REVIEW: The Avengers: Age Of Ultron

2012’s The Avengers was a near-perfect superhero film. It seemed like an impossible premise to pull off – combining many different superhero characters into one story, and having to give them all equal and fair screentime, and at the same time tell an engaging story that feels bigger and better than any of those characters’ respective stand-alone movies.

Someone, writer/director Joss Whedon did it. It was absolute magic from start to finish – funny, fast-paced and engaging, his script was exceptional and his direction incredibly impressive. There was expectations that the sequel would continue this level of quality, but sadly this isn’t the case with The Avengers: Age Of Ultron.

It’s not that this movie is bad. Far from it. It’s a completely enjoyable sequel, but there’s a rote feeling to this second chapter. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is up to 12 films and two TV series now, is getting so dense that there is so much to remember and so much back story to have at the ready while watching Age of Ultron. Fortunately, you don’t have to have seen every previous film to follow the movie, but it definitely helps to make the story seem less daunting.

The plot sees Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) do some tinkering with an alien sceptre and unwitting create a powerful Artificial Intelligence system that becomes self-aware and constructs a robotic body for itself. Known as Ultron (voiced by James Spader), this evil robot puts in place a plan for world domination and has an army of cybernetic soldiers at his disposal, leading the entire Avengers team, with a couple of new additions, to save the day.

Age of Ultron starts with a bang and moves at a brisk pace, but the story never seems to have the high stakes the first film did. The villainous Ultron should have been a home run and Spader’s voice work is certainly creepy and memorable, but he’s never given enough screen time to seem like a real threat when pitted against the Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye and Iron Man. It certainly doesn’t seem like a fair fight.

In fact, the Avengers seem so overpowered at times that you feel like nothing could ever stop them, and it robs this film of any tension. Even when they are failing through the air towards Earth or caught in a runaway train careening through a city, there’s never any worry that they will die, it’s just a matter of what way they will be saved.

The script certainly isn’t as engaging this time out, with Tom Hiddleston’s Loki sorely missed this time out. Of course, Whedon had to bring in another villain, but Loki’s fun but still menacing presence, arguably the best part of the first film, is absent this time out.

Also missing for a large part of the film is Mark Ruffalo, who portrays Bruce Banner and (via motion capture) the Hulk. The Hulk was used perfectly in the first film and provided some of the best moments of comic relief, but he hardly makes an appearance here, and even his fight against a more heavily-armoured Tony Stark (in his Hulkbuster armour) lacks excitement.

Good actors like Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans also don’t have too much to do this time, and even Robert Downey Jr seems to be going through the motions here, hardly earning his rumoured fee of $50 million for his work here. Scarlett Johansson is arguably the best of the bunch, given a lot of screen time and continuing to impress in the role of Black Widow. Jeremy Renner is given a lot of screen time as well as Hawkeye but his character is kind of dull that his story arc doesn’t really engage.

There are also two newcomers to the series, Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver, two beloved characters from the comics. Taylor-Johnson is as dull here as he was in last year’s Godzilla, but Olsen (who was also in Godzilla and has impressed in many other films in the past few years), is great here as well with what little she has to work with. She brings real heart and emotion to this comic book character, and it’s probably no surprise that Whedon’s best written characters in this sequel are females, in that he has always seemed to enjoy writing for female characters than male ones.

Clocking in at 141 minutes, The Avengers: Age Of Ultron is enjoyable and easy to watch, but won’t linger in the memory for long. The best compliment I can pay it is that those near two and a half hours went by quickly and pleasantly, but I was never fully engaged at any moment in the film. The next Avengers tale will actually be two movies (Infinity War Part I and Part II), so let’s hope they have a story and villain worthy of Earth’s mightiest heroes next time round.

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