Matthew Turner watches the first big blockbuster of Summer 2015: the action-packed Avengers: Age of Ultron
Avengers assemble again! Writer-director Joss Whedon set the bar ridiculously high with 2012’s super-powered smash hit, so the eagerly awaited sequel has an awful lot to live up to. Happily, it delivers handsomely in terms of the action, character and humour that fans have come to expect from Marvel movies, even if it can’t quite match the sheer rush of euphoria that accompanied its predecessor.
When Tony Stark / Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) jump-starts a dormant peace-keeping program, he accidentally creates Ultron (James Spader), a powerful, sentient robot who dedicates himself to human extinction. Led by Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) band together to defeat Ultron, but the Avengers face a further threat in the form of the robot’s allies, super-powered twins Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen).
The action sequences and special effects are predictably spectacular, the stand-out being a knock-down scrap between a rampaging Hulk and Iron Man, with the latter clad in specially designed ‘Hulkbuster’ armour for just such an emergency. There’s also plenty of humour, though there’s only one moment that’s guaranteed to generate the same level of whoops and cheers that greeted Hulk sucker-punching Thor last time round.
Whedon’s direction is suitably pacey throughout, aided by some pretty ruthless editing decisions – you can tell that certain sequences have been shortened, for example. Crucially, Whedon allows the characters room to breathe, interspersing the orchestrated mayhem with a number of effective quiet moments.
The performances are superb, with each character (and actor) getting their fair share of great moments. Specifically, there’s a welcome focus on Hawkeye and Black Widow this time round, which gives Renner and Johansson a chance to shine, thereby addressing a criticism of the first film.
As for the new characters, classic Avengers comics antagonist Ultron makes for a terrific robo-villain and Spader invests him with real personality (right down to singing ‘I got no strings’ from Pinocchio), while Olsen and Taylor-Johnson are equally impressive as Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch (though they’re never named as such).
However, the film is roundly stolen by Paul Bettany’s late-arriving turn as mysterious entity The Vision (to say more would be unfair), whose utterly perfect translation from page to screen is sure to delight comics fans. He also comes complete with a look and costume that are sure to be an instant hit on the cos-play circuit.
The only real criticism of the film is that perhaps it suffers slightly from having to accommodate quite so many characters. It’s also burdened by the presumably studio-dictated responsibility of having to set up both Thor 3 and the next Avengers movie, leading to otherwise superfluous scenes that might as well have “Coming Soon” captions on them.
In short, this is a hugely entertaining, superbly made blockbuster that delivers everything you could want in terms of action, humour, character and emotion and won’t disappoint fans of the first film. Highly recommended.
Director: Joss Whedon
Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, James Spader, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Samuel L Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Linda Cardellini, Stan Lee
Running time: 145 mins
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