Age of Marvel
Long but suitably epic, action-packed but sufficiently story-driven, you might not love all the new players, but you’ll certainly admire Marvel’s capacity to seemingly get bigger and better.It’s easy to forget just how good the last Marvel Cinematic Universe outing was when you get to the next one, and you can find yourself greedily just wanting more and more from this massive, unstoppable franchise. They’ve taken both years and films to expertly build this ensemble crew, and we now know and love the characters all the more for it, leaving these all-star Avengers team-ups with room to concentrate on overreaching story arcs and planet-threatening mayhem, which they do so well.By now it’s almost impossible to come into this game without knowing at least some of what’s happened before, with Marvel's approach to dropping us into the thick of things with regards to all the recent SHIELD shenanigans, as the Avengers come together to take down another Hydra facility. However, when Tony Stark gets an apocalyptic premonition, he implements a pre-emptive peacekeeping strategy which, not unexpectedly, goes horribly wrong, and leaves our heroes facing their toughest opponent yet.
Retaining the darker themes and suitably threatening momentum established in the game-changing Winter Soldier, Age of Ultron proves that the superb Guardians of the Galaxy was merely a glorious bit of comparatively light relief on the way to what will likely be a trio of punishing Avengers outings. With the world still reeling from the revelations about SHIELD, and still undecided about the enforcement tactics of the Avengers team, it doesn’t take long before things take a dark turn as their newly-created enemy seeks to not only destroy them, but tear them apart from within, furthering the already weary public sentiments towards them.
The first Avengers outing may have given them a reason to fight together, but Age of Ultron gives them a reason to die together.Indeed, the greatest thing about the first Avengers movie was the very fact that we got to see all these superheroes on screen together – something that even the most delusional fan probably never dreamt was a possibility a decade ago – but crafting an impressive sequel required more than just bringing them back together. It required a story, and a villain. And this one has both.
Although arguably X-Men: Days of Future Past already stole most of the best character design ideas for their futuristic Sentinels, the big bad Sentinel-like Ultron manages to remain distinctive not through his look, but more through James Spader’s unmistakable drawl, lending a curiously psychotic intelligence to this villain, who is established as far more than just the AI-gone-wrong entity that he could easily be dismissed as. He’s a genuine threat to these heroes, who – believably – don’t know whether they are strong enough as a team to take him down.
Whether or not all of the other new characters quite gel is probably a matter of personal preference – the inclusion of the previously-briefly-glimpsed characters of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch has its positives and negatives. Traditionally X-Men-franchise characters, as those who’ve seen Days of Future Past will already know (and be confused by, given that it’s a different actor playing Quicksilver), they need more backstory than what’s on offer here, leaving them driving action setpieces which never quite reach the glorious scale of that slo-mo sequence in DOFP. And with plenty of returning secondary characters popping up to have their 15 seconds of fame rather than necessarily contribute to the whole package, Age of Ultron does struggle to perfectly balance fan-service with ensemble overload.
Still, the core characters mostly manage to each have their own moments to shine – and even develop as characters – with Tony Stark getting the meat. Although rather unconvincingly still maintaining that Captain America is leader of the pack when he’s really nothing more than a man of straw when it comes to commanding the Avengers; it’s a shame that he isn’t quite on Winter Soldier form here). The Iron Man/Thor banter is another juicy highpoint. Even Hawkeye gets a little bit more backstory, although there’s no way they’d ever commit to a standalone project for this guy. Iron Man may be the coolest, and Thor may be the one that all the girls swoon over (in-movie and out) but it’s Hulk who still gets the best ground-pounding moment and, thankfully, also the best character development as Bruce Banner and Black Widow/Natasha Romanov undergo an engaging sub-arc which genuinely feels a part of – rather than apart from – the main story.
Setting up Civil War, Thor: Ragnarok and whatever else Marvel have up their sleeve, the long-term plans being seeded right now are deliciously ambitious.Ultimately though, despite the fact that you’re going to be pretty worn come the closing credits (be forewarned, there’s a mid-credits stinger, but NOTHING at the end, which resulted in a resounding groan from over a hundred people in this screening), this is a truly epic tale, which is well-plotted and which frequently makes you wonder whether they will actually be able to round everything off within one single movie. With so many new characters, and so many large-scale events, it feels like things could easily spiral into the forthcoming Avengers two-parter, and it’s a tribute to the talent of Joss Whedon.
He manages to rein everything in and deliver a grand-scale Hulkbuster of a movie which very rarely feels like effects for effects sake, and seldom goes for spectacular setpieces which are all show and have no thought behind them (I’m looking at you Michael Bay). And, despite the gritty, darker undertones that have carried over from Winter Soldier, Whedon’s trademark wit still creeps out, with the running gag about Thor’s hammer just one of several great jokes which are peppered across the piece to provoke genuine laugh-out-loud moments, but which never detract from the ferocity or seriousness of the events happening behind them.
It’s hard to judge Age of Ultron apart from all that has come before it – as a standalone movie (and I bet there are people who haven’t seen any of the other Marvel outings before this), it’s an engaging, better-thought-out-than-normal action extravaganza on an unprecedented scale, and with an impressive ensemble superhero cast. But, for the uninitiated, it’s probably just another (pre-) summer blockbuster. For those who have watched all the other Marvel instalments before it, and in preparation for it, this is yet another milestone event. It had huge expectations to live up to, and it unquestionably does.
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