You can listen to a podcast review of this film here or subscribe to Bina007 Movie Reviews in iTunes.
Joss Whedon had an almost impossible task to pull of in his AVENGERS sequel. He had to give enough time to the storylines and character arcs of all the major superheroes we've come to know and love in the increasingly complex Marvel Cinematic Universe. He had to also make room for new additions - not one, but three bad guys, and a nebulous almost a-ethical good guy. He had to create enough CGI heavy wow moments of action and stunts. But he also had to give the movie heart. And all this in just over two hours.
I have to say that for my money, Joss Whedon succeeded. The action sequences may become a bit tedious after a while - but that's a general reaction I have to comic movies in general rather than this one in particular. But I loved the way in which Whedon gives each of the major characters a clear and interesting narrative arc and I how I really did care about them. I also LOVE what he did with Ultron.
The movie starts with an prologue. The Avengers find Loki's sceptre and before sending it back to Asgard, Tony Stark/Iron Man decides to use its untold power to create an Artificial Intelligence powerful enough to protect the world from alien invasion. Of course, AI ALWAYS goes well in the movies(!) and Ultron soon fries Tony's good AI, Jarvis, and runs amok. First order of business - he goes to South Africa to pick up some vibranium - the awesome metal from which Captain America's shield is hewn. Second order of business - go to Korea to get the Avengers' best scientist to make him an awesome vibranium body. Oh and did I mention he hooks up with a pair of Hydra-enhanced twins - Pietro and Wanda Maximoff - who are respectively fast and psycho-kentically weird.
The rest of the movie sees The Avengers mentally messed with, squabbling, on the run, and after Ultron. The whole thing is fast-paced, plausible and surprisingly easy to follow, despite all the moving parts. So here's two things I can say without spoiling any plot.
First, I love how Ultron isn't the normal scary AI. They aren't HAL from 2001, who scare us by pursuing logic to its extreme. Rather, he's emotionally whacky - a petulant child who doesn't understand the world he's been born in to, struggling to make sense of it and acting out. In fact, Ultron is far more Frankenstein's monster than HAL and far scarier. This may well be James Spader's best cinematic performance.
Second, I love the character arcs. I love how we see the dark side of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr)- the narcissistic billionaire playboy finally lets his ego make him believe he can save the world. I love the thwarted love story between Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johanson) - the nobility of a man who unlike Stark wants to shield the world from himself. Mark Ruffalo is superb. I love that Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) finally gets some serious screen-time and back story. I won't spoil it, but to me he becomes the Samwise Gamgee of the piece.
It seems to me that, to date, Marvel has walked a tight-rope in its universe between richness and over-complexity. Every time we get an ensemble film I'm scared they'll fall over into tick-the-box character cameos. But kudos to Whedon. Can't wait for the next instalment.
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON has a running time of 141 minutes and is rated PG-13. The movie is on global release this weekend and next weekend.