Our favourite gang of superheroes return to share the screen in Avengers: Age of Ultron, as the world’s coolest geek Joss Whedon bows out (at least for now) of the Marvel Universe. Following on from the events of last year’s Captain America: Winter Soldier and three years after the release of the money-printing The Avengers, this action-packed spectacular sees Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain American (Chris Evans) and co. look to kick, punch, stamp (here’s looking at you, Hulk!) and shoot their way to victory against another bad-ass enemy, as cracks begin to show in the alliance.
After the collapse of S.H.I.E.L.D. and with the threat of HYDRA still very much on the radar, Earth’s mightiest group of protectors are on their own. Bankrolled by Tony Stark’s (Downey Jr.) billions and unofficially led by the ever-patriotic Cap. America, their latest challenge is a self-made mess orchestrated by Stark and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) as they try to rekindle a dormant defence programme that ends up going tits up. The venture into artificial intelligence – seen as the ultimate peacekeeping technology – births an ultra-wicked, information-chewing, Avengers-hating, mega robot – Ultron (James Spader) – which is hell-bent on ridding the planet of imperfection. As shit begins to hit the superpowered fan, we are not-so-gradually introduced to new recruits Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Vision (Paul Bettany), while splits in the original set of heroes begin to seep to the surface.
Crisper, cleaner and a whole lot darker than the 2012 hit, super-geek Whedon knows how to combine artsy set-pieces with the high-octane crash, bang and plenty of wallop that’s expected from such a big budget blockbuster extravaganza. It’s an awesome looking spectacle that’s gritty tone is set by Spader’s super-cool, phrase-turning, Ultron. Similarly to Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, Ultron’s bat-shit personality steals this jam-packed show which is – to hilarious effect – also laced with a great deal of well-timed humour. Added screen time for Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and the unconventional will-they-won’t-they relationship between Banner and Scarlet Johansson’s Black Widow were also welcome, if not feeling somewhat forced, sideshows from the ever-growing tension between Cap. and Stark.
Keeping up with what the hell is actually going on in these Avengers-based flicks is always a challenge in itself, as interlinking strands from previous and future films are combined to make one ultimate mesh of plot points and storylines. With so much going on and lots to set-up for Marvel’s Phase 3, Whedon and gang have successfully topped a barnstorming original with a more intimate, well-oiled effort which – despite a somewhat underwhelming and, frankly, snooze-inducing ending – leaves us itching for Civil War to begin.