One day Marvel is going to have to have a failure. Sooner or later they‘re going to make a film that breaks their streak, fails expectations and leaves fans disappointed. This is not that film. Age of Ultron is the best that popcorn entertainment has to offer, a giant barrel of spectacle, fan service and fun. It’s worth every second of the waiting time and is quite possibly the best film in the MCU so far (which isn’t said lightly).
We open with our favorite group of super-best-friends storming one of Hydra’s bases that have sprung up since the events of Cap 2. It’s here they encounter the genetically altered twins Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and find that pesky staff that Loki used in the first Avengers, which is turns out contains one of the Infinity Gems that was explained in Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s using this that everyone’s favourite genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist begins to create an army of specially designed Iron Man suits that won’t need to be piloted by anybody, to be used to take the place of recently dismantled S.H.I.E.L.D and as a useful back-up in case things get really hairy in the future. Unfortunately the artificial intelligence that was supposed to run the suits works too well, it soon questions why it has to take orders and begins making improvements to itself (it’s clear that Stephen Hawking’s recently published concerns about the dangers of AI were an inspiration). Before too long, the plan has unwittingly birthed Ultron (James Spader), a nigh-on invincible robot who has figured out the best way to protect the earth is not to fight off bad guys, it’s to wipe out the human race.
What’s truly impressive is how well everything comes together. You don’t need to have seen all the previous films to understand what’s going on but it sure helps, and you’ll get all the little inside jokes that Joss Whedon’s amazing script weaves into the dialogue. The story is compelling, with some truly interesting ideas, relationships and actual character development which manages to balance all the large personalities and powers of everyone present just like the first Avengers did so well. Whedon even manages to flesh out some of the players that were pushed a little to the sidelines last time, especially Hawkeye who didn’t get to do a whole lot in Avengers but gets one of the best story lines of the whole film, and it always rocks seeing what he can do with that bow and arrow. Newcomers Quicksilver and especially the Scarlet Witch are used to great effect, and should be welcomed with open arms into the ever increasing fold of the MCU.
And of course there’s the Hulk, who continues to be one of finest feats of CGI in modern blockbusters. That scene of him vs. Iron Man in the Hulkbuster armor that we saw in the trailers is not only one of the best action scenes of the film, but is probably going to go down as one of the best action set-pieces of the year. That’s not even mentioning the final showdown between Ultron and the team which will only be glossed over here for fear of spoilers, suffice to way it’s the stuff dreams are made of. It’s one of the most astonishing feats of action spectacle ever put to screen and the best final act that Marvell Studios has yet produced.
Best of all, Age of Ultron works perfectly as a sequel; this isn’t just a cash-in, thrown together installment. Just what Empire Strikes Back did for the original Star Wars trilogy, the characters have legitimate growth and development, the universe/lore is explored more deeply and most importantly; while being a great film on its own it sows some very interesting ground for the next installments, especially next year’s Cap 3: Civil War and if you know you comic book lore the post-credit sting might make you gasp, and then squeal with excitement.
But for all the many things that Age of Ultron does exceedingly well there are a few niggling annoyances. Quicksilver and Scarlett Witch are great, but Aaron Taylor Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen are a little shaky vith zee accents. Some of the humor comes off a little dorky, but this is true of nearly every Marvel film, and even though there is a perfect balance between all the main players, with a cast of this size there is inevitably going to be characters who don’t get as much to do as everyone else. But these are very small flaws in what, all things considered, is a very good film.
It’s easy to feel that Hollywood is in a bad place with the franchise mentality at the moment and that the market is over-saturated with superhero films, but when we keep getting work of such astounding quality like this it’s hard to stay concerned. See it in 3D on the biggest screen you can find, sit up the front of the cinema and prepare for the mind-blowing 141 minutes that await. If you’re part of the steadily growing horde of comic-book movie lovers, take pride. We are living through the superhero Renaissance, what a time to be alive.
The Avengers: Age of Ultron is in Australian cinemas from 23 April through Disney.