Avengers Assemble Again
At the outset let me state that I am not a fan of the Marvel comics. This is not to say that I do not like Marvel, I have just never read any of the comics, outside a few X-Men in the mid 90’s. My knowledge of, and involvement with Marvel has come through the form of Saturday morning cartoons, computer games and the recent series of movies. While I am a fan of the shared universe being created by Marvel, there have definitely been highs and lows along the way. ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’, directed by Joss Whedon, is another strong entry into this universe, a lot to like about it, and also a few surprises for those who think they already know what is going to happen.
The Age of Ultron is the climax of phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is the second time that the Avengers have assembled to overcome a threat that faced the world. For fans of the comics the changes to the origin of Ultron were heavily debated prior to the release of the film. There were concerns that by removing Hank Pym as Ultron’s creator the story would be weakened in some way. This was not the case at all and the development of Ultron came across as a very plausible event within the world created by the movies.
As to Ultron himself, this was actually an area I felt could have been improved a little. As brilliantly as James Spader is as the voice of Ultron, the character was very reminiscent of Raymond Reddington, from ‘The Blacklist’. At certain moments when you could hear his voice, but not see the character, I almost expected Reddington to step on screen. This particularly came across in the scene where Ultron first meets the Maximoff twins. The animation of Ultron was also off-putting at times. Ultron’s face, while clearly made of metal, would move in a flesh like manner while he was talking, which gave a very uncanny feeling.
After his success with the first Avengers film, Joss Whedon had a lot to live up to. In speaking about the process Whedon said, “The first rule of making a sequel is take the best moments and do something else. Don't do the Indiana Jones gun trick again differently. Just go somewhere else. Don't try to hit the same highs, because people will sense it." (Entertainment Weekly, April 7, 2015). This was apparent in the end result. The film has a quite a different feel to the first one. While ‘The Avengers’ (2012) was very much an over-the-top action spectacle, Age of Ultron brought some needed heart and soul to the mix. I was pleasantly surprised by how much the film focuses on the human story of these characters. It helps us see the Avengers as more than just caricatures, but as real people with concerns, loves, fears, and lives outside of the Avengers Tower. It would take a TV series to explore each of the characters in detail however, so we only get this extra insight into a few of the characters. This is a way the Whedon was able to explore and utilize characters who previously have been under-developed. I was pleased to see a lot of focus on Hawkeye, a character who was short changed in the Avengers first outing. Also moments like trying to lift Thor’s hammer, and James Rhodes party stories were very humanizing. As with ‘The Avengers’ there were also unexpected moments of humour, which had the theatre laughing out loud.
Even with the focus on humanizing the Avengers, there was still plenty of time for action. Unlike Thor’s appearance in ‘The Avenger’s’, none of the action scene seemed without purpose. They were a great way to explore abilities of new characters, new relationships and to highlight the stakes involved in the situation. There were also moments in the final battle where the framing and composition of the shots looked like they could have been panels ripped straight out of a comic book. The only concern I had about the fight scenes were that the scenes fighting Ultron at times felt very reminiscent of both the final fight in Iron Man 2, where Iron Man and War Machine must fight off legions of drones & Iron Man 3, where multiple versions of his suit are involved in the final fight. This idea of overcoming armies of robots, especially ones which look so similar, is becoming old and needs to move on to its next evolution.
My biggest concern however is that the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to grow, the films become more inaccessible to new viewers. This is definitely a film that I would recommend seeing at least ‘The Avengers’ and possibly even ‘Iron Man 2’ and ‘Winter Soldier’ before viewing. There is a lot of knowledge about previous events and characters which is taken for granted in this film. This allows the movie to move along at a good pace and get into what is important for this story.
This last section is very difficult to write without spoiling elements of the film, so I apologize in advance for the vague nature of my comments. I was a little disappointed by the underutilisation of some of the secondary characters who were discussed online. Age of Ultron is not a film for the minor villains, and they could almost have been done away with completely. Also there were rumours circulating the web that we would see one of the Avengers die. Knowing this going into the movie I could see how this was being built up, and suspected I knew what was going to happen. Unlike Coulson’s death, which came out of the blue, Whedon does a great job at building to this moment, creating an emotional bond with the characters involved and getting us invested in their story. When it occurred though I was still surprised and unprepared for my reaction. Was this moment necessary? I don’t think so. The story would have worked just fine without it, and the future of the Avengers as a team potentially suffers. The moment though felt entirely appropriate, and helped to push characters in new directions.
The last thing, as with any film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is the closing credits. The closing credits themselves are gorgeous. The cinematography as the names of the main actors appear is beautiful and does a great job tying the names back to the characters and moments in the film, without recycling material from the movie. Also the tag scene, directly following this was Whedon’s final surprise. Yes it sets up future films in the franchise, but not the one I thought it would. Joss Whedon revealed that there would be no post credits moment to hang around for. I can confirm that this is true. When the lights go up feel free to leave the theatre, unless you want to stay and acknowledge the hundreds of people involved in making this film.