film review

Age of Ultron poster

Some of the best moments in Cinematic History look just like this poster…

And so we begin possibly the most exciting year in movies for decades. ‘Jurassic World’ is set to remind us how terrifying dinosaurs are, ‘Spectre’ is set to bring back Bond’s most powerful nemesis, and ‘The Force Awakens’… well, do I even need to explain? First and foremost, perhaps, is ‘The Avengers: Age of Ultron’, which takes us back to the Marvel Cinematic Universe once more, to put a close on Act Two, and take the third highest grossing movie and most important cinematic moment of the last few years to new heights.

But does ‘Ultron’ surpass the first ‘Avengers’ film? In a word: Yes. The first ‘Captain America’ movie had a fairly simple plot, which had its sights set on the end goal for the entire runtime. In ‘The Winter Soldier’, there are twists and turns throughout, which blur the lines of what the final confrontation will be, and make the whole experience more fresh and engaging. So too, with ‘Age of Ultron’. Whereas ‘Avengers Assemble’ had a very simple plot of “get the crew together, get them to fight together, get them to fight the bad guy”, ‘Age of Ultron’ begins in medias res, with the entire crew of the Avengers battling their way to one of the final Hyrda bases to take back Loki’s stolen staff.

From there, the film blends together the weird mix of genres from each film, making something that is, once again, totally unique. From the fantastic party scene early on, showing off all the character and secondary characters (Falcon and War Machine, included), The Avengers themselves are at this point believable and interesting characters, with their inner rivalries becoming all the more interesting because you can be on two characters side at the same time.

Enter Ultron.

Ultron himself is a tremendous villain, balancing the wacky dialogue of Joss Whedon with the menacing presence of James Spader, but the greatest success of his character is his creation. The whole story throws a brilliant twist on the Frankenstein story, with Tony Stark being a commendable figure with a noble goal, but his creation begin just as evil and all powerful as most accidental monsters are. Similarly, Captain America’s opposition to the creation of Ultron in the first place is both justifiable and completely in line with his overall character.

Being a sequel to several different films, you already know all the characters, and can almost predict their reaction by this point, but it also makes it more difficult to see any of theses characters as villains. You know that Stark is not a bad guy, despite his meddling in the wrong place, because we’ve seen four films of him doing that and getting good results. Similarly, Captain America doesn’t come across as a kill-joy, because we’ve seen him be the voice of reason and fairness in three previous films.

To that end, the film does a fantastic job of taking the spotlight off Thor, Cap, and Iron Man, and shifting it to Hulk, Black Widow and (surprisingly) Hawkeye. They understandably took a back seat in the first film, yet here they have important sub-plots which actually make you care about the forgotten Avengers. If you had told me last week that Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye would be the emotional heart of the film, I would have laughed in your face, but he really pulls it off. Mainly by being the least powerful character, but also the one with the most to lose.

Going back to the subject of sequels, however, highlights another way the film shines. While there is plenty of ground laid for the upcoming two-part third Avengers film, this does not feel like it is bridging the gap. It’s not a sequel to anything really – its another films that happens to continue the story of the larger Marvel Universe, and it could work as a stand-alone film very well. While references and in-jokes may be lost, and the characterisation wouldn’t come across in the same way, ‘Age of Ultron’ simply works as a damn good movie.

On the technical side, there are a huge number of tracking shots, and I’m always a sucker fro tracking shots. The Projects sequence from ‘True Detective’ and the New Year’s Eve scene from ‘Boogie Nights’ stand up as some of my favourite screen moments, but ‘Age of Ultron’ could top them all. For a start, the film begins with a huge tracking shot of the entire Avengers crew diving in and out of one-another and watching each others backs as they push through a huge battle with Hydra, and without wishing to spoil anything, one of the final climactic moments turns out to be a slow motions continuous take of the Avengers playing king-of-the-hill against and endless onslaught of robots. While the introductory sequence seemed a little bit too CGI, it wasn’t anywhere near as noticeable as ‘The Battle of the Five Armies’, because you’re watching super heroes move in ridiculous, inhuman ways, and not a close up of a ‘Total War’ game. Oh, and the sequence concludes with all the Avengers on screen at once, leaping forward in slow motion.

‘The Avengers: Age of Ultron’ seriously kicks arse. While it a noticeably long film, you will struggle to get bored; in part due to the tremendous performances from everyone involved. While the Big Three are of course, a joy to watch, the stand out performances were Johansson, Ruffalo and Renner, who each reinvigorated their characters with emotion and depth they hadn’t had until now. Honorary mentions go to Andy Serkis (always a pleasure to see him with a mouthful of scenery) and both Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen as the Maximoff twins, proving that they are not only great actors, but that they’re chemistry truly was the best thing about them in ‘Godzilla’.

And finally, it stands to reason to commend Joss Whedon for knocking it out of the park again. As long as he continues to make exciting and interesting films this good, I’ll forgive him for not making another ‘Firefly’ film.
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