Film number two in Marvel’s Avengers series is every bit as loud and brash as the first outing, and the crashing about is nicely offset by the customary slices of dry wit, mainly from Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man. Director Joss Whedon demonstrates again his mastery of timing and pace in epic movies, with audiences given time to breathe during brief diversions to the burgeoning love interest between Bruce Banner and the Black Widow, and vignettes of Hawkeye’s implausibly forgiving family.
The film is great fun (especially on an IMAX screen) and does pretty much everything that fans of superhero movies want. The story makes sense (more or less) and the script is tight; the actors are engaged, and look as if they enjoyed the process. Of course there is too much CGI; of course the whole thing is a pointless over-sized sugar rush; of course the fight scenes are too kinetic and little human things like pain and broken skin have been airbrushed out. You expect all that; complaining about it is like criticising Jane Austen for a lack of exploding helicopters. If you like superhero movies, you will leave the cinema with a silly grin; if not, then maybe with a superior sneer.
But the movie does have one surprising mis-fire. Whedon had an opportunity to craft a powerful new icon – the artificial intelligence bogeyman for our era, replacing Arnie’s Terminator, which has occupied that role for more than three decades now. The trailers suggested that he had succeeded. Ultron’s sinister Pinocchio parody contains the seeds of genuine horror, and the scene where he starts to “monologue” (which movie baddies do much less since The Incredibles lampooned it so well back in 2004) merely as a cover for a surprise attack is sarcastic repartee worthy of his mentor, Iron Man.
Unfortunately these trailered scenes are pretty much Ultron’s only good ones. After that he comes across as more of a sulky teenager than a dark and near-omnipotent threat. Despite being supposedly an awesome superintelligence, he is repeatedly out-manoeuvred by muscle-bound and not terribly smart humans. He has one Big Idea, which is (spoiler alert) to pick up a city in Eastern Europe and drop it back down on the Earth to create an extinction event like the one that killed the dinosaurs. He risks everything on this one rather fragile plan and when it is foiled he has nothing left in reserve. It doesn’t help that his name sounds like a washing powder.
Avengers: Age of Ultron is a well-made, hugely enjoyable film, but it missed an opportunity to be an iconic, cult movie.