Director: Joss Whedon
Screenplay: Joss Whedon
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, James Spader
Running Length: 141 minutes
Synopsis: When Tony Stark tries to jumpstart a dormant peacekeeping program, things go awry and Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, including Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye, are put to the ultimate test as the fate of the planet hangs in the balance. As the villainous Ultron emerges, it is up to The Avengers to stop him from enacting his terrible plans, and soon uneasy alliances and unexpected action pave the way for an epic and unique global adventure.
Review: It cannot be denied that despite being an utterly successful commercial venture (and having other film studios scrambling to create similar franchises), the Marvel Cinematic Universe is starting to feel a little tired. Although this is “just” the second proper Avengers movie, it is also the 11th film in the Cinematic Universe, with just one more film to go (Ant-Man, coming in July) before Phase 2 ends and Phase 3 begins with TEN more movies on the slate, stretching all the way to 2019. To say that there’s a surfeit of superhero movies is an understatement, and one does wonder how long the gravy train can keep on chugging.
Thankfully, there’s a dichotomy in Avengers: Age of Ultron that is rarely seen in the Cinematic Universe – the film delivers on the big action sequences that people have come to expect from these movies, and yet focuses the plot largely on the smaller characters that don’t have a dedicated movie (or movies) to their name. This approach adopted by Joss Whedon is really only possible in a franchise as developed as the Marvel one, since there is the luxury of time to tell the tale over multiple movies, and Age of Ultron is better for it.
Ultron, the titular mega-villain, stands head and shoulders above many of the other bland villains that have populated much of the MCU movies. He poses a credible threat and is a worthy opponent to the Avengers, and because he is literally heartless, there is actually a sense of peril pervading parts of the movie. Joss Whedon also tries to humanize a number of the Avengers, most notably Bruce Banner, Black Widow and Haweye, as well as newcomers Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, giving them romantic subplots and human backstories that fill in the gaps between the action set-pieces.
Although this may sound like nit-picking, it’s actually the action set-pieces that bring Age of Ultron down a notch. Like the first Avengers movie, action sequences come across as being slightly over-edited, with so many cuts that the action actually becomes a little muddled. This is most apparent in the showdown between the Hulk and Iron Man (in a pretty cool Hulkbuster suit), which is edited with such a quickfire pace that it almost feels like a scene out of the Transformers franchise – which is not a good thing. Watching the film in 3D also exacerbates the issue while adding virtually nothing in the third dimension, and an IMAX non-3D screening would probably be the most optimal viewing experience.
It’s become apparent, especially in Phase 2 of the MCU, that the movies can no longer be entirely judged on their individual merit. As a standalone film, Age of Ultron has its flaws in terms of pacing and editing, but when viewed as a key film in Phase 2 of the MCU, it fares better – not only does it wrap up some loose ends from the preceding movies, it also begins the narrative arc of Phase 3, introducing a number of new superheroes that should come into their own when the next Phase begins. There is a compelling story to be found in Age of Ultron, and despite it being what is essentially the middle film in the Avengers trilogy (now a quadrilogy, to be exact), doesn’t suffer too much from the middle-child syndrome.
Rating: * * * (out of four stars)