Age of Ultron has a lot to live up to. The first Avengers film was a smash hit, popular with fans and critics alike, and it fed the fanboy in all of us with scraps between our heroes, a deliciously evil villain, and of course, that moment when they united to become the Avengers.
A tough act to follow.
I should point out that this review is littered with spoilers. If you don’t want any details, don’t read on!
Age of Ultron opens with our heroes fighting HYDRA agents in a fictional eastern European country, and this is the first little issue I have with the film. Tony Stark is armoured up, but didn’t he ditch his Iron Man persona at the end of Iron Man 3? Plus, the only reason you’d know why Thor is on earth is if you’ve seen the mid credit scenes from The Dark World. Finally, we’re left with the impression that the Avengers have been back together for some time. It’s like the film kicks off midway through, rather than at the beginning, leaving us with questions before the first act has barely started.
We are introduced to the Scarlet Witch (who can manipulate minds and has telekinetic powers) and Quicksilver (who is simply very very fast). X-Men: Days of Future’s Past also gave us an interpretation of Quicksilver, which I dare say was better, as that character is fleshed out more.
It’s impossible to form clear opinions of Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver because there’s too much going on to get a good idea of who they really are. We know they’re HYDRA experiments (the result of tampering with Loki’s staff, in HYDRA’s possession), and that they hate Stark (his weapons killed their parents), and it’s the Witch who uses her mind powers to push Tony into using the staff to create Ultron – intended as a peacekeeping program. So far it’s all straightforward.
We do get some early scenes where the Avengers relax, unwind and party. They take it in turns to try and lift Thor’s hammer (with no joy, though Rogers makes the thing wobble – a nice nod to the comics), and we warm to them a little more as people as a result.
Ultron himself as a bad guy… I expected more danger. He’s strong yes, and he wants to cleanse the earth of humanity – but as a direct threat to the Avengers, he wasn’t quite imposing enough. I wanted to see the Avengers pushed to the brink, but that never quite happens. The character of Ultron is quite fun, but as I said, not dangerous enough.
Hawkeye gets a decent amount of screentime in this movie, but it’s part of a number of things they cram in that perhaps deserved a film of their own. The romance between Banner and Natasha does make sense, but it’s forced and rushed in Age of Ultron.
The action sequences and visual effects are what you come to expect from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They are highly polished and well-staged, especially the Hulk’s fight with Stark’s Hulkbuster armour – which is one of the highlights of the movie. It’s quite brutal, but fun at the same time.
Perhaps the biggest problem with Age of Ultron is that it feels rushed. It’s the film that marks the end of Phase 2 of the MCU (well ok, officially Ant-man is the end of Phase 2, but you know what I mean), and it almost feels like Marvel wanted to get it over with, so it could set up Phase 3.
The film could also have done with being a tad darker. I’m not suggesting ‘Dark Knight’ level gloom, but the trailer implied the Avengers would be truly tested, and I never felt that they were.
All that said, it is still an entertaining film. The characters (well, the main ones) do evolve a little. Stark and Rogers begin to get a bit testy with each other, Banner grapples with his fears, and Hawkeye gets fleshed out. We also see a little of Natasha’s history. As I said before, the action sequences are spectacular, and always look good.
What the film can’t do is recapture the spirit of the first Avengers film. It also falls a little short with some of the characters and the tone could have been different. It’s still enjoyable though.