Such is the love for Marvel’s Cinematic Universe series of movies that kicked off with Ironman seven years ago, this second Avengers entry was possibly more eagerly-awaited than the forthcoming Hunger Games finale, James Bond’s Spectre or the sci-fi behemoth Star Wars Episode VII. The superhero super-series has managed to please comic book fans while also finding a vast mainstream audience keen to see the development of Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) into a team under the stewardship of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Avengers: Age of Ultron arrives with the knowledge that a two-part sequel will be released in 2018 and 2019, but with numerous other Marvel movies already locked in for release before then, the cinematic universe is in danger of running out of stream.
The comic fanboy demand for seeing the Avengers in full-flowing action is delivered from the off. The whole gang, including a big green Hulk (Ruffalo) are descending on an outpost in Eastern Europe where Hydra operative Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann), last seen in Captain America: The Winter Soldier has Loki’s sceptre. There’s sleek interplay between the Avengers with inventive smashy-smashy of the bad guys while Iron Man leads the charge from the sky. All is going well until Strucker’s experimental twins Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), with superhuman speed, and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), with telekinetic abilities show up. They manage to break up the attack to give Wanda the chance to infect Tony Stark’s mind, kickstarting the real story of this entry in the series.
Returning to their headquarters with Loki’s staff and Strucker’s files, all seems well except Stark’s sudden desire to find a way to protect the Earth from inter-dimensional attacks. It’s not long before he’s roped Bruce Banner into helping him develop an artificial intelligence that can provide the defence needed to fend off beings from another planet – Ultron. As with all scientific attempts to create an AI in the movies, Ultron turns out to be more Skynet than WALL-E and is soon using Stark’s technology to give himself a robotic body on a mission to destroy the human race.
If we’re still excited by this lot come 2018 when Avengers: Infinity War – Part I lands in cinemas, Marvel will have nailed their storytelling.
While the general plot line is nothing to be surprised about, the voice of James Spader as Ultron is perfectly-pitched as the hyper-intelligent computer programme with condescending tones among the power hungry tirades against the Avengers. Spader’s Ultron makes for a fun enemy for the Avengers to battle, particularly given the vast army of robots he builds offering even more opportunities for the Avengers to fight in their big set pieces. The addition of the twins also throws up some unexpected trouble for the superheros, especially the mind-bending element of Wanda who has a power unlike any of theirs, while a romance between Black Widow and Hulk is nicely handled for a refreshing break from the usual testosterone-fuelled chats of Thor, Stark and Captain America. Hawk Eye also benefits from a focus on his character, though Joss Whedon overplays his homely side.
This being Marvel, there’s plenty of cameos to enjoy, however the continual need to bring in previous characters and reference other entries in the series means the cinematic universe is becoming harder and harder for the casual viewer to dip into for the biggest releases. Meanwhile, they continue to add strands which will require picking up outside of just the full Avenger outings which threatens to frustrate: granted, it works well for a television series you can consume rapidly on a weekly basis or via a boxset binge, but watching a couple of hours then waiting months or years to get the next couple of hours you want to see could be a tactic that won’t work so well for film. Previously Marvel did well to give enough in their movies to warrant a feeling of closure, but Avengers: Age of Ultron is the first to really feel like part two of a much wider tale, that they are teasing too much for their next phase.
Yet, this could be the masterstroke. Not only is Age of Ultron a lot of fun, it ends with plenty to get excited about. If we’re still excited by this lot come 2018 when Avengers: Infinity War – Part I lands in cinemas, they will have nailed their storytelling. We’ll just have to wait to find out.