The Avengers, or as I saw it in Ireland, Marvels Avengers Assemble, holds a very special place for me. It was the last movie my then heavily pregnant wife and I saw in Ireland before we emigrated to the US. As a minority of people in Ireland who read American comics growing up, it was a fantastic dream come true that some of the characters who I grew up reading, who we're a very big part of my childhood, actually together in one movie, and more satisfyingly, that the movie was delivered so well. It was a superhero comic fan-gasam for me. We had two sets of friends who, due to conflict schedules, couldn’t see the movie at the same time, so I had organized to see it with one group the Friday night it opened and then the Saturday morning after. Halfway through the first viewing, my wife whispers to me, “This is awesome! Can I come with you guys tomorrow to see it again?” Even junior gave a couple of kicks in the belly as approval.
Between the excellence of the first one, and some of the solo movies that came after, Avengers: Age of Ultron has a lot of expectancy. The movie begins with the Avengers assembled, hunting Baron Von Strucker (after his cameo at the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and the rest of HYDRA in Eastern Europe, tracking down the Loki’s missing scepter from the original movie. When the discover HYDRA’s layer they come across one of the flying monsters from the “Battle of New York” (I’m not geeky enough to look up it’s official title!) and some very sophisticated tech. Having been put under a spell by Elizabeth Olson’s wonderful Scarlet Witch, Tony Stark/Iron Man faces his fear that he hasn’t done enough to protect Earth, and uses the tech at the base to help him and Banner with their “Ultron” project, an AI programme Stark hopes someday will prevent the need for the Avengers existence, but which he and Banner have kept hidden from the rest of the team
Things go horrible awry at a party at Avengers tower, where the AI programme becomes self-aware, destroying JARVIS and becoming sentient in one of Stark’s new Iron Legion droids. Calling himself Ultron he decides the answer to humanities problem is humanity itself. It needs to evolve or be destroyed. Ultron escapes Avengers Tower and is tracked down to the coast of Africa where he is acquiring vibranium, the metal used to make Captain America’s shield. There is a confrontation where Scarlet Witch and her brother Quicksilver, a “enhanced” speedster, both tear the Avengers apart, making each of them confronting their own fears due to the Scarlet Witch’s powers. This leads to a spectacular battle between Iron Man and Hulk, and then the group going into hiding.
The Avengers re-group with the help of an old alley, discovering Ultron’s final plan for human annihilation and a spectacular final battle takes place, first on the streets of Seoul and then back in the fictional Eastern European country of Sokovia.
So, does it match the expectancy? Unfortunately no. It’s a very good popcorn movie, but as mentioned in other reviews, perhaps can’t handle the weight of it’s own awesomeness. (There are some spoilers coming, so stop reading if you rather find out by watching the movie!) There’s some mis-steps here. The choice of having the Avengers already “assembled” at the beginning of the movie was a bad choice for me. Did Tony Stark not retire Iron Man at the end of his 3rd movie? Nick Fury’s proclamation to Maria Hill at the end of the first Avengers movie “They’ll be back because we’ll need them to be” left me anticipating what future threat would bring this group back together. So to have them back, and not answer some of the questions left by the in-between movies was a bit of a let down for me. Baron Von Strucker is killed off so quickly you wonder what the point of bringing him into the MCU was.
There’s some more moves that didn’t sit well with me. Johannson’s Black Widow seems to pick up from where she was in the last Avengers movie, not really taking into account her characters progression in the Captain America sequel, even her hair is back to the way it was in the last Avengers movie. There’s a budding romance between her and Banner, which seems a little forced. There’s a choice to give Hawkeye a family, something we don’t see enough of in superhero movies granted, but instead of humanizing him and making him more interesting, I found it turned him into the Avengers Ringo Starr, just lucky to be there. We are led to believe he and the Black Widow are put on their team due to their “specific set of skills” which, for Widow, has been developed in the characters other appearances, but which the opportunity hasn’t been given to Hawkeye. I have yet to see a really cool trick arrow or anything more than he’s a great marksman. There’s a missed opportunity here for the character, and it is his movie. The dismantling of SHIELD is undone, and everything is back to it’s status quo.
Ultron I found a weak villain. James Spader gives it lots of sass, but maybe a bit too much sass, he’s more human than robotic, and very CGI fake. Some of the slender sub-Ultron designs I found more menacing. Also, his plot to destroy the world by flying some of Sokovia into the air and having it come down as a meteor is a bit over-the-top even for a comic movie and lacks the threat that that wormhole in space, or even the disabled Hellicarrier in the air in the first movie did.
It’s all a bit rushed too. We never get to see a relationship with Ultron and Tony Stark develop to see why Ultron has so much hate for him, there are some great ideas but none are ever really given the time to develop, there’s simply too much to squeeze in, something I found similar with Guardians of the Galaxy.
There are some good things. Elizabeth Olson is terrifically creepy as Scarlet Witch, it is nice to see Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye get more screen-time. Chris Evans’s portrayal as Captain America gets better and better, bringing such a sense of authority to the role, he really shines. I saw the movie in IMAX 3-D and the effects and battle scenes are terrific. The opening battle in the forest is great, though a little CGI-obvious. The fight between Iron Man and Hulk is terrific, as is the battle in Seoul. The final confrontation is great, but a bit over the top as mentioned.
It has some funny moments, the party scene when they are challenging Thor about lifting his hammer is brilliant, and there are some great one-liners, Cap’s “language,” Iron Man’s “please be a secret door,” his “Eugene O’Neill” and “sorry” when fighting Hulk, but lacks the cleverness, wit and fun of the first movie. The first was epic, that all these characters could be seen in one movie and done so successfully, this becomes very standard action movie, still a very good one, but nothing we haven’t seen before.
I fear it maybe Marvel’s first mis-step. Not as epic as the first Avengers movie, not as game changing as Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Although the fanboys and girls will be back for more, it’s inability to be anything more than your standard action movie might not be enough to draw the rest of the movie goers back for more. Marvel Studios set the standard, their next couple of movies best live up to it.