Cutting to the chase, based on one viewing I’d say Avengers: Age of Ultron is pretty much on a par with the first. Of course, it’s part of the bigger, increasingly diverse Marvel Universe, and therefore risks getting bogged down in endless references to previous stories and set-ups for subsequent films. Thankfully director Joss Whedon manages to make the movie a satisfying adventure in its own right, in the manner of previous Marvel pictures.
The eponymous Ultron (James Spader) is an artificially intelligent robotic being created by Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), built to defend the Earth from threats. Unfortunately when Ultron sees all humans as a threat, things get very messy very quickly. As well as facing a tremendous, nigh-on impossible to defeat enemy, the presence of Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) complicates matters for our heroes. Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) Bruce Banner aka Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) all have their work cut out trying to dig their way out of Tony Stark’s mess.
The cast are all on fine form, and I was particularly pleased to see Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye get a much better crack of the whip this time round. There are a number of fun cameos featuring characters from the other Marvel films that I won’t spoil. There are also a couple of other new characters, especially the mysterious Vision (Paul Bettany), that open up fascinating possibilities in the upcoming two part Infinity War Avengers films (due in 2018 and 2019).
Whedon scripts and directs with wit and flair, generating good laughs amid the mayhem, whilst darkening things slightly, but not too much. Some have argued that it isn’t quite as much fun as the first outing, which I disagree with. For one thing Ultron is a fantastic villain, and for another the special effects really are quite something, even in an age when spectacular computer generated images are a dime a dozen.
The strong, and I would argue unique and specific, morality that underpins the entire Marvel Universe (including its more grown-up manifestations, such as Netflix’s recent violent but gripping Daredevil series) is present and correct once again. Clear but not preachy themes of responsibility, courage, sacrifice, and obviously in this case the difficulties and dynamics of working in a group, echo the essential decency and humanity that always distinguished Stan Lee’s comics. Speaking of the great man, as usual Stan Lee has an amusing cameo.
The film is not without flaws. For one thing, certain sections appear to have been pared down rather too ruthlessly, rendering them all but incomprehensible. A baffling sequence involving Thor in a cave suffers particularly in this respect, and one can only hope any missing footage will be restored in subsequent DVD/Blu-Ray releases. However, all things considered, fans should find Avengers: Age of Ultron an exciting and satisfying experience.