Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

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Stark paternal issues

Director: Joss Whedon
Running Time: 141 Minutes
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Don Cheadle, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Anthony Mackie, Hayley Atwell

Considering how much of an all-round success 2012's The Avengers was, it's an understatement to say its sequel had a lot to live up to. While this film doesn't offer something as refreshing as its predecessor, that doesn't prove to be a major detriment, thanks to the stellar work that's gone into this blockbuster.

During an assault on a Hydra base, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) discovers technology which leads him to design artificial intelligence. The intention is to provide "a suit of armour for the world", because Tony knows his superteam won't be around forever. The result, however, is "Ultron" (James Spader), a robot who believes the only route to save the Earth is eradicating the human race.

Instead of dragging things out through using the routine of "reuniting the band", Joss Whedon instead chooses to throw viewers straight into the action. The opening fight scene displays the talents of each team member through a long take, resulting in a moment ripped straight out of a double-page spread. And this is only the first of many action pieces, managing to be both visually stunning and exciting.

What's astonishing is how, despite the ballooned cast, Whedon manages to give every character ample screentime. On top of servicing fans of the franchise leads, we're given sufficient screentime to understand the motivations of franchise newcomers, while allowing for some pleasing cameos.

One of the strongest aspects is how close these characters have become, both in and out of action. Thor and Cap utilize their Hammer and Shield as an attack combo, running gags are formed about Cap's dislike for bad language, Black Widow manages to soothe Bruce Banner once his Hulk persona is no longer necessary. These characters have truly become a team, and their rapport with one another is entertaining to watch. The film could've been about them doing mundane household tasks, like cleaning Avengers Tower or cooking dinner, and the result would've been just as entertaining. This is because both Whedon and the cast know the fun in seeing these different types of characters working with one another, and it's clearly reflected onscreen.

Reunited (on-screen), and it feels so good!

After being given the short stick last time, Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye is given some much needed development, as we're granted a look at his life outside of The Avengers. Pietro and Wanda Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen) are two characters who could've easily been lost in the mix. Instead, the pair are given well-established character arcs, and understandable motivations, with ties to Tony Stark, of all people. But the standout has to be Paul Bettany's Vision, who's seemingly destined to be the breakout character here. An android literally born yesterday, holding pure motivations and an innocence, which are spellbinding to watch when combined with his multitude of powers.

In his role of Ultron, James Spader is perfectly cast. Every movement and line delivery oozes menace, while his motivations are rooted in his megalomania. He understands he was created to save the world, and sees no better way to do so than through ending humanity. He's an intelligent robot that despises his "father", containing a rebellious streak directed at Tony, despite their shared usage of quips.

Interestingly, a romance blossoms between Black Widow and Bruce Banner, which is played well by a Scarlett Johansson who's letting down her guard, and an endearing Mark Ruffalo. It's rooted in how these two considering themselves Monsters among a group of fighters, which is interesting in theory. But the handling feels less than stellar, as it seemingly appears out of nowhere, and remains an unsatisfying aspect.

It's clear Marvel has an idea on where their Cinematic Universe shall go, considering their many announcements late last year.

Never let it be said that Marvel are making things up as they go, as Whedon manages to include quite a few nods for many of those upcoming projects. Be it Andy Serkis' character who has a connection to Black Panther, or the mid-credits scene, Marvel are sowing seeds for the future in interesting ways. The only one which doesn't work is Thor's visions, which merely provide an extended advertisement for Thor: Ragnarok.

Despite a few problems, Avengers: Age of Ultron remains a worthy follow-up to 2012's mega-hit. How the near-two and a half hour runtime flies by is a testament to those involved. Where the MCU goes now will be interesting to watch.