Avengers: Age of Ultron

Director: Joss Whedon (2015)

Bigger, darker, funnier and more explosive than ever; the world’s greatest superhero team return in the most spectacular action movie of the summer.

The Avengers take off on a do or die mission to save the world – but before confronting an army of killer robots, they must put aside their differences and overcome their crippling worst fears.

With ferocious fight scenes, dynamic design and sleekly organic CGI, it’s all underpinned by a busy, witty and coherent script.

The wise-cracking, squabbling team of Captain AmericaIron ManThorThe Hulk, Hawkeye and Black Widow are played with enormously energetic enthusiasm by regulars Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Chris HemsworthMark RuffaloJeremy Renner and Scarlett Johansson.

Following on from Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the Avengers are hunting down Hydra, the terrorist organisation responsible the destruction of law-enforcement spy agency SHIELD.

Meanwhile in his civilian identity as billionaire inventor Tony Stark, Iron Man activates a dormant peace-keeping programme designed to keep the Earth safe form alien invaders.

However the villainous giant robot Ultron (James Spader) takes control and uses it to threaten the extinction of mankind. He is hugely powerful, beautiful, shiny, intelligent and funny – in all ways a threat to Iron Man and his monstrous ego.

Ultron is aided by super-powered twins who want Iron Man dead; Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. He can move lightning-fast while she uses mystical powers to produce visions of fear to paralyse her enemies.

They’re played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen, showcasing their talents on a far better forum than in last year’s terrible Godzilla.

Meanwhile as well as voicing Iron Man’s computer butler JARVIS, Paul Bettany plays a mysterious newcomer called The Vision.

As if this weren’t a surfeit of super-powers, screen-time is also found for a host of supporting characters including SHIELD agents Nick Fury, Maria Hill and Peggy Carter (Samuel L. JacksonCobie Smulders, Hayley Atwell) superheroes War Machine and Falcon (Don Cheadle and Anthony Mackie) and Asgardian warrior Heimdall (Idris Elba).

There’s no appearance by fan’s favourite Tom Hiddlestone as Loki and the absence of Pepper Potts and Jane Foster (Gwyneth Paltrow and Natalie Portman) is mentioned in passing.

Breathless and brilliantly executed action sequences move through Europe, America, Africa and Asia. Though it’s more fierce than Avengers Assemble, the steel-bodied violence is always laced with a tough coating of humour.

The final battle includes an extended composition of astonishing choreography, bearing all the grace and technical excellence we’re used to seeing from British effects house Framestore. They also provide the FX for an amazing freeway chase scene in downtown Seoul.

Visually and thematically Ultron references Moloch, the internet demon from Whedon’s TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The writer also recycles an old Buffy line and puts it in the mouth of Nick Fury.

In his typically intelligent script, Whedon accomplishes the astounding juggling act of tying the large roster of characters to their various plot points, develop them emotionally and maintain their relative positions within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

He’s also at impressively at ease including a joke about playwright Eugene O’Neill while bouncing around ideas of sacrifice and duty.

There are also ongoing discussions of evolution, the ethics of eugenics, the accountability of the military and the importance of defending freedoms without sacrificing them.

These are underpinned by visual allusions to the Second World War and references to two British Prime Minsters.

Meanwhile US President’s Teddy Roosevelt‘s maxim about a big stick is invoked and is neatly reflected in some merry horseplay involving Thor’s hammer Molinjor.

More great nuggets of humour are mined from Thor’s mythical self-regard but the focus is moved sideways away from the trio of heroes (Iron Man, Captain America and Thor) who all have their own individual franchise outside of the Avengers.

This allows for the development of the lesser characters of Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye.

Despite having starred in two poor films of his own in 2003 and 2008, it was in the Avengers Assemble (2012) where The Hulk became the breakout star, rampaging through the last half hour like, well, an enormous green rage monster.

This time Whedon puts him at the centre of the action from the beginning, squaring off against soldiers, robots and even Iron Man.

More importantly, alter ego scientist Bruce Banner is afforded a full character arc, one influenced by the fairytale of the beauty and the beast.

With his sharp intelligence wrapped up in magnificent brawn and powered by passion, the Hulk is very much the symbol of the Avengers – a super-powered combination offering the best hope Age Of Ultron will be the smash it deserves to be.

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