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Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron—coming of ‘Age’

Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron—coming of ‘Age’

“Now what am I supposed to do now? What am I going to do in Avengers 2?” director Joss Whedon reportedly exclaimed after watching Iron Man 3.

Evidently, not much.

It was an interesting setup that left us salivating for an emotional payoff; at the end of Iron Man 3, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), destroys all of his iron man suits so as to cement his commitment to girlfriend Pepper Potts, who doesn’t approve of his superhero ways.

After making such a meaningful sacrifice in a film that strongly characterised Tony’s inner demons, we wondered how Tony Stark’s return as Iron Man would be explained in Age of Ultron.

Unfortunately, Age of Ultron doesn’t have time for these questions. In fact, it doesn’t even have time to set itself up. The film hits the skies without waiting for a countdown.

Alongside Iron Man, the crown prince of Asgard Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the butt-kicking spy Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), the bow and arrow--wielding agent, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), the super soldier Captain America (Chris Evans), and the scientist who turns into a giant green monster, Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), are in the fictional Eastern European nation of Sokovia, conducting a raid on the terrorist organisation Hydra in an attempt to retrieve Loki’s powerful magic sceptre.

Here, they encounter the Maximoff twins, Wanda /Scarlet Witch and Pietro/Quicksilver, played by Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson respectively, who awkwardly enough were playing wife and husband in the recent Godzilla — though it’s not so awkward if you know your Ultimate Marvel comic book history (think Lannisters).

The Maximoff twins have a crucial supporting role in Age of Ultron. Initially sidekicks for the super villain Ultron, they switch sides when they realise his plans are far more destructive than what they had imagined.

The twins’ importance is unfortunate as they are the weakest aspect of the film. As Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson proved in Godzilla, the two uncharismatic actors lack screen presence. This makes their quasi-Avenger status especially difficult to swallow, especially when compared to magnetic actors such as Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner, who can single-handedly steal any scene in any film.

Worse still is their characterisation. We are told that the Maximoffs have an axe to grind with the Avengers due to a painful and tragic history with Stark weaponry. Yet when the time comes, all is forgotten in a blink of the eye. Similarly, The Avengers embrace the two, who are responsible for the death of possibly thousands early on in the film when Scarlet Witch’s spell sets Hulk on a rampage in the film’s best action sequence.

Thankfully, the main baddie, Ultron himself, is a fairly interesting character. Voice acted in a brilliantly maniacal performance by James Spader, and brought to life by frighteningly evil facial animations, Ultron is fascinatingly complex, often at odds with himself. Unfortunately, the finer points of his volatile temperament aren’t explained with much satisfaction.

These narrative sacrifices in Age of Ultron are made at the expense of its suffocating content. The Marvel Entertainment property has now grown into numerous films as well as TV shows, and it seems that every bit character has a scene in Age of Ultron. Characters such as Jim Rhodes (War Machine/Iron Patriot), Nick Fury, Sam Wilson (Falcon), and Maria Hill, all make an appearance. While some of their scenes serve a purpose, others sequences exist only to market Marvel’s other properties.

The most impressive aspect of the first Avengers film was Joss Whedon’s ability to juggle multiple headline characters in a film that felt remarkably organic. Age of Ultron was a far bigger challenge. Had Whedon simply been tasked with crafting a great Avengers sequel, he may have created a better film.

But when Age of Ultron isn’t busy with product placement, fan service and strengthening Marvel’s properties, it is busy setting up the sequel. In spite of such demands, Whedon manages a fairly entertaining film that features some spectacular action sequences, laugh out loud humour and a surprisingly touching romance between two Avengers.

In the end though, it has to be said that Age of Ultron was only held back by its chief villain: Marvel Entertainment.

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction, and some suggestive comments

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, May 10th, 2015

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