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The Avengers: Age of Ultron - DVD Review

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

BY HIS own admission Joss Whedon has said he felt he could have improved on his first Avengers film. Well, Age of Ultron might just have done that.

A predictably bigger film, it also strikes a better balance between all the many elements that help to assemble such a massive blockbuster in the first place. Hence, this is more focused story-wise, contains a nice mix between the humour and the dark matter and maintains the high standards of spectacle and action expected of a film like this.

Admittedly, there is that repetitive element that bedevils many a modern tent-pole (and especially super-hero movies with their endless need for ever bigger world-saving smack-downs). But even within the context of these, Whedon manages to inject both humour and tragedy, as well as a few neat subversions and in-jokes.

It means that overall, Age of Ultron is a superhero romp of a blockbuster. A belting good time at the movies that should tick all the right boxes for die-hard fans as well as passive admirers. It’s a wild but fun ride.

The story, this time, finds Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) attempting to jump-start a dormant peace-keeping programme only to unwittingly unleash Ultron (voiced by James Spader), a robot hell-bent on ‘evolving’ the human race while simultaneously destroying the planet and taking the Avengers with him.

The ensuing chaos causes friction among the super-heroes themselves, while also pitting two powerful twins, Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), against them.

Whedon hits the ground running and seldom eases up on the pace. But he also proves capable of making the quieter moments tell. An early party sequence and joke involving Thor’s hammer is shot through with humour and the type of camaraderie that proves infectious to the audience, while further insights into the emotional complexity (and cost) of super-heroism (as exemplified by a tentative romance between Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner) are well handled without being overly mawkish or predictable.

In fact, Whedon does exceptionally well in making each character count in some way, thereby making you genuinely care about them. This is particularly the case with Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, arguably under-used in the first film, but here given plenty to do and boasting at least one surprise revelation.

Strong, too, are the continued insights offered into both Black Widow and Bruce Banner, as well as the continued stripping away of Stark’s confidence (first started in Iron Man 3 and stretched further by the events of this movie).

Even the new characters make their mark without feeling excessive. Olsen and Taylor-Johnson are suitably enigmatic additions with satisfying story arcs, while Ultron is a genuinely worthy nemesis for the Avengers thanks to the expertly delivered vocal performance by the effortlessly charismatic Spader.

The action sequences, meanwhile, are as gritty as they are spectacular, yet also loaded with smart humour. Whedon drops in several references to the set-piece events of the first film, while subverting some of the expectations and knowledge surrounding them, providing a knowing wink to his ever-adoring fan-base in the process.

But he also manages to inject plenty of emotion and the odd surprise, meaning that you might not always be able to guess the outcome of everyone’s fate. Peril is a rare commodity in superhero franchises but it’s present here some of the time.

There are flaws, of course. Some of the techno-babble is a turn-off, while some of the more cerebral stuff involving Ultron and Jarvis feels reminiscent of Ang Lee’s much-maligned Hulk and makes the generous running time (2 hours, 20 minutes) occasionally feel bloated. And try as hard as it might, there’s still no escaping the feeling that Whedon is still working to a tried and tested superhero movie model (by virtue of that climactic smack-down).

But given the hits far outweigh the misses, The Avengers: Age of Ultron has to rate as an overall success – a rollicking good blockbuster that further enhances the Marvel brand, while delivering a kick-ass parting shot from Whedon, who is now set for a well earned break from super-hero duty. You should have a lot of fun with it.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 141mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: September 14, 2015