When the Avengers (Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye) take down the stronghold of Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann), one of the last remnants of Hydra they discover is Loki's staff and the Maximoff twins Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen), subjects that had been experimented on that now have unique powers (don't you dare say mutations or I swear I'll...). When Wanda manipulates Tony (Robert Downey Jr.) into having a vision, which he thinks is a premonition of the future; he looks to von Strucker's work and Loki's staff to initiate his Ultron program to protect the world from intergalactic threats, with catastrophic results. Writer/director Joss Whedon drops the audience into the action immediately, and while it definitely has those fan-service moments for diehard Marvel fans, it takes the James Bond approach and dives into the Avengers on a mission. There's no voice-overs, or exposition-laden scenes yet, its Avengers dismantling a significant Hydra stronghold and referencing those final threads of what has come before. The action is relentless and if you thought that one insanely choreographed tracking shot, which tied together the full power, of the Avengers team taking down enemies in the final battle at the end of the first film was something, you may not be able to take breaths after the opening scene of Avengers: Age of Ultron. The opening shot of the film throws down the gauntlet, all Avengers fighting in a single frame, a living, breathing comic book splash page. It only scratches the surface of what you’ll witness. It's not just the visuals that work so well; Whedon's scripting the second time around has you giddy with joy at how this team is so good at working together that they're finding time to tease each other mid battle.
While the first Avengers film was the culmination of everything that preceded it, Avengers: Age of Ultron is the funnel through which all preceding events of the MCU must converge. Whedon weaves theses titanic characters and egos together to bind the bloated universe into a Long Island Iced Tea; the more you savour, the more you come to appreciate all the powerful and seemingly conflicting elements and motivations working together.
The addition of Scarlet Witch and mind manipulation via telekinesis is a huge gateway to the next phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While it has been used in the X-men films so many times it's become a trope, like Mission Impossible face swaps or James Franco and Seth Rogen homoeroticism, it's able to get to the deep dark depths of the characters we think we know. There's also a great ambivalence to these visions, are they the characters worst fears manifest, are they premonitions, are they the crushing realisations? I never thought that I'd be psychoanalysing the subconscious of superheroes but knowing that Whedon wanted to be able to get Godfather Part II on Age of Ultron, you have to be able to access rich morsels of the characters quickly. The mind is the equaliser and within their beings of manufactured or gifted power are wits and morality that make them feel relatable and human. James Spader's Ultron is the physical manifestation of the fear that strikes Tony in the wake of his experience. He's a hive mind occupying an army of metal drones but ultimately the internal battles dwarf his presence in the film. It’s not all bombastic Hulkbuster Vs Hulk, which you will most definitely enjoy, there’s a quiet reflection that balances epic coordinated smack down with ‘why we fight.’
Age of Ultron is somehow smaller in every way than the original. Getting to what each character really wants or fears that they really want is how we end up getting closer to each character, especially Loki's hypnotised assistant from The Avengers, Hawkeye. However, it's not all somber; Whedon's brand of whimsy is just rife and the result is a constant playfulness and powerful witticism to dwarf the magnificent scope.
Whedon is just so dialed into the chemistry between the characters and even the unexpected ones. Thor and Tony have an ego-measuring contest by comparing whose lady is the more awesome. Capt. and Tony continue argue the ‘chicken or the egg’ argument of the preemptive strike that’s generating their momentum toward the forthcoming events of Civil War.
The way that the characters deal with humans in peril feels like Marvel giving a big middle finger to DC. Heroes who plan to remove potential casualties from harms way before they throw down contrast the monstrous gods that are posited above humanity in Man of Steel.
Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony is both the alpha that launched the ship and that ‘mechanic’ he realised at the end of Shane Black’s sensational Iron Man Three. Chris Evans’ best moments as Steve are in his realisation that he can’t dwell in the past if he means to shape the future. Chris Hemsworth's Thor is the game changer this time around, for him; his mind being toyed with unlocks patterns to intergalactic events that may have otherwise been coincidental. Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce more than ever is toying with what it takes for him to be a part of the world, this family and the ultimate fear being realised when someone could love the monster. Renner adds unprecedented dimension to the previously mocked secondary character. When the other characters are facing inner turmoil, he has his task in perspective.
The most revelatory and continually surprising character is Scarlet Johansson's Natasha; whose back-story is just a well of tantalising possibilities and devastating truths. Her character's arc and love interest are the film's highlights.
Then there's the potential. So much of what makes this film phenomenal is embracing the potential for doors closing and new ones opening.
Distorted visions, wielding power to stave off fear, their force being felt throughout the universe; Avengers: Age of Ultron is wonderful because it's so different to The Avengers.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Joss Whedon
Written by: Joss Whedon (based on the comic created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby)
Starring: Linda Cardellini, Hayley Atwell, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chris Evans, Elizabeth Olsen, James Spader, Cobie Smulders, Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Paul Bettany, Stellan Skarsgård, Andy Serkis, Lou Ferrigno, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Julie Delpy, Thomas Kretschmann, Claudia Kim, Dominique Provost-Chalkley Mariola Jaworska
BLAKE HOWARD IS A FILM CRITIC & THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF/CO-FOUNDER OF AUSTRALIAN FILM BLOG GRAFFITI WITH PUNCTUATION . BLAKE IS THE HOST OF THE ONE HEAT MINUTE PODCAST. BLAKE IS ALSO A MEMBER OF THE PRESTIGIOUS ONLINE FILM CRITIC SOCIETY (AND A MEMBER OF THE GOVERNING COMMITTEE), IS A CO-HOST OF GAGGLE OF GEEKS ON SYDNEY'S 2SER COMMUNITY RADIO, A COLUMNIST AT THE AUSTRALIAN ONLINE INSTITUTION DARK HORIZONS AND SWAYS THE TOMATO METER WITH ROTTEN TOMATOES APPROVED REVIEWS.