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Anyone who's familiar with the Marvel cinematic universe knows that they've been carefully, cleverly plotting a Marvel-Universe-spanning series of films for a long time. Bit by bit, their evil, I mean, brilliant stratagem has been put in place.
Avengers was such a juicy box-office hit back in 2012, it went without saying that Marvel would roll out a sequel. It's part of a bigger plan, you see.
So, with Phase Two of their ingenious scheme up and running, it was time for another big piece of the puzzle with Avengers:Age of Ultron.
The film kicks off with a crazy badass action sequence. It's an exciting opener, peppered with wit, and it sets a fantastic tone. It also introduces two new and important players in the action; Scarlet Witch and her twin brother, Quicksilver.
Anyone who saw last year's wonderful X-Men Days of Future Past (or is, indeed, into the Avengers or X-Men comics) will be familiar with an interpretation of Quicksilver from that film. Aaron Taylor-Johnson's take on the character is less ADHD on speed, and more cocky European teenager with a grudge against the Avengers. Oh, and neither he nor his sister is a mutant (thanks to a rights dispute between Fox and Marvel. Whatevs.)
So, a quick rundown of the story.
(It really rather helps to have seen at least Avengers 1, Iron Man 3 and Captain America: Winter Soldier, BTW. )
After that energetic opening sequence, in which they recover Loki's Mind-Stone-containing glowstick of destiny (which was implicitly stolen when SHIELD fell during the events of Captain America: Winter Soldier) genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, Tony Stark messes with Artificial Intelligence from an ill-gotten source. He inadvertently creates Ultron. Ultron is a bit like Stark's home AI system, JARVIS, but with a murderous attitude and a design to bring about peace by killing all us pesky humans- extreme prejudice ethnic cleansing on anyone not made of metal. He also happens to be pretty much a mechanical version of Tony's ego and id, so expect some truly funny and bizarre snark from him when he faces off against the Avengers.
Ultron, who really hates Stark, finds allies in Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, who also really hate Stark. Scarlet Witch does a few clever, nasty spells, and all of a sudden it's all falling apart for the heroes. They have to put themselves back together to save the work from Tony's most dangerous creation.
By this stage, pretty much everyone hates Stark. Including Hulk. You all know that the Hulkbuster armour turns up, so I'm not spoiling you by saying that... but that's all I will say about one of the funniest, craziest and most over-the-top fight sequences committed to film thus far. Oh, did I laugh!
That's all storyline I'm going to mention, because I don't want to slip up and ruin anything for anyone. The rest of the Internet can do that for you. I'm going to stick to painting in broad strokes so no-one Hulks out at me...
Let's just say I enjoyed the hell out of this film. If you love Joss Whedon as I love Joss Whedon, you will like this, his clever fingerprints are all over it. The overall story is engaging and exciting, and I didn't identify any areas where the film drags or makes utterly no sense. (C'mon, for a comic book film. Work with me here.) It felt like the story unfolded at a great pace, and allowed you time to laugh and also feel for these heroes. Some pretty crummy things happen to them. There are some really great quips and dialogues, and even the Evil Bad Guy Rants are a cut above, thanks to Whedon's off-beat take on everything.
Thanks to a solid script and tight production everyone shines. Everyone gets their moment(s) of glory, witty comeback, or heartfelt conversation.
Jeremy Renner, who was clearly under-utilised in the first Avengers, reprises as Hawkeye and really gets some great screen time, and some solid action. Chris Hemsworth is ridiculously charming as Thor, he, too, gets some great lines, and of course, premium biffo. Chris Evans as Captain America holds the team together well, and is fighting fit (looking like he might flex his way out of that blue shirt at one stage, oh boy!)
Robert Downey Jr IS Iron Man, his close ups during the fight sequence with Hulk made me about cry with laughter, he's perfect. I felt like we got to know Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner much better in this one. He's tremendously likeable. Getting to better friends with Bruce is Black Widow, Scarlett Johansson returning, despite being several months pregnant during filming. We get a closer look at her dark past, and get a chance to see her inner light shine despite the turmoil around her. Plus she kicks arse, and that's always welcome.
New to the Marvel universe are Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen as Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. I was nervous about their addition to the line-up, but they are well utilised and carry their share of the story very confidently. Their powers are very cool, too, and the actors have a good on-screen bond from having previously worked together.
I thought James Spader was a weird choice to provide the voice of the villainous, deranged Ultron, but he's a top pick. He's seething and smarmy, perfectly logical and contemptuous. It's like someone got the worst parts of Tony's Stark's genius and gave them physical form. Which they pretty much did. Spader’s performance of the titular villain is really enjoyable.
For me, the film's MVP is Paul Bettany, and it hurts me that I can't tell you why. You know already he's playing Vision. Yep, Vision has decent screen time. And that's all I'll say. Let me just add that he (or the CGI version of him that you see onscreen) is fantastic, and an absolute asset to the film. And now I'll stop so I don't ruin it for you!
There were a lot of cameos and smaller rolls, so many familiar faces. I won't trot them all out here, but keep a look out. It was great to see Cobie Smulders return, with Maria Hill now working for Stark Industries. She's an important cog in the story. Samuel L Jackson proves you can't keep a good muth*fu*** down, Nick Fury is still in the game. Fan favourite Andy Serkis crops up with a very good South African accent as a minor villain, Ulysses Klaw. South Korean actress Claudia Kim Soo-hyun is classy as Doctor Helen Cho, an important ally to the Avengers. Don Cheadle helps out as James “War Machine” Rhodes, he gets some great lines with RDj, and Anthony Mackie gets some screen time as the dynamic Sam Wilson AKA The Falcon. Stan Lee has a cameo, I won't tell you where, but you can't miss it, and prepare to laugh, it's gold.
The film looks great, all the computer whizzbangery is fantastic. There are action sequences that must've filled Whedon's fanboy heart with joy to write. So many good lines- the film is going to be highly quotable. Lots of great Team moments, and lots of twists and surprises that are sure to excite (or upset.). The sound production is clear from the pithy dialogue to the big booms. The score by Danny Elfman incorporates the various hero themes from the other films, and helps illustrate the story very elegantly.
Joss Whedon had already confirmed that he’s stepping down from directorship of the next Avengers films (a two-part finale.) He’s handing over to the Russo brothers. After their stellar effort on CA:WS I have every confidence in them to bring a rip-roaring conclusion to the series. I will certain miss Joss’s touch, though; he has definitely helped elevate the rather derided genre of comic book movie to something that can be as smart as it is exciting.
I am already looking forward to seeing the film again. At least then I can talk to more people about it! So please. Go, see it. Then we can talk about it. And see it again. And talk more.
And you're gonna want to talk about this one, it's Hulk-sized awesome!
Oh, and as it generally goes with Marvel films- there's mid-credit scene. DON'T leave as soon as the house lights come up. No end credit scene, but definitely a mid-credit scene. Don't forget.
Avengers: Age of Ultron. Written and Directed by Joss Whedon. Opens in Australia 23 April.