Marvel’s cinematic universe rumbles ever on like the behemoth that it is, unstoppable and unparalleled, it is truly paving its own path for how to exploit the cinematic medium. The latest in the on-running franchise is the second film that brings together all our favourite heroes to allow them to be cool and blow things up as a group before sending them all off to be cool and blow things up on their own. With Joss Whedon returning at the helm, things definitely looked positive considering his success with the first incarnation, and an injection of the same charm, wit and fun would definitely help to make this film a success too.
The good thing is that ‘Age of Ultron’ manages to maintain its light-hearted, amusing edge and pack some needed character development in for a few characters so far neglected by the franchise, while making sure it fulfils its quota of large scale action set pieces too. The interactions between the main characters are snappy, Whedon excels at offhand quips and snide remarks, and the entire cast of actors look at home in their roles having been able to develop their characters through the many collective films of the universe.
These moments are when the film is truly playing to its strengths, the camaraderie and human relationships proving far superior to the compendium of action sequences and special effects that most of the film’s budget is dedicated towards, but which actually clutters the film and interrupts the story in order to bombard us with the necessary superhero machinations. Sure, it’s fun to see James Spader’s Ultron get to be menacing in a way that only he can, his voice velvety and alluring yet with that familiar sinister undertone, but what is more interesting is watching Whedon weave the plot in such a way as to examine the relationship between Ultron and his inventor, Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark/Iron Man, whose narcissistic dark side is encapsulated by Ultron. Again, these plot points come to the fore when everything isn’t kicking off, so eager is the film to get to the bit where all the characters get to do some jumping and kicking, but we must be grateful nonetheless. Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton/Hawkeye is another who benefits from the downtime we have in between fights as he receives a healthy amount of much-needed character work before we are treated to another crumbling building.
Yes, ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ is clutter. It’s a massive mess of a film that Whedon is constantly trying to shape in to something decipherable while the weight of the entire franchise is causing bits to spring out, but there are enough good moments in there to carry it over the line with some aplomb. The emotionally rich moments, in particular the budding romance between Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner (Hulk) are brilliantly handled which is a definite achievement considering the hit-and-miss nature of romances in these films so far and it still manages to be unashamedly fun, which ultimately is the most important thing. Whedon makes sure that we come away both with an enjoyable film and keeps the higher-ups happy by cramming in just about everything they wanted, making sure that the series definitely has new avenues to explore. This appears to mark the end of the line for his involvement in the universe at least for now, so it’s a good thing he’s left us by ensuring that what could have been a trainwreck ends up being a happy success, though not without some slip-ups.