Sequels are pretty hard to get right, especially if you’re making a sequel to the high grossing superhero movie of all time. However, Joss Whedon gets another crack at the Avengers whip with the sequel, Age of Ultron. I’ll start off by saying that I’m going to toe the line between reviewing it as a ‘comic book’ adaptation and as a film it itself, because both facets help to explain why the film has turned out the way it is.
I’m long past the time where I expect comic book adaptations of any kind to be faithful, whether that’s on film or TV. For example, I can finally accept that the Hawkeye/Mockingbird marriage will never happen – and the introduction of Hawkeye’s wife Laura in the this film [apologies for the minor spoiler, there may be a few more of those to come] confirms that they’re completely ignoring certain aspects of comic book history. This Cinematic Universes are just that – cinematic. At their core superhero comics combine a sincere investigation into humanity, social problems and the constant questions surrounding ‘responsibility’ with the badass fighting sequences that we all want to be a part of. Age of Ultron, much like its predecessor, completely captures this essence on film.
This makes the film a joy to watch and completely dazzling. Considering the complexity of the special effects involved Joss Whedon and his team manage to pull off some of the best-CGI inclusive fight sequences ever seen in cinema. The word epic is not amiss as we twist seamlessly from the different characters (and my, by the end there are a lot of them), fighting a multitude of robots. It’s the kind of scene lifted from the comics and then rebuilt specially for the cinema – and it works a treat.
It’s interesting to note that the original cut of the movie was two hours forty-five minutes, since the film is so choc-a-bloc with plotlines. You almost feel you could split the film into two because there is simply so much included. Let’s quickly recap how much Avengers:Age of Ultron had to ‘achieve”:
- Be a satisfying sequel.
- Flesh out some of the existing characters.
- Introduce new characters.
- Flesh their backstories out too.
- Introduce a villain, and give him a compelling reason for featuring.
- Fit this all into the existing MCU, whilst hinting at
- future character dynamics
- future overall universe development.
That’s a hefty list for any film, let alone one with as high expectations as the Avengers sequel. The film indeeds tick off every number on that list, but at the expense of giving the plot breathing room. As a consequence I’d imagine a lot of the more lore-like exposition would feel overwhelming to people who hadn’t either read up or watched the previous films. The explanation about the Infinity Stones is further muddied about here and there, whilst even moments which should be quieter are used as a chance to shove in some character explanation or explain a dynamic we have to quickly get to grips with. This isn’t a film for those who like to move slow. Keep up, or we’ll lose you on the way. Good job that there are still the odd wisecracks, to keep you afloat. There are several laugh out loud moments which tap into the brevity of the previous film, though they aren’t as frequent
With so much to get done, some of the characters get a little underused, Thor especially. His qualities (hammer, multi-universe travelling) become his reason for being in the film; this is in stark contrast to Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, who held that role in the previous outing. This time round he is given a compelling story and the character has some great moments which allow both the actor and the archer to shine. Newcomer Paul Bettany has little to say as Vision but his costume design is beautiful and the actor plays the pure character of Vision wonderfully. His words, few and far between, are said with gravitas and make you sit up and listen. Black Widow and the Scarlet Witch also have good scenes and lines, allowing for the development of their characters in a mere look or glance. If ever there was cause to really get behind a Black Widow movie, it’d be now. Her flashbacks and implied past make for a very interesting story, and one which would allow the Widow to operate without the spaghetti-like dynamics of the present MCU.
There are moments when the constant exposition feels almost stifling, like you want or need a moment to take a breath and appreciate what is happening to these people: it’s easy to miss those moments this time round. By contrast, when the battle is raging Whedon shoots it so dynamically that you don’t want it to end. His epic scale of vision is at its most palpable in these moments.
Much is set up in this movie for the future, notably the conflict between Iron Man and Captain America which will obviously roll forward in Captain America: Civil War. Given that the Russo brothers did such an amazing job on Captain America: The Winter Soldier we have cause to hope that this film will live up to the great comic from which it was based.
All in all Avengers: Age of Ultron was a bombastic blockbuster, exactly as it should be. The high requirements placed upon it explain the film’s faults but the enjoyment factor of the film – as well as its brilliant final scene that provides great fanservice – ensure that you leave the cinema with a huge grin on your face.