IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 141 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
SHIELD has been shut down, and the Avengers have taken over the protection of the world with Tony Stark/Iron Man bankrolling operations and Steve Rogers/Captain America in command. In Sokovia, the Avengers raid a Hydra outpost led by Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, who has been experimenting on humans using the sceptre previously wielded by Loki. Stark and Banner discover an artificial intelligence within the sceptre’s gem, and secretly use it to complete Stark’s “Ultron” global defence program. The unexpectedly sentient Ultron, believing he must eradicate humanity to save Earth, eliminates J.A.R.V.I.S, Stark’s A.I, and attacks the Avengers during a victory party at their headquarters. Escaping with the sceptre, Ultron uses the resources in Strucker’s Sokovia base to upgrade his rudimentary body and build an army of robot drones…..
For all my constant moaning on reviews and news posts about commercial cinema being taken over by all these darn superheroes, there is no doubt that Avengers Assemble, while nowhere near as good an experience at home [where its flaws are more obvious] as it was in the cinema, was a tremendously enjoyable and sometimes genuinely exhilarating romp that could so easily have gone a bit wrong, and was a great feather in the cap of writer and director Joss Whedon, in fact actually the first time I was really impressed by this writer, whose overly flippant, attemptedly clever-clever stuff tends to leave me cold. Avengers: Age Of Ultron certainly had a lot to live up to, and it is very entertaining and doesn’t seem like it’s as long as it actually is, but it isn’t anywhere near as good as its predecessor, and I don’t think I’m saying this because I’m tiring of these films, I genuinely feel it is considerably inferior. Whedon has said how much stress he was under while he was making it, and I think it shows in the finished product, which frankly spends too much of its time either rehashing the first film or setting things up for later instalments in the Marvel series. It isn’t at all a bad movie, and would probably seem pretty impressive if the first one didn’t exist, but it can’t help but be compared unfavourably to it.
We are hurled into some action immediately with our team battling numerous bad guys as they attack a castle to retrieve Loki’s sceptre. It’s great to have this lot back together and there are cool moments where each members shows off his or her skills in dispatching opponents. However, something has badly happened to Whedon’s action directing. Whilst the mayhem in Avengers Assemble was mostly cleanly shot and easy to follow, in this one it’s heavily reliant on overly quick cutting and shakycam, and is therefore both hard to follow and eye and headache-inducing. It’s nowhere as bad as it is in many other films around at the moment, and there is some great action that is fairly well shot, but it’s a shame that Whedon has decided to stoop to this. The worst bit is when Ultron first attacks our group in their headquarters, a very incoherent sequence, though I wonder if some of this was to try and conceal some of the sub-par CGI, which really is poor in some moments and totally inexcusable for a huge blockbuster such as this….though even more inexcusable is a bizarre rape ‘joke’ from Tony Stark, even odder considering it’s from the pen of Whedon, who is generally so ‘into’ his feminism that I feel it’s become a fault.
Whedon does very well in condensing his very ‘technical’ expository material as much as possible while letting us hang out with these guys for a little bit, most enjoyably in a drunken variant of the King Arthur sword in the stone routine. They remain a great bunch to spend time with and the cast have all settled superbly into their roles. Of course it’s not long before they have to go into action again, but they also have to deal with hallucinations given to them by Wanda Maximoff, one half of two twins in the employ of Ultron. This section of the film feels quite dark, but it soon became apparent to me that most of the ‘visions’ were just acting as service for films to come. It also became apparent to me that the story was not developing in any interesting ways and it all becomes a series of confrontations with Ultron, the twins and/or lots of robots in different locations. The first film mostly took place in only two or three locales, so it’s a nice change to see stuff happening all over the globe, but the escalating action only occasionally reaches a higher level of excitement and Marvel really need to do something about their samey climaxes. In what is possibly a comment on the last part of the [awful] Man Of Steel, it’s nice to see an emphasis on getting civilians to safety while our heroes duke it out with the villains, and there is one fabulous slow motion moment where the team are battling robots and the camera slowly moves around the action while framing all our saviours in one awesome shot.
There’s a memorable freeway chase with some suitably crazy CGI stunts, but the highlight is probably the Iron Man/Hulk battle, which really made the kid inside me giddy with excitement with each punch and instance of property damage, though I wished that the camera would take a break from speeding alongside the combatants and stay still for more than a second. The focus in this film is more in breaking the team apart than bringing it together, though it’s not really developed very much. Elsewhere, Whedon has to juggle a hell of a lot of subplots in a film which was three and a half hours long in its original cut and which Whedon obviously had to valiantly cut down immensely. There’s already talk about a Blu-ray version which will restore some of the deleted footage, and despite being probably insanely long I think this version will work a lot better. Still, even this cinema edit does surprisingly well in cramming in as much as it can, though the pacing is more lumpy than that of Avengers Assemble. It’s good to get to know Hawkeye more, and, while there’s been much criticism of the insertion of a romance between Bruce Banner/Hulk and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow which has no parallel in the comics, it is rather sweet even it does seem to come out of nowhere considering there were no signs of it in the first film, and doesn’t develop as much as it could [the story of this movie!]. At least it’s good for a film like this to contain important themes such as responsibility, the pitfalls of progress and what to do with artificial intelligence. There’s also a strong Frankenstein-type element running through the film, with a man’s creation turning against him, just as that creation’s creation later turns against its creator.
As before, Whedon shows an expertise in having humour mostly come from his characters than just seeming plonked in there, though there aren’t quite as many ‘laugh out loud’ lines here. The film also does well with its new characters, though Ultron, despite being menacingly voiced by James Spader, remains just a super powerful robot with little actual character and the film doesn’t do nearly enough with the idea of Ultron being the darker side of Stark. Elizabeth Olsen is quite moving as Wanda and Paul Bettany is just plain otherworldly as The Vision, a weird but oddly poetic human/artificial combination. The more familiar characters mostly fare fine though both Banner and Stark seem like idiots for some of the time. They all belong in a better story considering that this is their second cinematic adventure together. Yes, the film is a fun ride, but there were times while I was watching it when I wondered if it really needed to exist except to join the dots between previous film and ones to come like Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War Part 1, a film which won’t actually be with us for another three years.
Musically Avengers: Age Of Ultron is a mess. The score by Brian Tyler, which sees Tyler poorly imitate Alan Silvestri for much of the time, has been replaced by stuff by Danny Elfman in places and bits of Alan Silvestri’s score for Avengers Assemble. With the possible exception of Silvestri’s Captain America: The First Avenger, none of these Marvel scores offer the great music [where’s the rousing themes?] that they should contain considering the potential of the material, though this is perhaps more the fault of Kevin Feige than the individual composers. This second Avengers film does do the business and offers plenty of bang for your buck, but it seems slightly fatigued, and I think Marvel really need to pull the stops out for the next Avengers epic, not so much in terms of action [though they do need to work on that too] but in terms of plotting and structure. Given how popular these films are, and say what you like about Marvel they’ve successfully created not just a franchise but an entire world and brand which appeals to young kids and adults equally, you’d think that the studio would have the courage to go down some different pathways and take some real chances. Maybe one day. In the meantime Avengers: Age Of Ultron will do nicely, just about.