The Avengers are back in a sequel that promises to be even bigger and more epic somehow.
Joss Whedon once again directs and, though you'd expect juggling that many main characters (plus about a dozen new recruits) would make for a complete cinematic mess, the man somehow pulls it off once again and delivers a blockbuster every bit as ambitious and entertaining as it suggests.
Well, apart for that weird half hour where Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) takes us for a particularly dull ride back to his "safe house".
Other than that, this sequel fixes a lot of what made the first movie a little too uneven. While the first Avengers suffered from a ropey opening sequence and an altogether sluggish first half hour, this movie throws us directly into the action and doesn't let go for a good while which is instantly refreshing. Again, everyone gets their chance to shine but also screw up. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), whom, I assume, has amnesia and therefore can't recall anything that happened in Iron Man 3 (lucky bastard), misguidedly gets his faulty Ultron project underway, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) goes full-Hulk at one point and starts destroying the city all over again, a bunch of them get hypnotised... Basically the heroes have more challenges to face and they're not doing that great of a job at handling any of it. The film then becomes about them dealing with their individual demons (Star Trek V-style) and working as a team to move forward and defeat a new powerful enemy.
Speaking of which, the villain is also far better in this movie: the James Spader-voiced robot baddie Ultron turns out to be a really enjoyable nemesis. To be honest, it's just a treat to see a Marvel film in which Loki is NOT shoehorned in as the villain somehow. Ultron is a tough megalomaniac with big plans so he's a genuine threat but he's also kinda camp and has a Saturday morning cartoon villain quality which lighten things up a bit. Believe it or not, this sequel is darker with some casualties and more at stake. Plus there's more than one macguffin to worry about so it's not quite as predictable as its predecessor. It's also pretty cool to see The Avengers' universe grow even more with the likes of The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Agent Carter (Hayley Atwell) and Heimdall (Idris Elba) among others all getting extended or fleeting cameos.
This reviewer can't wait for Spidey and Rocket Raccoon to fight side by side.
Some new faces include Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and the Vision (Paul Bettany) and even though the twins feel tacked-on for no real reason, the latter is a cool addition with loads of potential not to mention a clever bridge into Infinity Wars. The film, like its predecessor, is rather long and you do feel like some stuff could have easily been cut out entirely. This includes the infamous Hawkeye sidestep, the twins' loose connection to Tony Stark and Ultron and the whole Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) romance subplot with Hulk, all of which drag the pace of the film down radically whenever they occur. Quite a few corny jokes should have also been left hanging back in the editing suite, Whedon once again having a little too much fun with the script and the characters.
Some of the more stand-out moments include a destructive Hulk vs Iron Man fight, a thrilling early mission to recover Loki's pointy stick (it's not what you think) and an action-packed final half-hour in which an entire city is literally reduced to ashes. All in all, this is still a somewhat flawed Avengers movie but it's one that's far more palatable than the first instalment in that all the characters are given much more to do and its pace is far more balanced. Plus you don't need to wait for all the characters to meet and have long exposition-filled conversations before the action kicks in this time. One minus is watching the film in 3D which feels nearly absent here and only really serves to make everything look slightly darker. Nothing really leaps out at you and most of the action sequences either take place in smokey, dark or snowy locations so you kind of need to see what's going on as clearly as possible.
Avengers: Age Of Ultron aims to be a fun geeky romp and it achieves just that: iconic characters played by a reliably terrific cast, loads of action, loads of plot-holes, a cool new moustache-twirlingly evil villain, the Hulk piloting a plane looking sad, what more could you ask for?
A thoroughly entertaining, at times cartoonish or ever-so-slightly dopey, blockbuster.
Assemble and go watch it, I say.