“There are no strings on me,” promised Ultron when the first trailer for ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ debuted last October and indeed there’s nothing holding down this sequel to one of the biggest films of all time. ‘The Avengers’ is one of my personal favourite movies ever and Joss Whedon’s return as director to the ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe’ doesn’t hold back with the stakes. 

When Tony Stark is manipulated into initiating an A.I. peacekeeping program, he inadvertently creates the film’s titular villain, a robotic menace the Avengers must stop at all costs. Ultron is a villain worthy of an ‘Avengers’ film and is played masterfully by James Spader. He oozes intimidation that Loki never had and while the motivation behind his destructive ways doesn’t have the pathos that we felt with Loki, it certainly has more logic to it than recent Marvel villains, Malekith and Ronan.

Like its predecessor, ‘Age of Ultron’ will endure well thanks to how well it balances its characters. It doesn’t do it as perfectly as the first film, mind, but it does have almost twice as many heroes and villains to deal with so that’s understandable.

Newcomers Wanda and Pietro Maximoff (Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver) are played well by ‘Godzilla’ stars Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson and are given the most attention by Whedon along with Ultron. It is strategic from a storytelling perspective to flesh these characters out most, Scarlet Witch is already a new favourite, but it does sadly mean that the old guard are relegated to back seats. That’s not to say they don’t have anything to do, but since Stark, Cap and Thor all have their own franchises, they are used here for story purposes far more than scenes deepening the exploration of their characters. Hulk, Hawkeye and Black Widow get more time in the spotlight in ‘Age of Ultron’ than they did in ‘The Avengers’ as a result, a welcome and much-needed correction of one of that film’s few flaws.

There is a meteoric rise in the action scenes in this instalment, bigger and louder than perhaps any other Marvel film to date, courtesy of its 250-million-dollar budget, and it is enough to leave you breathless yet wanting more at the same time.

But what Joss does best is character and every single Avenger gets something to do here. Most of these are great uses of their characters’ traits, with a particularly surprising role for Hawkeye trumping all the others (he’s pretty much the main character of the film this time). Thor gets the most useless one, though, taking a side quest that is pretty important to the MCU as a whole but of minuscule relevance to ‘Age of Ultron’, not to mention it serves the exact same purpose as a scene in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ and if you aren’t watching all of the MCU movies then you’re not doing it right.

The meandering second act is perhaps the undermining factor of the film altogether as it can’t quite work out what it wants to do until we get to the spectacular climax and the myriad of characters sometimes get in the way of one another. But it’s the ‘Avengers’ ultimately and any criticism is outweighed by just how fun it is to watch these guys do their thing.

It’s not surprisingly funny in the way the first one was, there are jokes throughout but none as hilarious as “Puny God” or “I understood that reference”.

It is a solid attempt to follow up a film that was impossible to follow up. So much is still left unsaid here that I want to say but if you’re a Marvel fan like me there really is only one thing I can say: “Avengers, Assemble!”

READ: Daniel’s Review

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