Editor’s note: Straight from the UK is an early review of Avengers: Age of Ultron. How does the super team’s second outing go? Read on…
Given the insane release slate for ‘event’ filmmaking this year – culminating in a return to a certain Galaxy Far, Far Away come Christmas – it’s no surprise that writer/director Joss Whedon comes tearing out of the gate right from the start of Age of Ultron. Almost making a mission statement from minute one, the film suffers no more from the set-up constraints of its predecessor, allowing Whedon to drop the audience headfirst into the Avengers unit as a tested and well-oiled battle machine, and watch deliriously as its various members use their unique abilities against an overwhelming foe. It’s a superbly staged, beautifully paced and shot sequence and, setting a precedent for the rest of the film, it’s very funny and absolutely charming. Those left clamoring for MOAR PLZ! following the climax of the first film will simply eat this up; it’s an absolute pleasure to watch unfold. Like the film itself, this intro shows that our heroes mean serious business – and also much like the film, it’s a joy to behold.
In order to keep this as spoiler-free as possible, let’s keep the plot-details to what you know from the trailer (assuming that, if you’re reading this, you watched it at least half a dozen times). Spawned from an AI discovery made by Tony Stark, the self-built Ultron announces his arrival during a party at Avengers HQ… and things get very rough, very fast. Designed as a peace-keeping program but without the humanity to recognize the inherent evil of his actions, Ultron decries the team as a threat and immediately sets about dismantling Cap & Co. physically and mentally, as part of a twisted plot to bring a form of peace to the world. Throw two new ‘Enhanced’ into the mix – Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, who have their own grudge against Stark and his allies and powerful abilities of their own – and the Avengers begin to face the fact that they might not be mighty enough heroes to save the world after all.
The cast are on fine form here, with the performances almost second nature in most cases after years of world building in the MCU, but it was surprising how the character focus shifts so much from not only the prior Avengers movie, but the universe as a whole. Those who (justifiably) felt that Hawkeye was severely underused last time around will be delighted here, as he’s prominently placed throughout the storyline and carries much of the emotional grounding for the film, providing maybe the most fully-sketched ‘alter-ego’ in the MCU outside of Tony Stark. He also has a great ongoing battle of one-upmanship with Pietro through the film that culminates in a beautiful pay-off, and Jeremy Renner does fantastic work, cementing himself as a real key player in the franchise. Elsewhere, RDJ and Chris Evans disappear effortlessly back into their roles as Stark and Steve, on as good a form as we’ve seen and laying some heavy, uneasy foundations for what we know to expect from Civil War, while there’s an unexpected amount of poignancy wrung from the difficult bond forming between Romanov (Scarlett Johansson) and Banner that’s beautifully realised by the pair. While Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is saddled with perhaps the most trim-able subplot in a already very busy movie, he’s still absolutely pitch perfect in the role, while – questionable accents aside – Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen are fine as the Maximoff twins.
And so we come to the two MVP performances, which coincidentally are for the two least human characters. James Spader swings for the bleachers as Ultron and sends it clear out of the park, turning in a monstrously memorable performance that’s by turns deluded megalomaniac, snarky supervillain, and abandoned baby, and the mo-capped Spader brings an awful kind of elegance to him that really sells the character. However the turn that I left the theatre most buzzing about was, quite unexpectedly, The Vision. Although limited by screentime he’s used to absolutely maximum effect and, finally getting onscreen for the first time after years of voice work as Jarvis, Paul Bettany nails this sucker to the ceiling. It’s an ethereal, wonderful, and powerful presence that’s executed perfectly, and deserves to be the breakout character here.
So, what keeps it from being perfect? I’ll again be as vague as possible – I wouldn’t want to plant seeds of doubt in the heads of the Laser Time community, and besides, Marvel seems determined to give away as much as they can online prior to release – but while the aforementioned nitpicks (Thor’s subplot, ‘Russian’ ‘accents’ on loan from the Nico Belic acting library) are minor ones, perhaps the biggest problem the film faces is this: expectations. While the writing is much deeper, the dialogue much funnier and fast-and-loose (again – this is a very, very funny movie without ever trying too hard) and the action, of course, huge and spectacular, AoU doesn’t have that same magical sensation of seeing them onscreen that it’s predecessor did, nor any single moment of fan service as huge, and maybe superficially suffers by comparison as a result.
Look a little deeper though, and what you ultimately have here is a sequel that’s at least an equal, with excellent, grown-up scripting, much improved direction, a flawlessly cast ensemble, and a show-stopping finale that will leave you breathless. J.J. Abrams might have the final say on who owns 2015 at the box office, but with Age of Ultron, Whedon and his team can stake an easy claim on the summer. See it.
– Adman (That Skinny Guy)
By the way, you can familiarize yourself with what came before Age of Ultron with out Laser Time’s brand new commentaries for The Avengers and Iron Man 3! They’re now available on the Laser Time Bandcamp page.