Warning: Review contains hyperbole
It’s no wonder Joss Whedon is hanging up his Marvel hat. What a mission statement: He’s not only competing this year with the all-conquering Star Wars The Force Awakens, he’s under the shadow of a triumvirate of Marvel’s finest films: the thrilling Captain America The Winter Soldier, the exuberant Guardians of the Galaxy and his own crowd-pleasing Avengers Assemble; which collectively raised the bar into the stratosphere and beyond. He’s also had to reassemble the Avengers, introduce a gaggle of new ones, and tie together plot strands and characters from across the entire MCU pantheon…
So I’m giddy as a kid at Christmas to report that -by the skin of the teeth- he pulls it off and then some. Ultron isn’t a perfect movie, but its an absolutely incredible experience; funny, engaging, and absolutely thrilling. In terms of sheer kitchen-sink freneticism and fan-service, it’s simply astonishing. If you’ve watched the other films and thought: “would have been good if ‘x’ was in there”, get ready to be happy. Almost every MCU character is present and correct, and those that appear to be missing only show up later to surprise you. And with all the new talent to boot, one has to wonder how the main players will fare. Worry-ye not. Nobody is sidelined, least of all Iron Man, Hulk and Thor. Whedon also fixes the weak link that was Captain America by making him more like his ass-kicking Winter-soldier incarnation than the spandex boy scout from the first movie. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow also has a much-expanded role, developing her character and building on her relationship with another Avenger. The movie perhaps spends a bit too long on Renner’s Hawkeye- arguably at the expense of, say, Scarlett Witch and Quicksilver. But that’s a minor gripe considering everyone is sure to have a least-favourite character in there somewhere. And although the movie transpires to pit the characters against each other (foreshadowing for Civil War), its fun early on to see the Avengers operating as a unit. They are relaxed with each other- even friends- both in the field and in their down time- as highlighted by a wonderful party scene early on in the film. That climaxes with that wonderful ‘Hammer contest’- a scene that sets up a lot more comedy later on.
And what of the titular Ultron? Is he the Marvel-villain we’ve been waiting for? For me, not quite. In an effort not to give us another an off-the-peg boring baddie, Ultron has been infused with a liberal dose of quirky humanity and wry humour. He’s been ‘Lokified’- or more accurately ‘Whedonised’, and oddly contributes to the film’s comedy as much if not more than the others. He’s a good character, but not as menacing as I hoped he would be.
But what about the action though? I could go on all day about the money shots here but suffice to say there’s no shortage of jaw-carpet interface. You have a spirited ‘James Bond’ style opening scene; multiple dust ups with Ultron, the much anticipated Hulkbuster scene, and a kitchen sink finale filled with so many air-punch moments your arm will ache. Its true that some of the robot action becomes generic and almost threatens to become tiresome (the more jaded among us might start making Man of Steel/ Transformers comparisons at this point), but the finale is peppered with so many off-the-comic-book-page hero shots, and cheer-inducing zingers it never gets boring. This guy really understands how to make a comic book movie, and if you were a fan of Whedon’s crowd-pleasing moments from the first film- you wont be disappointed. However if you are one of those people who subscribe to the growing trend of slating ‘excessive CGI’, you’ll have a bad time. This is a fantasy film and wears its visuals on its sleeve and proudly so. Yet, if you don’t see the night and day difference between the execution of Avengers and Transformers movies, you really don’t understand how film is supposed to work. These are special effects that are both effective and special.
Story wise, it’s a bit choppy. It’s convoluted, overcrowded, and at times generic; a wire-frame narrative to connect dots between films past and future. Some of the pacing is off, and one or two subplots (Thor for example) feel superfluous and perfunctory. But in terms of developing the characters, manoeuvring them into position, and introducing new Avengers into the mix- it works like a charm. It’s also underpinned by yet another effervescent Whedon script that zings, which combined with some superbly choreographed action and breathtaking fireworks make this a thrilling and hilarious roller coaster ride that’s simply unmissable at the cinema.
So to Joss Whedon I say hats off, sir. Have a break now mate, you earned it.
EDIT: after a few weeks of reflection, and taking into account some of the well-observed criticisms of the movie (not to mention an all-important second viewing) I've reduced my score down one notch to 8. This doesn't negate my initial review, which I stand by, but it does acknowledge the fact that there are issues with the film that can't be ignored. That said, its still an absolute blast!