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In many ways Avengers: Age of Ultron has the hardest task of any Marvel film to date, even harder than Guardians of the Galaxy having to sell us on a talking raccoon and a humanoid tree. The first Avengers was so exciting because there had never been anything like it before, an ambitious project years in making and the culmination of five lead in movies. The novelty of seeing Earth’s Mightiest Heroes on the silver screen together has worn off somewhat meaning this sequel needs to bring something new to the table in order to live up to the mountain of expectation.
Taken as a standalone film this is easily one of the best superhero movies ever made, however when you consider its place with the interconnected Marvel Cinematic Universe it’s an almost underwhelming way to finish off the series’ second phase. The last Captain America movie advanced the overarching narrative far more, at times this second outing for the Avengers feels very self-contained it’s only really the film’s mid credits scene (side note: there is no post credits scene) that actually contributes to the MCU and even that is just reiterating events we already knew had transpired.
Age of Ultron is perhaps being a little generous, Week of Ultron might have better fitted the quality of this latest Marvel villain. The trailers presented this Frankenstein like creation as a suitably threatening and imitating opponent for such a powerful team of heroes but in reality Ultron is, not quite dull, but certainly lacking. James Spader does a respectable job voicing the titular villain, but his distinctive voice can be distracting at times. The biggest criticism that can be levelled against the MCU is probably the real lack of worthwhile villains, unfortunately Ultron is another underwhelming foe in a franchise filled with them.
The whole team is back, including a few new addition, but the one member who really gets to shine this time round is Hawkeye. The almost whipping boy of the first movie is given a much more substantial role, something that Jeremy Renner apparently demanded, and overall it’s a welcome change. It’s Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow who perhaps gets the short end of the stick aside from a rather so-so romantic sub plot with the Hulk she doesn’t get to do a whole lot.
Captain America and Iron Man once again take centre stage, there is plenty of tension between the pair clearly building up to their confrontation in next year’s Civil War. Robert Downey Jr. has a lot of sway with the studio executives, more than they’d probably like, for good reason though he remains the perfect Tony Stark effortlessly cool and brilliantly sarcastic. Chris Evans continues to be a compelling leader of the team and it’s always fun to see Cap throw his shield around.
The Hulk was sort of the unexpected standout of the first Avengers movie, I think even Marvel were surprised with how well he was received. The lack of a standalone Hulk movie since means it has been a while since we last got to see the big green guy, resulting in once again the Hulk being a highlight. The much anticipated showdown between the Hulk and Iron Man (in a special Hulk-Buster suit) is worth the price of admission alone. Also Thor is around too, and he continues to be pretty bland but at least he has a few decently funny one liners.
Speaking of one liners, there is plenty of comedy on offer. The team dynamic really helps sell the whole thing, the banter between the group is one of the single best components of the film. The first action sequence features a brilliant exchange between Iron Man and Captain America that is called back to throughout the rest of the movie in hilarious ways. This comedic aspect definitely helps because narratively Age of Ultron is very similar to the original really lacking anything that hasn’t been seen before in previous MCU films, it’s not a bad yarn being spun but it’d be nice to see a slightly fresher plot in the next Avengers film.
There are a couple of new additions to the team as well in the form of Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. After Evan Peters’ portrayal of Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past Aaron Taylor-Johnson had a tough task ahead of him but he manages to differentiate himself enough and his super speed power leads to some visually impressive action moments. Elizabeth Olsen fairs less well, some of her line delivery is a little off and Scarlet Witch just doesn’t ever manage to be particularly interesting. These two super powered twins aren’t really given much backstory but they feature in enough enjoyable action scenes to make them worthwhile additions.
Much like the first Avengers film the second the credits started rolling I was desperate to watch the whole thing all over again, there are very few films that can match Age of Ultron in terms of simple unadulterated fun. If the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the Star Wars of this generation then Avengers: Age of Ultron is The Empire Strikes Back, being an often familiar continuation of its predecessor but adding just enough new elements to keep things joyously thrilling.