Thursday, 23 April 2015

Film Review: Avengers - Age of Ultron



"You want to protect the world - but you don't want it to change..."

Director: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jnr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Jeremy Renner, Andy Serkis, James Spader and Samuel L. Jackson
Runtime: 150 minutes

Earth's Mightiest Heroes are back for another almighty crossover in Avengers: Age of Ultron. In Marvel's boldest and biggest film yet, our heroes are tested to the limit and torn apart by an evil artificial intelligence called Ultron (James Spader) created by none other than Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jnr) himself.

Three years ago, The Avengers redefined the superhero genre. The culmination of years of planning and foreshadowing, Marvel brought together their biggest names for one film that showcased how long-form storytelling can pay off when crafted carefully and patiently. The result was astounding success; 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, over $1.5 billion (3rd highest grossing film of all time) and near universal audience acclaim.

In doing so, director Joss Whedon has set himself an almost impossible task - how do you go about crafting a sequel to one of the most successful films of all time? How can Age of Ultron ever live up to the hype?

In short, it just does. Age of Ultron is everything you want an Avengers film to be. It's action-packed, character driven and emotional. It's got quips galore, a plot that races along at breakneck speed and a wicked ensemble cast that just nails it.

Let's start at the start, shall we? Whedon kicks proceedings off with an action sequence akin to the kind of thing you'd see in a Bond movie - the mission is already underway, the stakes are already high and the plot is already in motion. It grips you right from the start and barely pauses to draw breath for the entire 150 minute runtime - seriously, I can't emphasise enough just how quickly the film passes. That's just how invested I was.

Before long, our heroes have returned to base and are letting their hair down. We get to see the Avengers in party mode, with Tony Stark's Avengers Tower now a fully-fledged headquarters for the team. Meanwhile, Stark and his science bro Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) are working on creating something new, something that'll take their place as international peacekeepers.

Safe to say, the AI they cook up doesn't abide by their rules. Ultron, as Stark names his creation, determines that the best way to ensure world peace is to rid the world of the Avengers. He crashes their party, kicks their butt and zooms off into the night to enact his plan for world domination.

From there, the plot takes the Avengers all across the world in pursuit of Ultron - South Korea, Norway, the fictitious African nation of Wakanda, Eastern Europe and back to the United States. It feels fast-paced and breathless at times, only once pausing to breathe when the team are at their lowest point.

In many ways this is the truest reflection of comic-book writing we've seen on the screen so far; the characters bounce from place to place as they would from frame to frame in a comic book. Likewise, the characters themselves pop in and out of the story with the assumption that the audience can and will follow the various narrative from past entries. There are numerous cameos of varying size; some, such as the return of Rhodey (Don Cheadle) have a big impact whilst others (that I won't spoil here) are a little more subtle.

The design and writing for Ultron himself is one of the film's real strengths. Menacing, charismatic and completely bonkers, Ultron is a 'FrankenStark's Monster' whose sole goal is to bring about the downfall of the Avengers, and humanity. Much like Loki the first film, Ultron also poses such a real threat because of the personal connection he shares with one of the main characters; it's his relationship with Tony Stark that hooks you early on, as the creator and created soon come to blows.

Something that I really liked about Age of Ultron is how, amongst all the chaos and action, Whedon takes the time to focus on what is most important - the characters themselves. Whether it's the blossoming romance between Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) and Bruce or the simmering hostility between Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man, you get the sense that Whedon ultimately loves writing and directing his characters more than anything else. One scene where Steve and Tony discuss actions and consequences whilst chopping wood goes to show how even the simplest of dialogue scenes can convey so much about the heroes we've grown to love.

Furthermore, we've once again been served a film that isn't just Iron Man and Friends. Banner, Black Widow, Hawkeye, the Maximoff twins - each receive an arc that expands on their story and makes them worth caring about.

Whilst it goes without saying, I should mention how brilliant the cast is. Downey Jnr, Hemsworth, Evans, Ruffalo, Johansson; they're just so good as these flawed heroes that fight each other as much as they fight evil. James Spader's voicework on Ultron is also amazing and he brings so much malice and snarly hatred to the role.

That's not to say Whedon hasn't done the action justice - Age of Ultron is a visual experience that leaps from the screen and imprints itself in your brain, from the opening unbroken tracking shot through a snowy forest to the sight of Iron Man and the Hulk going toe-to-toe in downtown Wakanda.

One minor flaw is the amount of foreshadowing Age of Ultron concerns itself with. For example, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is tasked with a side-narrative that only serves to introduce elements that'll make sense in later films. I felt that a lot of it got lost amongst the constant battling and quipping.

All up, Age of Ultron is a really great addition to the Marvel canon. It moves the story forward, introduces new characters and may (or may not) dispense of a few others. Any criticisms of being too busy are understandable, but it's also the first of it's kind - it's a film that has to tie together numerous other franchises whilst also advancing it's own story.

It's got some huge egos to juggle, and somehow they all manage to stay in the air without getting lost under the sofa. Is it better than the first Avengers film? I don't know, it's too hard to say. The first has that 'wow' factor locked down and Age of Ultron isn't as seamless or fresh. But it is more ambitious and adventurous. The stakes are higher, and the characters have never been more fleshed out and entertaining. It's for these reasons, amongst many others, that Age of Ultron is nothing but a resounding success.


The Verdict: 8/10


Marvel is firing on all cylinders as they propel themselves toward total superhero domination. It might have spectacle to spare, but Avengers: Age of Ultron works best when it peels back and gives the cast room to breathe, joke and snipe at one another. Whedon might be departing the MCU for now, but his influence has undoubtedly helped shaped this series into the behemoth it is today. Roll on Phase 3.

Avengers: Age of Ultron opens in cinemas across Australia today. 

6 comments:

  1. I really want to see this one. I skimmed your review, simply because I don't want to spoil anything, but I have to say I'm glad to see that the characters are given their due, since action is great but without characters you care about, it's all moot.

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    1. Good idea on the skimming, wouldn't want to ruin anything :) Hope you liked/will like it when you get to see it!

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  2. I can't believe I have to wait a whole week before I can see this! I too, skim read but I'm really glad you think it lives up to the first one :)
    - Allie

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    1. Just read your review and I tend to agree! Ain't it great when that happens? :)

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  3. After watching Fast and Furious 7 I think this movie will also make my mind full of entertainment and action scenes. Waiting for the movie Avengers Age of Ultron Movie.

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    Replies
    1. You bet it will, and it's even better than Furious 7 :)

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