Sunday, 26 April 2015


Will we ever get bored of superhero movies? Especially now the DC universe is playing catch-up. We can't go a month without the latest big screen adventure coming our way. Fantastic Four and Ant-Man - potentially Marvel's biggest risk to date - are on the way later this year, with Batman v Superman following in March. They might want to call the next big screen bad, Overkill. 

We all have our favourites (Guardians of the Galaxy and Winter Soldier for me) and Marvel rarely puts a foot wrong. Which reminds me, maybe it's time I gave Iron Man 2 a second chance? Joss Whedon takes the reigns one last (?) time and it's hard to imagine a man better equipped for the job. 

With Assemble, he took a huge ensemble and gave them all a chance to shine. Assemble was more than a love letter to Marvel junkies and scholars though, it was a wondrous cinematic adventure fit for all. If anything, he has achieved even more this time out. The cast is bigger, the stakes are higher and Joss continues to make it look too easy.

Joining Iron Man (still snarky), Thor (socially inept), The Hulk (troubled) and Captain America (like a boss) this time out are three new characters, Quicksilver (super-fast), Scarlet Witch (J-horror scary) and The Vision (refreshingly sincere). The new big bad, Ultron, is brought to life by James Spader's wickedly creepy voice-over. 

It's not Robert Downey Jr. who bags the best lines in this one, Ultron's pent-up rage is the perfect catalyst for some zingy banter. With familiar faces joining the gang and Hawkeye and Black Widow getting a larger share of the spoils too, Age of Ultron should have been a cataclysmic mess. But that's where Joss comes in...

Age of Ultron is a little darker than Assemble and the comedy is played down in favour of brooding menace. That's not to say it isn't funny (a running gag about Thor's hammer is typically Whedon-esque) and the dialogue remains instantly quotable, but Joss is faced with the unenviable task of tying up loose ends and introducing the next set of films in the franchise. 

It's a wonder there is any time for action. However, the set-pieces are thrilling and the special effects are seamless - The Hulk vs. Iron Man being an obvious stand-out. 

Of all the big name characters it is Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow and Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye that stand out from the crowd. Joss gives them room to breathe in Age of Ultron and despite having no place to call their own, they are fast becoming the heart and soul of the Marvel universe. Black Widow's blossoming love affair with the mild-mannered Bruce Banner shouldn't work at all but Whedon handles it beautifully. 

Likewise, Chris Evans excels as Captain America, finding his place in the world at long last. I always thought I would side with either Thor or The Hulk, because on paper they are far more interesting characters, but credit to Evans, Renner and Johansson for testing my loyalty on numerous occasions. In fact, one scene alone in the closing moments had me more excited than the rest of the film put together.

Admittedly, it is more or less the same gift in shiny new wrapping, and at some point that might not be enough for the jaded cinema-goer, but for now Age of Ultron is another big win for the Marvel universe. With a creepy big bad, captivating characters, high stakes emotion and a haunting vibe coursing through its veins, Age of Ultron is everything you could hope for. Bring on Phase Three...

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