This one clinches it. The Marvel Cinematic Universe can no longer be taken on the merits of each film. Not that the Avengers 2 was a bad film, but it cannot stand alone as a film, or even as a sequel to Avengers, it demands the supporting framework that has built to this moment. Iron Man 3, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Thor: The Dark World, and to no small degree Guardians of the Galaxy are essential viewing to be able to fully appreciate the journeys taken to reach this point.
It’s those journeys I want to look into as I go through this review.
Tony Stark / Iron Man
Iron Man 3 saw Robert Downey Jr take the billionaire playboy philanthropist to darker places, suffering deeply with PTSD as a result of events in the Avengers. His increased fear of the immense and untold powers from outer-space are what drive him to the Ultron project, “I see a suit of armour around the world”. Tony begins the film fearful and stubborn, which leads to some rather reckless actions.
Veronica is beautiful, I have to say that, the trailers do the Hulk-Buster no justice. The fight had me practically out of my seat, I think I may have actually thrown a few shadow-jabs, and even better it’s all done within context! It’s not just an excuse for fan-service, it’s a key plot element which I will not ruin for you here.
Bruce Banner / The Hulk
Best Hulk film ever.
This film takes Bruce through the tortures of dealing with affection, the depths of fear, and throws the devastation brought about by the other guy into the harsh light of day, throwing him into a spiral of shame, guilt and self-loathing, deepened by his facilitating Stark in creating their new greatest enemy, but brings him to a very similar mental position as Tony. Driven by fear, not of threats beyond, but the threat he represents, Banner rallies to Stark’s side in his desperate fight to find a solution.
I don’t think even Mark Ruffalo could make a good solo film for The Hulk, no matter how incredible (harr de-harr harr) he may be in the role, but he is far from a support character! He’s not exactly background action in The Avengers, but he really seizes centre stage this time around, both in terms of action and performance. He has a couple of comedic moments, nothing on the sucker-punch on Thor but still laugh-out-loud funny.
Steve Rogers / Captain America
I think Hydra’s most recent actions have taken Rogers back a few steps. He’s taken a bit more of a back-seat for Age of Ultron, but he makes no small deal out of how much of a fool he thinks Tony and Bruce are for their dangerous actions and leaving the team out of the loop. It’s very in-keeping, especially since he was in the middle of the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D, and saw first hand what treachery and deceit can do to an organization.
A lot of groundwork is laid out for Civil War, and it’s not hidden, not even a little. Halfway through Avengers 2 the fighting breaks out early, shields are thrown, repulsor blasts may be shot, but it all comes out right in the end, but there are wounds there that’ll be reopened next year when it all kicks off.
Thor / Thor
So Ragnarok is on it’s way.
That’s about it for Thor this time around. The Mjolnir scene that we all now know and love is really funny, and sets up the one moment in this film that had the whole theatre laughing. I wonder if there were a few Thor scenes cut from the film, because he vanishes halfway through, then returns to inform everyone that there’s some badness going on with the Infinity Stones. He’s not utterly surplus to requirements like Hawkeye, but he has far less directly involvement in the action.
He has some fantastic moments that I will allow you to discover yourselves, he’s well utilized in the narrative, but there’s so much more to be said about the groundwork woven in for Ragnarok, and it looks like it could be one of the most epic moments in the series so far. I’m going to call this one now in fact. Thor: Ragnarok will be more spectacular than Civil War. Maybe not as rich in acting performances, but epic, and almost certainly tying the Guardians of the Galaxy to the earthly goings-on.
Clint Barton / Hawkeye
Did I say surplus to requirements? I meant best character ever! Where the hells did that come from? As awesome as Jeremy Renner is in the first Avengers, he’s taken a vast and utterly unexpected leap from the guy we saw briefly threatening to shoot Thor in a tent in New Mexico. He’s so much more involved, in fact much of what takes place would have gone so very differently if it weren’t for his involvement.
I can’t say much more without giving away just how refreshing his influence is. This is now Avengers: Age of Hawkeye. That’s a fact.
