Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

After saving the world from an alien invasion, the Avengers crew are conducting the latest in a series of raids on Hydra, and finally reclaim Loki’s sceptre.  (How did Hydra get hold of that, btw?) But Tony has got a bright idea about saving the world, and they run into a couple of kids with ‘enhanced’ abilities.  The follow-up to Avengers Assemble is probably the most highly anticipated movie of the year (at least ‘til Star Wars come out), and it certainly doesn’t disappoint.

The action scenes are, of course, superb.  Iron Man smacking Hulk with an elevator was a particularly memorable moment, as was the obligatory single-swooping-shot-of-all-the-Avengers-fighting-together-and-looking-cool.  I also liked the genuine sense of danger around the fighting, and the way the team put concerted effort into reducing civilian casualties.  No collateral damage for the Avengers, thank you very much.

The competing elements of humour and drama are beautifully balanced – we’re constantly aware that the stakes are high without it all becoming too ponderous and sombre.  When Hulk goes nuts and starts destroying a city, Stark goes in to stop him; pummelling him in the face repeatedly, like something off Saturday morning cartoons.  But inside the mask he is desperately mumbling: go to sleep! Go to sleep!

Characterisation is also wonderful.  Whedon is always at his best here, showing peoples’ little rivalries and interactions.  A drunken round of ‘Try and Lift Mjolnir’ is particularly entertaining, with Thor’s face dropping when Cap almost gives it a wobble.  Natasha and Banner’s blossoming romance is warm and deftly handled: her tiny hand in Hulks; the heart-breaking confession that she has been sterilised.  It also plays nicely against Hawkeye’s newly revealed family.  He got fairly short shrift in the first film, so I was glad to find out a little bit more about him.

And we get to see Jarvis! Ok, not quite. It’s Jarvis’s programming in a metallic-organic body, combined with an infinity stone. Or something.  It’s Paul Bettany, anyway, which is all you need to know.  He’s called the Vision and he’s only in a few scenes, but he nails it every time – sad and full of unearthly wisdom, but also a bit of a softy.  The moment he casually hands Thor his hammer (thereby proving his good intentions) brought a smile to my face.  He also has an amazing cloak.

James Spader’s Ultron is, frankly, marvellous.  Trying to fill Loki’s boots as lead baddie is no easy thing, but he is truly frightening and just a teensy bit sympathetic.   In an odd, unnerving introduction, he destroys Jarvis and takes over Starks’ workshop, sending the creations to kill their creator.  It’s fresh and memorable, as well as a neat bit of foreshadowing.  Ultron is unpredictable and intimidating, but in a demented sort of way he is also compelling.  You never doubt that he needs to be stopped, but he is only a reflection of Stark’s (and by extension our own) desire for stability and control.  ‘You want to protect the world, but you don’t want it to change.’  It’s a powerful idea, gesturing towards the need for humanity to evolve its thinking if it is to survive.  Even Vision thinks we’ve had it.  ‘But a thing isn’t beautiful only because it lasts’, he ponders.  ‘You’re breathtakingly naïve.’ snaps back Ultron. ‘Well, I was born yesterday.’

Weaknesses? Well, despite the filmmakers’ best efforts, there are just too many characters.  While they are all dynamic and well rounded, proceedings do get bogged down with the sheer number of people we’re trying to follow.  Together with the initial six Avengers is the addition of Ultron, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and Doctor Cho; which on top of the supporting characters/cameos – Maria Hill, Nick Fury, Heimdall, Peggy Carter and Eric Selvig were just the ones I could put a name to – makes for a very over-stuffed cast list.  It’s very well handled, and in lesser hands could easily have collapsed under its own weight, but it does feel unwieldy.

Which could explain why Quicksilvers’ death didn’t really effect me.  For all the expectations of ‘blood on the floor’, it lacked the emotional heft the loss of one of the original six would have had (I honestly worried that Hawkeye would get it).  Nor did I really buy the twins motivation.  A Stark shell killed their parents and another lay next to them until they were dug out of the rubble.  ‘We waited for 2 days for Stark to kill us.’ Well, I’d be angry with the guy who made the shells too; but I think I would be rather more angry with the guy who fired them.  I realise they have been manipulated by Hydra, but it felt a bit contrived.  Did they really not hear about New York? Come on…

But for a supposedly low-brow movie, I was frequently reminded of that line from The Ballad of Reading Gaol: ‘For each man kills the thing he loves.’ Ultron points out that we are often the authors of our own demise.  Neither he nor Stark can tell the difference between saving the world and ending it.  Other writers have suggested that, as their heroes invariably work to prevent change, comic-book adaptations are inherently conservative. It’s noteworthy, then, that the moral of this particular story is that everything ends. Life is change, and fighting change will mean destroying the very thing you are trying to protect.  Chaos and calm aren’t opposites so much as counterpoints.  The Avengers themselves show a way forward; chaotic, disparate elements unified and galvanised by a common cause.  But only for a time.

It’s a pleasingly complex idea, complicating easy good/bad dichotomies. I like that it’s there if you want something to chew on.  If not, switch off your brain and enjoy the fights/quips.   Something for everyone, then – I loved it.  Only another 3 years until Avengers: Infinity War.  Can’t wait!

What did you think?  Was it worth the wait?  Did you struggle with the huge cast, or am I just lazy?  Does it adapt the source material well?  Let me know your thought below!