‘The Gang’ returns for Marvel’s second adventure into the world of the Avengers, this time to stop the uprising of an intelligent A.I. hell bent on the destruction of the human race. Whilst entertaining, Age of Ultron feels at times stunted and unable to deliver on the promise of the first film in the franchise.
After retrieving Loki’s sceptre from the hands of Hydra, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) attempts to download an intelligent AI from the sceptre and install it into a peace-keeping program of his own making. Known as Ultron (James Spader), the program was designed to utilise Stark’s robotic humanoids to fight the forces of evil – an Avengers retirement plan if you will. But when the AI determines that the only way to save the earth is the mass extinction of the human race, things go horribly, horribly wrong. It is the familiar ‘team up and save the world’ storyline that made the original film so successful, but given this Age of Ultron doesn’t feel as fresh to the eye as it should.
Age of Ultron sees greater emphasis placed on Clint “Hawkeye” Barton (Jeremy Renner) and Natasha “Black Widow” Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and rightly so. The end of the first Avengers had done film so little was still known about these two and little had been done to rectify this in any of the movie spin-offs between then and now. Exploring Widow’s past in becoming a deadly assassin is a darker change of pace for the film and provides a greater explanation into how she acquired the skills to be apart of the team. Furthermore the spark of romance between Romanoff and Bruce “Hulk” Banner (Mark Ruffalo) adds greater depth to what was previously a relatively shallow character. Hawkeye, who previously didn’t seem to add much overall value to The Avengers, is given plenty more screen time in the second film. What emerges is a witty and tactful character who easily grows on the audience. During one part of the film the team retreats back to his home and many of the superheros are surprised to see that Hawkeye has a family. It’s a different and more sentimental take on a member of The Avengers that audience members are able to easily relate to. All of them (apart from Thor, I guess) are human at the end of the day and it is in these little details that we are reminded that being a ‘superhero’ comes at some cost. As the voice of Ultron, James Spader is fantastic. Every intricacy of speech is filled with malign intent as the villain grows stronger and stronger throughout the course of the film. The first scene in which we see him inhabiting an incapacitated robot is near-frightening – the calm, icy cold tone of voice emanating from a mess of wires and metal breaks up an Avenger’s victory celebration, putting them on notice for the events to come.
The problem with fleshing out these newer characters is that suddenly all of them must compete for screen time. In the past we only really knew Stark, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Cap (Chris Evans) – but the emergence and prominence of both Hawkeye and Black Widow starts to crowd the screen. Even tiny features from War Machine (Don Cheadle) are memorable throwbacks to past films but the sheer number of storylines prevents any real involvement from anyone besides the primary Avengers. This creates a problem when one considers the further expansion of the team by the next film to include the likes of Ant-Man and (possibly) Spiderman. Further to this, having seen Stark appear in now his fifth film as a lead role, the character starts to wear out. I grew sick very quickly of his cocky and headstrong attitude and ignorance of the warning signs around him– all which leads to the problem of Ultron itself. I understand that is the character but it feels like his Achilles heel is constantly the cause of group and global disaster – I mean give the guy a break. Rifts continue to appear between the team at times, something I had hoped we could leave behind in the plot of the first film. Sure, the team cannot always gel perfectly – but when a complex mix of storylines arises with so much potential it is frustrating to watch the tedious infighting within the group.
To touch on potential very quickly – I’m sure Age of Ultron will appeal to and satisfy the wants and needs of comic book nerds around the world with deeper references into the lore of the Avengers. For the general viewer however, the lack of knowledge of this lore behind many of the characters and indeed concepts explored within the film can make certain scenes very confusing. The emergence of a new Avenger (I will not name names) is very abrupt and the topic of the ‘Infinity Stones’ is rushed over so quickly it is made to feel unimportant. Where these could have been fleshed out to a greater extent, instead we have longer fight scenes or repetitive monologues from Ultron on the doomed future of the human race. By the start of the final sequence it feels like everything came together far too quickly despite the 141 minutes the film had to work with. There was much left to the imagination and even more left to the Internet to solve my confusion. Age of Ultron certainly had some of the right pieces but failed to capitalise in the right places.
If the fight scenes from the original Avengers film were anything to go by, director Joss Whedon would no doubt be trying to upstage his efforts in the second film. He achieves this to a degree; certainly the fights are entertaining, including the battle between an enraged Hulk and Iron Man that basically levels an African city, but they lack any real consequence. Ultron is digital by nature, so defeating any one of his physical bodies does little to slow him down. Furthermore the continued emphasis placed on protecting the lives of citizens grows more and more tiring. I get it, The Avengers are meant to stand for the protection of man-kind, but for once I would like to see a fight not interrupted by the need to save some poor civilian(s) caught in the middle of it all.
Overall Age of Ultron is entertaining but is perhaps a victim of its own hype. The first film was so wildly successful that the build up around its successor would inevitably make or break Age of Ultron. Whilst the development of Black Widow and Hawkeye were welcome changes, little feels as if it has changed. No doubt the film was made to set the stage for the ensuing Avengers: Infinity War saga, but the unfortunate outcome is that the film has little consequence. Sure, it paved way for the next step in the franchise but the long term outlook came at a short term cost: Avengers: Age of Ultron simply falls short of the mark. Amongst the confusion and feeling of repetitiveness lies an exciting premise that simply wasn’t executed as well as it should have been