Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Film Review - Avengers: Age of Ultron

This was one, in theory, for the long-time Avengers fans. The first Avengers movie had the star characters, the characters who were already known to the general public through their films if nothing else. The second Avengers movie, ‘Age of Ultron’, puts a higher emphasis on characters that are more closely tied to the comic book – Hawkeye, the Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, the Vision – characters that have long been members of the Avengers, and that without that membership, would probably have been mostly forgotten decades ago. When our nine Avengers face off against Ultron’s robotic army near the movie’s end we basically have the characters that, minus a couple of members, have been the core of the Avengers throughout their fifty year history. For many millions of people it is a cool action sequence; for several hundred thousand hardcore fans who have grown up reading the characters the moment may strike them as slightly surreal.

I liked this movie probably about as much as I did the first instalment. One good point about the Marvel sequels is that, with the introductions out of the way, they can hit the ground running. In part because of that I generally find them more engaging than the originals: ‘X2’, ‘Spider-Man 2’, ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’, and ‘Thor: The Dark World’ among them. In contrast to the first movie the Avengers are no longer feeling each other out, but fighting (and partying) as a group.

Of course it wouldn’t be a Marvel production without conflicts between our heroes. In this case the main source of conflict is Tony Stark/Iron Man deciding to create an artificial intelligence to save the world, and deliberately choosing not to consult with his teammates in the process. As most people will already know that artificial intelligence – the robot Ultron – almost immediately rebels and causes massive havoc. I have never been a big fan of Ultron, who has moved between being a cheesy robot hiding out in a convent and full-scale genocidal maniac. This movie didn’t necessarily make me a fan, but James Spader and his menacing voice played Ultron about as well as I reckon he could be played.

Other elements I also had mixed feelings about, though generally on the positive side of the ledger. The Hulk/Black Widow romance was a strange addition given that it is completely foreign to the comics, and was a little bit awkward at times, but Mark Ruffalo and Scarlett Johannson seem to make it work. The lesser-known Avengers I mentioned above also have their backstories tweaked, but apart from perhaps Hawkeye the family man, none of them are major reinventions of those characters. The ‘Tony Stark as creator of Ultron’ bit has also drawn mixed reactions from fans (in the comics it was Henry Pym); still the idea that a hero unintentionally created a dangerous menace remains, and Robert Downey Jr. remains a pretty good figure to build your franchise around.

Like most of the good Marvel movies the story does not necessarily scale the same heights as the very best of the comic book stories but it nestles pretty well among the better ones. Apart from the final battle highlights are the aforementioned party scene, a destructive battle between Iron Man and a mind-controlled Hulk, the reaction of the Scarlet Witch to Ultron’s devastating blow, and the integration of other characters from throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not everything hits the mark, and some quips are stretched or fall a bit flat. But a lot of work has gone into getting this massive production running smoothly, and for the most part it works. Hopefully it all still works when the final chapter is spread over two whole films a few years down the track.

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