Marvel must have been licking their lips when some genius came up with the idea of throwing all of their superheroes into one film to fight against evil. However The Avengers was a gargantuan success, becoming the third highest grossing movie ever. Now comes the sequel, Age Of Ultron, which has a lot to live up to. The result is a series of brilliantly executed set pieces, but inevitably the characters get lost in the mayhem and some of the actors look like they’d rather be elsewhere.
The plot is a cut and paste job about the evil Ultron, who is fed up with humans ruining their planet, and reasons it’s best to wipe them out – after all they’ve had a fair go. It’s actually a pretty good argument, but we’re supposed to be on the side of the Avengers, who must protect Earth from the evil robot and his army of automatons.
If huge set pieces are your thing there is plenty to enjoy here. The opening sequence is reminiscent of Alien, with Iron Man dreaming of a world taken over by huge spiny beasts before he discovers the reason, a new pair of enemies called the twins – one of whom can put a spell on people to dredge up their worst memories. She, Scarlet Witch, is played by Elizabeth Olsen and is just terrific. She’s also about 10 times sexier than Scarlett Johansson, whose main role in the film is to calm down Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who cannot contain his fury when he turns green. Ruffalo is probably the best performance here, he takes his role very seriously and exudes a sadness entirely in keeping with his character. Downey Jr also fits into his role as snugly as his tin suit.
The real surprise here is Jeremy Renner, usually a fine actor but he seems unsure how to play his Hawkeye character. Firing arrows from a bow looks a little daft when he is surrounded by muscular superheroes, and when the Avengers hide out in the country and decide to stay at his farm it all seems a bit lame. His drippy wife and too-cute kids don’t help either. Chris Hemsworth is faintly ridiculous as Thor with a daft accent, Andy Serkis struggles with his role as a dodgy arms dealer, Paul Bettany ditto as The Vision, who starts off bad but sees the light, and only Julie Delpy makes the most of her cameo as Johansson’s sadistic teacher. There is also, of course, a brief appearance by the great Stan Lee, who foolishly tries a drop of superhero whiskey and pays the price. Bless him.
The overlong story builds up to a set piece in which Ultron literally lifts a city into the air, and threatens to drop it, obliterating half the planet. It’s visually striking and the sound department deserve an award for some serious chair-shaking bass – see it in a proper cinema with a decent sound system. It’s superbly choreographed, with the Avengers trying to get the city’s populace into rescue ships while an army of robots attack, and there’s even a last-minute rescue of a child and, yes, a dog.
Director Whedon has never been a master of understatement and here he lets rip with some serious hardware, shootouts, rescues and buildings being ripped apart, all impressive but at the expense of any real depth or character. To pick one random example there’s a sequence involving a subway train which ploughs through the buffers and along a packed high street. It’s superbly staged but at no point is there any semblance of empathy with anyone aboard that train. A bit like the film itself, which is sure to be a runaway train at the box office.
Overall verdict: As popcorn entertainment this superhero festival does its job well enough, and there is plenty to enjoy along the way. A little more polish in the script, a little more character development – and fewer characters – wouldn’t have gone amiss, but overall this is summer fun.
Reviewer: Mike Martin