In Iron Man 3 Tony Stark may have learned to deal with his PTSD from nearly dying while fending off the alien invasion in the first Avengers movie, but he’s still a man driven by a mix of hubris and fear. So far, he’s never encountered a problem that he hasn’t been able to solve, and he’s been able to solve some pretty big ones, but the scale of the Chitauri invasion, the fact that it was more luck than skill that helped the team defeat it, and the fear that something much, much bigger could come along and knock over the whole anthill is still a driving force for him at the beginning of Age Of Ultron.
Hydra bases, on the other hand, are mostly a piece of cake for Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye and a “code green”-steerable-Hulk to deal with. That’s where we find the team as the film begins, in the thick of it in “Sokovia”, chasing down Loki’s mind controlling spear, from the previous Avengers film.
This is the Avengers you want to see, right in the action, working together as a team, playing off each other’s strengths and weaknesses, with plenty of humorous banter and some nifty new team moves thrown in for good measure. It’s soon revealed what happens when an unstoppable force (Thor’s hammer in mid-swing) meets an immovable object (Captain America holding his vibranium shield). Spoiler: it’s very cool.
We are also reintroduced to the “The Twins” from the post-credits “sting” from Captain America:The Winter Soldier, Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, more commonly known in comics as Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. No longer the pathetic looking inmates from before, but fully engaged “enhanced” humans with almost, one might say “Inhuman” powers and a long standing grudge against one of our heroes.
While the former Hydra/S.H.I.E.L.D. forces, under Baron Strucker, put up a spirited fight, they can’t hold off “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” for long and the spear is recovered. Tony Stark and Bruce Banner discover some intriguing details about the stone in the spear’s tip. It could help Tony’s “Ultron” project, an extension of his Iron Legion, which are Iron Man drones that typically provide crowd control and prevent collateral damage while the Avengers do their stuff. Ultron is Tony’s answer to dealing with those bigger planet smashing threats that have been bothering him.
Unfortunately, while The Avengers (and plenty of guest stars from the Marvel Cinematic Universe) celebrate their success in Sokovia, Ultron activates, immediately gets the wrong end of the stick when it comes to his protocols to protect humanity, and decides the best way to do this is to force humanity to change or make it extinct. Borrowing some Iron Legion bodies, Loki’s spear, and a head start by copying himself all over the internet, Ultron is truly a foe for the Avengers to reckon with, performed with delicious relish by James Spader.
From his first conscious thoughts, through his plotting with The Twins and interactions with his “daddy”, Tony Stark, and the other Avengers, James Spader imbues Ultron with all his haughty charm and swagger, every word positively dripping with sarcasm and disdain. He plays Ultron as an incredibly human robot, his speech not as mannered as Tony’s electronic assistant JARVIS, and suffering from infrequent outpourings of pure petulant rage. Marvel have been accused of suffering from underwhelming villains of late, with Malekith The Accursed in Thor:The Dark World & Ronan The Accuser in Guardians Of The Galaxy, always counterpointed by oh-so awesome Tom Hiddlestone’s Loki, but along with Vincent D’Onofrio’s performance in Netflix’s Daredevil TV show, it’s a concern that can seemingly be put to bed for the future. Ultron is a perfect mix of grisly humour and menace.
The rest of the cast fare equally well. Whedon’s experience with ensemble drama’s shining through, each cast member being given their moments to shine, although Thor does pop off for a mystical bath for a while. Hawkeye benefits the most from this, having spent most of the previous movie as a mind controlled slave to Loki, he gets way more screen time this time around, with the film delving much further into his background, although there’s still not as much character there as the rest of the leads. The trademark Whedon banter is also in full effect, with funny in-jokes being introduced between these team mates and friends, and then referenced throughout the rest of the film. There are also a number of Whedon-esque speeches, stirring calls-to-arms dotted about here and there.
Whedon gets to stretch his action legs quite a bit with a fantastic Hulkbuster Iron Man vs. mind controlled Hulk segment early on that more than lives up to the promise from the trailer, but still retains elements of that humour. If you can’t laugh at the Hulk getting repeatedly, rhythmically, punched in the face by a panicked Iron Man, then there is nothing in the world left for you to laugh at. This keeps up throughout the film with an equally exciting climax.
Overall, this is a much less dark film than suggested by the trailers, with Marvel retaining their bright, fun aesthetic (not you, Daredevil) in comparison to DC’s dark, gritty, borderline depressing universe. Not that it’s all fun and games. Ultron is a credible threat and his ultimate plan is truly something that requires all of the Avengers, including some new members, to combat.
While I personally enjoyed the film immensely, some have found it a bit cramped or underwhelming. While I can’t agree, there are some elements that can feel a little rushed (the highly anticipated introduction of The Vision to the MCU being one), but this is a film about Marvel’s heaviest hitters working together to stop a credible threat. It’s amazing that we get a cocktail party scene and quiet scenes between characters examining their backgrounds at all!
As the film aired in Malaysia a week ahead of the US, I’ve no idea how Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. will tie in with this film this time, apart from the increased relevance of Baron Strucker in the most recent episode of the show.
Age Of Ultron shows Marvel at the top of their game, supremely confident inserting references and characters from all over the MCU throughout the film with little or no explanation. Changing things up slightly in preparation for the slate of films yet to come in their long term plan to build to Avengers: Infinity War Parts 1 & 2 in 2018 and the coming of “The Mad Titan” Thanos.