And so ends Phase II of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a movie that has to look backwards and forwards, as well as create its own unique story. It pretty much achieves all of that, even if there are a few times when it does feel as if Joss Whedon is ever so slightly losing control of some of the threads – the action sequence at the end being a case in point when there’s just too many things happening to be able to track.
There are quite a few surprises along the way – the progress of the relationship between Natasha and Bruce Banner is nicely played out, with the link between Banner and the Hulk critical to a number of moments in the film. There’s some much needed character development for Hawkeye, and JARVIS proves himself on more than one occasion. The big three – Thor, Cap and Iron Man – all get their requisite battle scenes, as well as some humour derived from their characters, and Whedon never forgets who the people are within the suits, and what makes them special.
The problem is the amount that has to be threaded in: there’s a bit with Andy Serkis that feels as if it’s there to set up one of the Phase III movies; a major moral argument between the Avengers feels as if it’s solved because of the plot requirements of a later film. It’s lovely to see Hayley Atwell and Idris Elba, but we didn’t need to for the purposes of this particular film (and their presence made the lack of Gwyneth Paltrow and Natalie Portman more obvious). Two new characters need to make their mark, which they do (Scarlet Witch perhaps slightly more than her brother Pietro), and a bit more concentration on Age of Ultron as a film in itself rather than as part of the MCU might have solidified them more.
James Spader’s Ultron is exactly the sort of quirky enemy that a film like this needs, taking some of Stark’s obsessions to their “logical” endpoint. He’s not a humourless robot, sharing some of Loki’s charm but without the self-awareness that makes the Asgardian so engaging – particularly given his ability to be in so many places at the same time.
This may make it sound as if Age of Ultron is a mess, and that would be unfair to 140 minutes of enjoyable entertainment, which passes quickly. However, the novelty of seeing the heroes team up has definitely worn off.
Verdict: A Marvel-ous movie that doesn’t quite add up to the sum of its parts. 8/10