Film Review | Avengers: Age of Ultron

It came with all the fanfare expected from the largest blockbuster of the season, but this sequel to 2012's superhero superteam romp is proof that Marvel's well-oiled machine is starting to rust

Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye in the superhero dream-team sequel Avengers: Age of Ultron
Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye in the superhero dream-team sequel Avengers: Age of Ultron

Now that I think about it, the enduring success of Marvel’s cinematic universe is only partly down to its strength in brand recognition and a snowballing intergenerational comic book fandom cultivated since the early 1960s.

Instead, the roots of their success are ingrained far deeper and boast a connection as ancient as it is powerful – they tap into some pretty ancient stories, repackaging them in a bland CGI coating that is sadly becoming the visual currency of the contemporary blockbuster.

So you’ve a through-line to Norse mythology with Thor, a Doctor Jekyll/Mr Hyde dynamic with the Hulk and now, an upgrade of the Frankenstein story crossed with Pinocchio courtesy of Tony Stark/Iron Man. But this sequel to the 2012 superhero-superteam mash-up feels less like fresh take on a familiar story and more like a tired franchise that needs – rather than wants – to exist for the sake of numbers.

Multibillionaire engineer Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has a penchant of making science and technology work in his favour, but this time he’s up-ended by one of his creations – an peacekeeping AI gone rogue by the name of Ultron (voiced by James Spader). Deciding that the wholesale destruction of humanity should be his first port of call after he’s awakened, Ultron forces the dysfunctional team of superheroes – the Avengers – to assemble once again.


But while Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) are all present and accounted for, in wander the mysterious siblings Pietro (Aaron Taylor Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) with a thirst for retribution after their home country of Sokovia was ravaged during a war… with weapons that unfortunately came from Stark’s own stash.

It’s hard to deny that Marvel have a good blockbuster formula down to a T… but that is also its Achilles’ heel, which is swelling with every new film they release from their calculatedly planned out slate.

Which basically means that while an elaborate and explosion-heavy ‘action beat’ is never too far along, and while the witty banter flows freely in a way we’ve come to expect from writer-director Joss Whedon, the connective tissue that keeps it all together is a little thin. It could be worse, of course… it could be Man of Steel (2013).

But the fact is that in stark (har har) contrast to the joyous international fanfare that greeted Avengers Assemble (2012), the fatigue is starting to show. And I’m not just talking about the angst that assails our heroes’ group dynamics this time around.

Whedon doesn’t really bother to pay much attention to tone, to say nothing of the thoroughly uncinematic quality of the film as a whole. At its core, this sequel is a dark twin to its original, placing the blame for its events squarely on the Avengers’ shoulders (or, at least, on Tony Stark’s overzealous – read: Frankenstenian – scientific ambition).

It’s a weighty underpinning for a kid-friendly blockbuster epic, but Whedon still plays it as such, piling on action sequence after action sequence and hoping that the steady release of zinging one-liners helps lighten the mood.

And for an expensive blockbuster and the most hyped film of the season, it’s not exactly all that spectacular to look at, either. Whedon, a veteran of geeky television with the likes of the beloved Buffy and Firefly under his belt, betrays his roots to his detriment here. Most of the film is a mix of uninspired close-ups and boring, listless CGI tussles, made all the more cartoony by the fact that our heroes are fighting an army of robots, ensuring that the action is robbed of any visceral impact.

That said, James Spader’s Ultron is a charming enough villain, breathing evil life into his (strangely elastic) metallic frame and sporting something resembling a righteous cause beneath his veneer of genocidal psychosis. Spreading his viral influence through the internet, he’s also a timely antagonist with more relevance than all of the Avengers combined. But who cares, right? Here’s Hulk fighting souped-up Iron Man for the better part of half an hour…

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