The MCU’s second cinematic team-up is Age of Ultron, in which the Avengers reassemble in order to retrieve the Mind Stone, inadvertently create Ultron (an AI intent on destroying humanity), and then must stop him.
As far as story goes, it’s solid. It fits thematically with the wider MCU and with the specific characters it follows, and it also does a good job of introducing new characters and fleshing out existing ones. One of the film’s greatest successes is its treatment of Hawkeye, who finally becomes a little more three dimensional, and whose sarcasm is used as the basis for many of the film’s funniest moments.
This does come at the expense of some of the films other characters, though. Where once Iron Man, Thor, or even Captain America would have been used to deliver these lines, they’ve been relegated somewhat, with Iron Man in particular becoming a far more serious and intense hero. This shift is a natural one though – after Iron Man 3 explored his post-Avengers PTSD, it makes sense that Stark isn’t as preoccupied with cracking jokes.
When compared to The Avengers, Age of Ultron doesn’t hold up quite as well. It ticks all the boxes, but it lacks the style and the charm of its predecessor, instead introducing a new dynamic to the MCU. With the number of Avengers appearing in the film almost doubled since Avengers, the fight scenes, while every bit as visually impressive as the standards set by the rest of the MCU, become a little chaotic, with characters becoming virtually interchangeable as they fight through hordes of Ultron’s drones.
The introduction of Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) was a welcome one, and both actors brought their characters to the screen convincingly. Taylor-Johnson in particular was excellent, bringing a blend of anger and petulance that perfectly embodies Quicksilver’s character.
Age of Ultron explores a number of themes, but none with any real conviction. There’s plenty going on, but every part of the film is quite transparently written to set up the next big set-piece (Hulk vs. Iron Man, the high-speed chase scene, the floating city), and the film goes through the constant ebb and flow of a film designed to deliver only at certain points.
That said, the film’s pacing isn’t all bad. Yes, there are numerous times when it simply seems to be taking its time in building to the next fight scene, but it’s enjoyable throughout, and it’s all relevant – even if those scenes aren’t overly important to the plot.
Age of Ultron is still a worthy entry into the MCU, and it introduces two of its major heroes in Wanda and Vision, but it is at times formulaic and predictable. While those moments don’t ruin the film, they do detract from its overall quality, and as much as Age of Ultron is an enjoyable film, it’s not one of the MCU’s high points.
Summary: A fun, easy-to-watch film, Age of Ultron is shallow in places – but overall, its story is well-written and it does a fantastic job of expanding the MCU.
Highlight: Hawkeye being given a little more attention pays off both comedically and dramatically, proving that the MCU has stories to tell outside of its most recognisable heroes – which, going forward, proved to be a big deal.