Natasha Romanov / Black Widow
Building on the conversation I started on Thursday in my piece on female characters in film, I present to you the crowning glory of the cast. No one gives a better acting performance, not Robert Downey Jr’s portrayal of PTSD, not Chris Evans‘ increasing paranoia and mistrust, and not Mark Ruffalo’s ever-mounting depression. As the deepest fears and insecurities of every Avenger is laid bare, Black Widow’s layers of enigma and illusiveness built up through Iron Man 2, The Avengers and more-so than ever in The Winter Soldier, are suddenly stripped away.
Every moment that follows shows a rapid evolution in the character, not a sudden shock borne of eclectic and disparate writing, but a very real development that ties in with her deepening relationship with the rest of the team.
Joss Whedon has been praised repeatedly for the quality of his female characters, and in a genre that is often criticised and abused for it’s lack of gender equality and sensitivity his touch is far more welcome and refreshing. That sounds dirty, but it’s a nice sentiment. Added to that Scarlett Johansson delivering yet another understated but attention grabbing performance, and I left wanting to discuss Natasha Romanov more than any other aspect of Age of Ultron.
The Maximov Twins
I think we all know the copyright battle here, but these two are basically essential to the Ultron storyline’s future. Well Wanda is, but she comes as a package with Pietro. So instead of mutants and children of Erik “Magneto” Lehnsherr, we instead have two normal humans altered by Hydra experimentation, which does work out well with the path they take of villainous pawns of a greater evil turned heroes when they realise what’s really going on.
I find myself not wanting to compare the Pietro of Age of Ultron to the Quicksilver of X-Men Days of Future Past because they are so unique and fit in so well with their respective films, so let’s ignore that. Instead let’s acknowledge that these two are minor players in this film, but setting up to something bigger, much like Romanov and Barton have been in previous films. I look forward to seeing how their storyline impacts the series.
Oh how I love a good villain.
Now I have only been vaguely aware of James Spader, I will always remember Michael Shanks as Daniel Jackson from Stargate, never got round to watching Boston Legal or Blacklist, although they may have to find themselves on my watchlist. Spader’s performance via voice and motion-capture is dominating. He delivers a kind of “dark side of Tony Stark” mentality, all the genius and ingenuity turned sinister and genocidal. I was expecting something far less human, and a lot less sarcastic than what I got.
As a threat, Ultron is made all the more terrifying – not for his robot body and breadth of capabilities – but for his omnipresence. An army of himself, a mind that can lurk inside the deepest reaches of the internet to reawaken anywhere where there is a machine, the information of the world in the hands of an unknowable mind.
He is the perfect choice for the series, a logical stepping stone. His story doesn’t introduce a new threat from outside (such as Thanos, Ronan, the Chitauri, or the Dark Elves) but creates a threat within the Avengers themselves: obsession made real. It brings a great deal of storyline together as well as opening new doors, a moment of coalescence as the many threads of this project deviate and wind around a central “core” story.
Fans of Marvel will know the face at the end of the trailer, green eyes staring from a pink face. Well I don’t think you’ll be disappointed there either. Ultron’s ultimate legacy is all I hoped it would be, and seeds have been sewn for Scarlett Witch’s role therein. I’ll keep schtum for those who don’t know, but it’s something you’ll likely find yourself wanting to google when you get home.
This film lacks in many areas, do not think that my raving indicates the perfect movie-going experience. The film was an hour too short, not because I was enjoying it that much but because I felt that so much had been removed that it had suffered too greatly at the editors hand, a few trailer-moments are absent, the pacing turns into a faltering scramble to the finish, and I sincerely hope an extended cut is on the cards.
The full extent of the cast of characters is brought into harsh realization once or twice, but a few characters are under-utilized, most notably Sam “Falcon” Wilson who shows his face very briefly at the end of the film. Shame really, I like his character a lot. Andy Serkis is in this film far too briefly, but I take some solace knowing that he’s currently the only other listed actor in Black Panther (other than Black Panther).
Oh and there’s no end of credit scene, mid-credits worth waiting for, but don’t waste time on hope for the very end.
The short version: the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts. True of Age of Ultron, true of the Cinematic Universe, true of the third thing that I didn’t think of before I started writing this conclusion. Go watch this major chapter in the greatest saga our generation may ever experience, and leave wondering if an elevator can ever be considered “worthy”.