Well, the gang’s back together and as if it wasn’t hard enough to give Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk, Black Widow, Nick Fury, and Maria Hill enough screen time in a movie anyway, Avengers: Age of Ultron writer/director Joss Whedon only went and decided that not only would he try to give Hawkeye a personality (why would anyone want to do that?), he’d crowbar in Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and The Vision, as well as cameos by Falcon and War Machine and a few other old favourites, while dropping in copious references to the other movies of the Marvel Universe.
Still, Whedon is one of the few people who could give it a serious go and Age of Ultron is about the best you could expect of such a Herculean – some may say Argonautian – task. It sees the newly cooperative Avengers coming back together from their respective franchises to fight first Hydra and then Ultron, an artificial intelligence created by the Avengers themselves (or some of them at least) who decides the best way to ensure peace in our time is wipe out the human race to make it really peaceful.
Along the way, we learn a little more about each of the Avengers, get a lot of clever one-liners, hear a lot of bad accents and witness more Easter eggs than at a Hotel Chocolat in April (blink and you’ll have missed references to the future Black Panther and you’ll almost certainly have failed to have noticed the Winter Soldier at one point).
On first viewing in 2D, I found Age of Ultron mostly satisfying, with some standout moments, such as the Hulkbuster, Black Widow’s flashbacks and pretty much any line delivered by James Spader as Ultron or Paul Bettany as The Vision. However, it's oddly shaped, with some surprisingly dull bits, despite the fact it echoes the structure and plot of the original movie, with an odd character section in the middle of the movie, epic amounts of talking when there should be smacking and various characters – well, mostly Thor – heading off by themselves for no well explored reasons.
A second viewing in 3D proved better, since as well as having the time to process everything that was going on, without constant hopes of something awesome turning up in the next scene and knowing the beats of the movie, it was possible simply to enjoy the characters and those standout moments, even if most characterisation revolved around chances to deliver some trademark WhedonJokes. Tony Stark felt more like Tony Stark than he did in (The) Avengers (Assemble), Hulk was well served (although does no one care about poor old Betty Ross now his solo movies have been cancelled?) and Black Widow got a lot more to do, although I’m not sure making it primarily romantic was necessarily the best choice. Poor old Captain America and Thor suffered the most, either being the butt of jokes or acting a little out of character at times, but I guess not every i could be dotted and t crossed. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver also proved good additions to the series.
And despite being a dyed-in-the-wool 3D hater, I have to admit that the technology has now got to the point where Age of Ultron was better in 3D than 2D, not looking like a Viewmaster slideshow in the middle of the Stygian depths.
And yet… everything felt like it was lacking a little energy. There was no real threat, Ultron being reduced down to little more than a fighty robot in command of an army of metal Chitauri who look like him. The care that Whedon took in the first movie over details, such as having people speaking their own languages, disappeared in between movies – everyone in Eastern Europe apparently speaks English as a lingua franca, not Russian, despite everything being written in Cyrillic. Golden Black Widow opportunity – missed.
Good fun, worth watching, with some real highs, just not (The) Avengers (Assemble) great. Roll on Captain America: Civil War.