Age of Ultron: The film you didn’t see coming

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SO IT’S THAT time of year again, when fans come together, both young and old, new and grizzled, and flock to the cinemas as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes do battle with evil once more. However, with the expectation brought on by Avengers Assemble, plus the burden of leading the tale into Phase Three, Avengers: Age of Ultron has a lot on its plate.

And it delivers. For a franchise film that doesn’t have a definite source material, Avengers: Age of Ultron completely hits it out the park. It doesn’t suffer from sequel fatigue, simply because it does one thing right: stylistically, it’s a film we couldn’t have imagine.

In it, the Avengers tackle an enemy they never saw coming: from within. Ultron (James Spader) is a rogue AI created by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), with fellow Avenger and science buddy Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), with one goal; peace in our time. For all the genre-savvy folks out there, it of course means removing humankind from the equation.

Understandably, fans have a lot of fears for this film, moreso than the others, being the milestone film between Marvel’s Phases Two and Three. One of which being that this film will turn into Tony and Friends Two. Thankfully, Joss Whedon avoided this by writing a vastly different story, with Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Banner taking center stage, alongisde newcomers Wanda (Elizabeth Olson) and Pietro Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). This is incredibly evident within the first half, where Clint almost takes the role of team leader without feeling forced. One character of note is The Vision (Paul Bettany), who is derived from JARVIS, Stark’s personal AI. Despite clearly making the connections, and even being played by the same person, JARVIS and The Vision could not be more different, which works wonderfully on screen.

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A lot of the film is focused on character-building, with even a romantic subplot arising. However, Whedon somehow weaves it into the overarching story very naturally, and the characters involved don’t feel like their role has been relegated to Love Interest #1. In fact, a lot of the interaction is very natural, partly due to the cast’s rapport with each other, and Whedon’s wit-ridden script takes advantage of that in full force. With that being said, the film hits two very different notes; on the one hand, the wit and the humour is abundant; many of the film’s funniest quips come from Thor (Chris Hemsworth), no longer painted as the alien outsider, but now as the big, well-traveled veteran. On the other, it goes to very dark places, both within the characters’ minds and in its ethics.

The action setpieces are wonderful as well, with the Avengers leaping from country to country all around the world, giving us the scope of the threat, as well as how big the Avengers have really become. However, unlike Avengers Assemble, this film doesn’t just walk through setpiece after setpiece, it very much focuses on the intricacies of the story without being bogged down by details and burdening the audience with knowledge they won’t use later on.

However, the finish didn’t have the same punch as it did the first time. While this may be due to expectation, it may also be due to the style of the writing: Whedon himself stated that this film is a bridge between Phases Two and Three, which does mean that without the other films, it may not be able to stand on its own, unlike its predecessor. Also, the romantic subplot mentioned earlier is definitely going to be a contentious point for many fans, for reasons simply needing to be seen to be understood.

Overall, the film is amazing. The setpieces, right from beginning to end, are all very well played out and different from previous Marvel outings, giving this a very planetary feel, rather than the typical “America = The World” trope often seen in films of this type. In fact, the film deviates from the typical Hollywood blockbuster in that the explosive setpieces are punctuations to the stories, rather than the climaxes; it never feels like the quiet moments between characters only serve to make the explosions bigger, but the big action-packed scenes are there to prove the point the quiet moments started on.

As a forewarning: there is a credits scene, but not a post-credits one, as we saw in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Feel free to leave after the first one.