Director Joss Wheadon Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron-Taylor Johnson, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Samuel L. Jackson The successful sequel that’s every bit as good is its predecessor is a rarity in cinema; they’ve been seen by very few but they do exist. At the end of the day there are no set of rules that can help you. The conundrum is do you follow the blueprint you set yourself the first time around and recreate the same film or do you attempt to differentiate your follow-up? Either one can be successful but at the same time they both have their pitfalls that are so large and obvious and yet film-makers fall head-first into them all the time. It just goes to show there’s no one way to make a good sequel, the only thing you can do is try and avoid the obvious comparisons to the predecessor. This is what Joss Wheadon has attempted here with Avengers: Age Of Ultron. There are a lot of elements that are similar between this and the 2012’s The Avengers but he’s identified what was lacking in his first MCU outing and has not only filled in these gaps but focussed on them in order to create a sequel that, like its predecessor, may be less than perfect but can be admired and enjoyed for entirely different reasons. The film opens with a continuation of the large bang that ended the previous instalment. Our titular team of superheroes are tracking down an incredibly dangerous artefact that’s fallen into the hands of one Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann). The action scene is incredibly well-paced and shot brilliantly, giving us a look at the continuing development of camaraderie between the team as well as highlighting a few individuals that fell to the wayside last time. We’re also given a look at two new super villains in Pietro Maximoff / Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff / Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), both of whom have a bone to pick with a certain Avenger. After securing said artefact as well as a payload of information regarding artificial intelligence the team gathers for one last get-together before they go their separate ways. However the crazy mad-scientist side of Tony Stark / Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) gets the better of him and he enlists Bruce Banner / The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) to help him utilise their prize in order to bring to life his ‘iron legion’; an A.I team of armoured suits that would safeguard earth. They do end up creating life, but not what they envisioned… So far the film had been action-packed as well as hilarious but it was able to take time to draw attention to certain characters, in particular Banner and Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) without losing any momentum. It was also able to change focus so seamlessly, case in point the scene involving each Avenger attempting to lift Mjilnor, the hammer of Thor (Chris Hemsworth). Their jovial celebration is short-lived by the introduction of the deranged Ultron (James Spader), whose ‘iron legion’ programming has him believe humanity needs to be saved from itself. Thus the battle-lines are drawn. The theme of the film had been defined as character development. The Avengers first attempt to stop Ultron goes horribly wrong with a number of characters seeing visions of their previous lives, highlighting where they’ve come from and what they’ve lost. Carrying on from this the film shifts its focus to that of Clint Barton / Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) as well as the animosity within the group that’s been brewing beneath the surface. Each of them has a different point of view as to how to deal with Ultron as well as a perspective on what The Avengers initiative is all about. While the team is briefly pulled back together by the on-the-lam Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) the tension boils over when Stark and Banner attempt once more to play God. As the confrontation gets out of hand Thor settles the dispute and with the newly-minted Vision (Paul Bettany) The Avengers now focus firmly on stopping Ultron. In a huge final battle that pushes all of them to their wits end a number of Avengers make life-altering decisions, though these choices do come at a cost. The film concludes with a lot of personal reflection and more questions than answers regarding the real threat surrounding the events of the entire series but leaves us on an optimistic and positive note surrounding The Avengers as Captain America almost utters those two immortal words.
Joss Wheadon has used his script to create a cast of people rather than superheroes with several scenes and passages of dialogue used as reminders as to their flaws, where they’ve come from, their motives for fighting and what it might cost them. And it works perfectly, painting a beautiful picture of what it must truly be like to have these responsibilities on your shoulders. His script is marvellous in that it we are able to take in the highs and lows of being an Avenger without it ever losing focus, dictating pace or becoming clunky.
Wheadon has taken the smart route. The action scenes are packed full with some clever camera-work and really good use of CGI and but instead of trying to create larger and longer fight scenes he’s kept it all at the same level but has added a new string to the bow in profiling character. Two in particular, Barton and Romanoff, are given chances to shine and show us who they really are, while Banner gets a fair bit of dimension added to him.
This works because the cast have all put in brilliant performances. Each brought a significantly different flavour to this multi-layered pie, whether it be Stark’s narcissistic arrogance and occasional PTSD, Banner’s inner turmoil, Romanoff’s lament, the overly-proud Thor or the relationship between the Maximoff’s. It helped project the idea that these people could both work alongside and at the same time butt heads over how best to approach such situations, and because this cast has been together for so long the chemistry is effortless.
The only character I feel didn’t come to the part was Ultron himself. The concept of a villain who sees the human race as unworthy and its own biggest threat is hardly an original concept, and while James Spader does a fine job walking that thin line between drama and comedy written for him, the villain overall does come across as a bit stock and that any bad guy from the annals of Marvel’s history could have filled the position.
This film had impossibly big shoes to fill and any film-maker in this industry could be forgiven for being unable to live up to expectations. But like I said while the successful sequel is a rarity it does exist, and whether he intended to or not Wheadon has created upon one of those rarities.
A sequel that lives up to the already-established hype and stands on its own two feet is the holy grail of cinema, but with some smart, strategic film-making Avengers: Age Of Ultron has achieved this. Rather than just a copy-and-paste job Wheadon has instead used the first film as a template or sorts, acknowledging its shortcomings and weaknesses and covering for them, imbuing this film with a strength that gives it the best possible chance to succeed. Sure, in some ways it may not be the perfect film but interestingly the sum of the parts are what make the whole greater, just like The Avengers.