Right from the off, Age of Ultron is a more cohesive film than Assemble ever was. Where the previous film struggled to pull together the disparate worlds of its heroes, this second film in the series sets the tone with an explosive opening. Attacking a secret base in Russia, the Avengers use their powers with intense force: vehicles are driven with skill; arrows are fired with pinpoint accuracy; fancy Frisbees are thrown; and HULK SMASH happens a lot. It’s when powers are combined that the action hits full throttle – the shockwave from Thor banging Captain America’s shield like a drum sends hordes of enemies flying. And it all ends in that shot from the trailer. Teamwork, then, is key.
The high octane action is of a superb quality throughout the film, intense and exciting. Yet there are plenty of quieter moments too that prove just as rewarding. In the early portion especially, the team bond with warmth and humour, establishing small jokes that thread their way through the narrative. One scene where the heroes take it in turns to lift Thor’s hammer (none are worthy) is a particular highlight. No longer is this a collision of personalities, but a real assembly of distinct characters in a homogenous whole.
That, of course, is the point, with the film’s plot constantly threatening to tear the Avengers apart. This time they’ve teamed up against Ultron (James Spader), a sentient robot initially constructed from Iron Man’s seemingly endless supply of metallic friends (and money), imbued with intelligence from Loki’s staff (remember him?), and who creates an army hewn from the same strong metal as Captain America’s shield. There’s also a Russian brother-sister duo (Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson) who threaten to rip apart the Avengers with psychic powers (and some very cool effects). It’s a little convoluted and the sentient AI conceit is a clichéd one, but there’s plenty of fan service littered throughout.
The focus, though, is on the relationships between the team. Crucially, that means more Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). Bit parts in the previous film, they now feel like fully-fledged members of the team with some actual character development; in particular, the romance between Widow and Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) is a welcome touch of beauty and the beast humanity. The sacrifice, though, is Ultron. He is mostly an evil counterpart to Iron Man, who spends more time quipping than actually being villainous.
Still, Whedon has finally found a balance between humour and poignancy. As ever, there are plenty of one-liners and witty moments, many of which are knowingly self-deprecating. Yet these moments now feel earned since we can relate so much more to the characters. Of course, there are some terrible lines too amongst some very cheesy shots, but this is a Marvel film after all. There are more hits than misses.
That said, the film does threaten to implode under its own weight. The Marvel universe is simply too big to squeeze into one film and Age of Ultron is full of references to both previous films and the TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Knowledge of these is somewhat necessary to fill in some of the gaping plot holes, but these gaps are seemingly as necessary to Marvel’s films as the characters themselves. This film also introduces new characters to the mix ready for the next Avengers film, though they’re far less iconic than the central group. With future films clearly centering on some mystical infinity stone bullshit, this already fit-to-bursting series is set to play out on an impossibly broad scale.
Then again, when you’re having so much fun watching these heroes stylishly beating the crap out of a load of robots in true blockbuster fashion, who really cares about anything else?
Watch: Avengers: Age of Ultron is out now.