Stark. Unfortunately, neither of them apparently have read Frankenstein and they manage to create Ultron, a towering, robotic mental case who declares that the only way to keep the earth safe is to grind mankind under his shiny, metal, sized 37AA feet.
As the Avengers go on the offensive, Ultron recruits the twins to his cause and starts stocking up on the rare metal known as vibranium in order to carry out his plan of both evolving himself and destroying mankind while Wanda uses her freaky deaky powers to fuck with our hero’s minds causing confusion, dissension and, in the case of the Hulk, a complete and unplanned renovation of downtown Johannesburg.
Going off the grid to lick their wounds, our mixed bag of gods and monsters have to reassess their plan and each other if they even have the slightest of shots at taking down Stark’s wayward, robotic child – but maybe their most powerful weapon of all is one Ultron himself has created…

As a fully paid up and hugely deep core acolyte of the MCU cult, there was every chance I could have reviewed this while wearing Stan Lee’s gargantuan rose-tinted glasses, especially in the weeks following it’s cinematic release, as Avengers: Age Of Ultron has somewhat of an overwhelming effect on it’s audience. To those crisply up to date on the 10 movies released prior and who know their repulsor rays from their Casket Of Eternal Winter, A:AOU is truly a dizzying affair that, when examined years later, proves to be a vital lynch pin in virtually everything Marvel has made since 2008. Branching out storywise in every conceivable direction, it pretty much directly sets up at least half of Phase 3 while still paying off everything from Phase’s 1 & 2, and if you’re in the know, it’s a tantalising fountain of information of things yet to pass. However, viewed now the film stands revealed as what it actually is; a two and a half hour exposition dump that barely has time to comfortably negotiate it’s own arcs and plot points thanks to it having to cater for movies not even released yet.
Thankfully, geek overlord Joss Whedon (still years away from the never ending fallout from Justice League) is far too good a juggler of storytelling to let things fall into incomprehensible chaos… but only just.
Making the first Avengers movie look like The fucking Lighthouse in comparison, the character list grows exponentially to the point that some of the main characters have to concede screen time just to compensate – how else would you explain Thor’s horribly bland quest for exposition or Banner and Romanov’s clumsy non-starter of a romance if not to eek out some real estate for Elizabeth Olsen’s intriguing Scarlet Witch (who’s powers are as ill-defined as her accent) and Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s zippy but shallow Quicksilver?
Even Ultron, the sub-woofer cheeked, robo-bastard seems relegated to part of the ensemble instead of standing apart as the chief villain, but thankfully James Spader makes him stand out – by playing him as a robot James Spader, who dishes out snark every bit as crippling as the lasers he shoots out of his fingertips. Also turning up very late in the day bit managing to make an impact is Paul Bettany’s Vision, a scarlet-faced synthetic who remains a fascinating enigma and who boasts a voice as dry as the driest martini on earth.
And yet despite the near-terminal level of plot threads on display, while Age Of Ultron may not be a better movie than 2012’s Avengers, it’s certainly better made with Whedon making leaps and bounds as a director and the action is as immense as you’d expect with the Hulk Vs. Hulkbuster scrap standing out from the pack although even though effort is made to avoid the same old final act scrap involving a faceless CGI army it’s actually the quieter moments that stand out proving that you can hurl as much digital trickery as you can afford at the screen but it’s nowhere near as memorable as watching these all powerful beings just hanging out and swapping banter while trying to lift Thor’s hammer.
If it sounds like I’m being too harsh on Age Of Ultron it’s because I should add that despite it’s super-dense mega plot, it’s also very, very funny for the vast majority of it’s run time with laser-guided quips landing with all the force of a right-hook from Captain America – plus it’s still has all the heart that’s become Marvel’s dependable calling card over the years with Hawkeye’s family based side plot scoring big.

In closing, Age Of Ultron tries hard (perhaps too hard) to be all things to all people but ends up being so relentlessly crowded that it takes at least two or three viewing to soak everything up of importance, but to the uninitiated it might just feel more like they’re cramming for an exam and may find their patience being dis-assembled…

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