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The Avengers: Age of Ultron

Reviewed by James Taylor.

Director Joss Whedon
Length 141
Certificate 12A
Rating ********--
Filmmaking: 4  Personal enjoyment: 4

Photo from the article There's a shot towards the end of The Avengers (2012) that glides from one Avenger to another, capturing each of them in a long take that isn't just stylistic bravado, but outlines their specific skillsets and demonstrates that the team has finally gelled. This is mirrored in The Avengers: Age of Ultron's (2015) opening moments in an even more spectacular long take that showcases each character individually and draws them together as a united force. While establishing that the team's synchronisation hasn't lapsed between films, this shot is also emblematic of one of the film's key achievements: managing its ensemble so that each character has a unique role, while relations between them develop.

Tensions within the group are agitated when Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) takes it upon himself to protect humankind from alien threats by creating an A.I. guard for Earth. This plan, as tends to be the case with the well-intentioned creation of A.I. in science fiction, spectacularly backfires, and Ultron (James Spader), a megalomaniacal robot with his own apocalyptic plans for humankind's future, is born. From this premise it would seem that the film is focused around Stark, unsurprising considering that Iron Man is the most lucrative character in solo outings, and is central to predecessor The Avengers. However, one of Age of Ultron's biggest pleasures is that it doesn't simply rely on the appeal of A-listers Iron Man, Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth). While each of these have key roles, the trio previously mostly confined to supporting roles - Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Natasha Romanov/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) - in many ways provide the film's emotional core, with much emphasis placed on their personal lives. This character development is enhanced by writer/director Joss Whedon's keen ability to counterpoint spectacle with more intimate scenes. Whether in grand action sequences or quieter moments the characters play off each other wonderfully.

In regards to Ultron, he has a satisfying penchant for sinister theatrics that feed his inherited-from-Stark ego, underscoring how he's a creation of, and thematises, Stark's Western imperialistic arrogance. Both Ultron and Stark are convinced that they know what's best for the world, and seek to mould it in their image, yet these concerns also extend to the Avengers, with questions raised as to whether, or to what extent, a small group of powerful individuals can be entrusted with humanity's wellbeing. An international set of locations also makes you acutely aware of the team's exclusivity: a global police force composed predominantly of white men. While Age of Ulton fails to explicitly consider the team's racial asymmetry, there are frequent references to its abundance of testosterone, and pointed efforts are made to diversify the team as it evolves through the film's course.

The reflection on the team's destructive potential is complemented by a darker tone than The Avengers, although Age of Ultron avoids descending into grimness through retaining plenty of wit, and having its heroes constantly prioritise the prevention of civilian casualties, which also works to validate their role as global protectors. Both these strategies distinguish it from rival publisher DC's films, which have rightly received flak for their rumoured 'no jokes' policy and Superman's disregard for civilian wellbeing in Man of Steel (2013) (conversely, when Iron Man hurls an opponent into a building, he digitally scans it first to ensure it's unoccupied).

Age of Ultron may not be quite as vividly crowd-pleasing as The Avengers, but it's precisely measured in every aspect of its construction, skilfully coordinating a large ensemble in a blockbuster that's both spectacular and intimate, while addressing thematic questions through the team's actions. As remarked in the film in regards to the weighting of Thor's hammer, "it's terribly well balanced ".

This review was published on April 26, 2015.

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