I didn’t see the first Avengers film until it came out on DVD. Or it might even have been Netflix, actually.
It wasn’t a conscious avoidance, and I still hold up the lead-in — Captain America: The First Avenger — as one of my favourite of Marvel’s phase one films. I think, on some level, I just struggle with the tentpole, beauty parade idea of the Avengers films.
I get the idea. It’s nice to bring all the heroes together, and not have the inevitable “What the hell is everyone else doing whilst Christopher Ecclestone mullers London?” questions arise. But there’s something conceited about them, something like playing to the gallery. It doesn’t feel like it’s challenging anything or pushing any boundaries. It’s simply giving the fans what they want.
Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But I’m not going to pretend that I’m not looking forward to Captain America: Civil War a lot more than Avengers: Age of Ultron.
In the aftermath of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the Avengers are busy clearing up SHIELD/Hydra bases, reaching the east European castle where Baron von Strucker is holding Loki’s sceptre from the first film. When Tony Stark examines it, he discovers the key to artificial intelligence, and sees the opportunity to bring his Ultron programme for global defence into play. Unfortunately Ultron turns out to be an angry, homicidal AI who wants to wipe out the Avengers — followed by the rest of humanity.
Okay, so this film delivers what it promises on the poster. All of the favourites are here, and we get to see the now-familiar superhero sniping and the established character roles of those within the team. There’s the same tension between the “maverick” Tony Stark, and the boy scout Captain America — which is actually probably setting up for the core conflict in Civil War — and the aloof superiority of Thor.
Of course the more exciting and interesting characters are those we’ve seen less of elsewhere, namely Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff, Bruce Banner/Hulk, and Cliff Barton/Hawkeye. This breaks down into the burgeoning relationship between Romanoff and Banner, Banner’s fear of his own danger to those around him, and Cliff Barton’s family and role in the team. Genuinely, if these aspects were given more focus I think it would have made for a better film.
And it’s not a bad film as it is. I enjoyed it, certainly. The themes of hubris, of danger stemming from great fear, and the pained madness of Ultron — brilliantly voiced by James Spader — were potent. But it felt a little bloated, a little overfilled. There was a lot going on, and it wasn’t always clear where it was going.
I was impressed with Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, who are never named as such in the film. Especially given that X-Men recently did an interpretation of the former. Here the distinction is nicely made, with the protective relationship between the two played up, as was their moral journey from right to wrong.
The “man should not meddle” line, which inevitably rears its head, isn’t allowed free reign. In fact, Tony’s meddling has a large role in the conclusion, whereby he redeems himself and sets the whole next stage of the Avengers in motion.
Actually, the weakest element of the whole thing seemed to be Thor, who served as plot propellant. He turns up to act gruff and to join some of the more ambiguous dots of the plot — which by now is getting quite convoluted. He did the job well enough, but you have to ask if it’s the best use of the character and Chris Hemsworth.
Overall this felt like a combination of fan service and stepping stone. It was a good enough film, but it seemed to skimp on some of the meatier issues and relationships which it could have explored in favour of overlong — if well choreographed — action scenes. Enjoyable, but only really relevant as a halfway point before the next round of Marvel films, to which I am better looking forward to.