FILM REVIEW: Avengers: Age of Ultron

The Avengers have united to continue the hunt for Loki's sceptre following the fall of SHIELD and the re-emergence of HYDRA, but a villain of Tony Stark's own making soon changes the mission for everybody. Stark is still reeling from the Battle of New York and his desire to prevent it happening again leads to him and Banner developing their Ultron programme, an artificial intelligence designed to protect the world. However, it all goes wrong, as these things so often do, and the Avengers must fight to save the human race.

The first Avengers film was nothing short of spectacle cinema, the chance to see a superhero team-up from a comic book universe for the first time on the big screen. The anticipation was huge and, in the hands of Joss Whedon, delivered on all fronts. Phase 2 of Marvel's Cinematic Universe has continued to prove the films to be a bit of a divisive affair, but has largely maintained the entertaining atmosphere of the earlier installments whilst steadily expanding the world. After that, the excitement for Avengers: Age of Ultron could have hardly been higher and thankfully, the film delivers in spades.

Given its placement towards the end of Phase 2, Age of Ultron feels very much like a mid-point for the ongoing plotlines within this universe. This isn't a flaw though as the film deftly combines wrapping up some narratives, whilst also using the central narrative to begin or continue laying foundations for future films in the series. It makes for a dizzyingly dense film, but one that never threatens to overwhelm or alienate, instead inviting more rewatches those who wish to delve further. 

In amidst the action, the character work is excellent, using their interactions in battle to fuel their relationships, throwing them into conflict or uniting them. Even the choreography of the action itself demonstrates the ongoing synergy between certain characters; Thor and Captain America team up regularly throughout, whilst the impending Iron Man/Captain America conflict is deftly forecast. That doesn't mean those characters without their own solo films have been shortchanged either.

Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo and Jeremy Renner all seize on the opportunity to expand their characters, bringing a warmth into the proceedings that cements the film's emotional core. Newcomers Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, or Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, are fleshed out enough to resonate, their tragic background laid out simply and effectively. It also helps that the performances of Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson make the Maximoffs feel as if they have always been a part of this universe. Whilst Paul Bettany's Jarvis always has, it's in the Vision that the actor excels, quite possibly stealing the moment of the movie away from his more established co-stars.

The film's frenetic pace is well-maintained and doesn't allow the audience to breathe much in between the next plot development. Whilst this doesn't necessarily work against the film, it's often in the quieter scenes between battles that the film truly soars. Characters discuss their fears, argue over whose girlfriend is better and telling anecdotes designed to awe and they're all so well-drawn that you long for more of just Steve and Thor hanging out, Maria Hill mocking the uber-masculinity that surrounds her or Stark and Banner in full Science Bros mode. It's a small gripe, but also a testament to how well these characters and their worlds have been realised.

With the second biggest opening ever, the Marvel Cinematic Universe juggernaut continues to roll on. Age of Ultron may not carry the one-of-a-kind thrill that made The Avengers so adored, but it still provides a fantastic spectacle for those of us who have been waiting to see the band back together.

- Becky

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