Marvel’s Avengers assemble for the second time, and for the most part they avoid the obvious curses of sequels, although Marvel’s overall continuity still weighs heavy.
I don’t actually review all that many films as a rule.
Which is to say that while I’m a professional writer, I’m not a professional film critic.
But I will admit that I’m a serious comics junkie, and as such, I’m the first-wave target market for pretty much every Marvel movie going.
A couple of years ago, when I was in the editorial chair at Gizmodo Australia full-time, I reviewed a little film called The Avengers
No, not that one.
Yeah, that one.
I thought at the time that overall The Avengers was a pretty fine flick, given that it was intended to cap off the first wave of Marvel movies that started with either Iron Man (if you’re a purist) or, arguably, Blade (if you’re a film historian).
What then to make of the sequel, Avengers: Age Of Ultron… sorry, “Marvel’s Avengers: Age Of Ultron”, to give it its full and rather unwieldy title? I was invited along to the Australian premiere last Sunday to get an early look at the next big Marvel film. I’ll try to keep this as spoiler-free as possible, but if you’re worried, here’s a big teaser trailer so you can exit out gracefully now.
Big is certainly the right word, because in being a sequel, there’s all sorts of aspects that you don’t need to cover. The team is established, and everyone knows who Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, The Hulk, Hawkeye and The Black Widow are, which means that Joss Whedon has the luxury of opening with an action sequence, continuing with another action sequence and throwing in a lot more humour this time around. Characters stop to quip, and a few subtle in-jokes are also part of the equation, so long-time comics nerds will find plenty to enjoy here.
Movies with ensemble casts can struggle a little allowing everyone room to breathe, and it’s interesting to see who gets decent screen time and narrative character development, and who doesn’t. Where the Black Widow/Hawkeye romance was something of a sub-plot in The Avengers, in The Age Of Ultron, it’s Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye who gets the most fleshing out, over and above established characters such as Chris Evans’ Captain America or Robert Downey Junior’s Iron Man. There’s also a new spinoff romance, and I won’t spoil that.
If I want to be critical (and I usually do), it would be in relation to the use of The Hulk in Age Of Ultron.
I noted in my review of The Avengers that one of the reasons why Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk works so very well is because you only get limited doses of him, which leaves you wanting more. In Age Of Ultron, Whedon’s gone down the Man Of Steel path, giving us a lot of Hulk, and he’s less effective as a character — even though the big green giant is a lot of fun to watch — because of it. There’s something of an attempt to look around the ethics of science as portrayed by Dr Banner and Tony Stark, but it’s a bit of a fleeting glimpse that never really scratches the surface of what we saw in the first film’s characterisation, and I think that’s a pity.
Elisabeth Olson and Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s turns as The Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are nicely handled, although if pressed I’d say I think the treatment of Quicksilver in X-Men: Days Of Future Past is just that little bit better. Olson’s great as the Witch, though, with an excellent interpretation of how her powers are meant to work.
James Spader has a lot of fun as Ultron; almost too much fun given he’s just a voice on a CGI character, and there are some aspects of his particular scheme that feel like they might have been missed on the cutting room floor. He brings a comic gravitas to the character that means while you’re watching you probably won’t care too much about the plot issues, although they have made me stop and think a few times since watching Age Of Ultron.
It’s also slightly problematic for Avengers: Age Of Ultron that if you’re any kind of Marvel fan, you’re aware of the slate of movies due to roll after this particular flick, which removes some of the peril of this particular film. It’s like having predestined continuity to adhere to, because it’s quite clear (if you’re a comics fan) where some of the threads of this movie have to head towards, and as such there’s a certain amount of falling into lockstep patterns that you can see coming. Which doesn’t mean that Avengers: Age Of Ultron doesn’t have a few surprises up its sleeve, but again I’m trying to be good and spoiler free.
One thing I will spoil, however is that you absolutely don’t need to see this particular film in 3D. The premiere screening was in 3D, and aside from the funky Avengers-themed 3D glasses — which I doubt too many actual cinemas will offer as part of your movie ticket — the 3D effects were of very little importance at all. Such is the way with 3D movies, I find.
Avengers: Age Of Ultron has plenty of action, enough of a relaxed attitude what with being a sequel to allow its jokes to breathe and just enough character development for what is very obviously a “middle” film, because it’s leading to bigger and hopefully even better things. It’s certainly fun in the classic Hollywood blockbuster sense, and is worth your time, but it’s not quite the classic that its predecessor was.