All superheroes seem to have one superpower in common: resilience. There is nothing stopping them from coming back onto our cinema screens, movie after movie, irrespective of how the last one fared. For the past couple of years, even television networks have jumped the bandwagon, producing shows like Arrow and The Flash, while online streaming giant Netflix has only recently released the first season of Daredevil for its subscribers.
If you don’t read comic books and don’t consider yourself a fan of these worlds, all the different films and shows can feel a bit like overkill at times. But then comes along Marvel Studios’ latest offering Avengers: Age of Ultron, a sequel to 2012’s The Avengers, which is so ridiculously entertaining that there should be no complaints. There truly is plenty to love here, especially the sheer wit of writer-director Joss Whedon’s writing.
Age of Ultron assembles all the main Avengers from the first outing. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) are by now a well-oiled machine and that shows especially in the first hour where the chemistry and camaraderie is most palpable (the hammer scene being a highlight). A lot happens concurrently, there is a lot of banter between the characters and the absolute energy pulsating from each frame instantly catches your attention.
Two new characters are also introduced, Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), who possess powers of their own. They are, in fact, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, respectively, the mutant twins from the post-credits scene of The Winter Soldier. As agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) explains in a later scene to Captain America, “He’s fast, she’s weird.”
Scarlet Witch causes a lot of chaos for the Avengers, using her mind control tricks to make them think all sorts of bad stuff. Iron Man is hit the hardest and he decides to restart an artificial intelligence peacekeeping programme called Ultron. His plan horribly backfires though, as Ultron (James Spader) becomes self-aware and decides to destroy Earth. So, the Avengers have to come back together once again and save the world. This time around, they are joined by Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), the twins and an Ultron-like being called Vision (Paul Bettany).
Like in the first film, the script is masterful. Whedon makes each character feel relevant — and there are many. What sets this film apart from similar superhero flicks is the calculated balance of completely over-the-top action-comedy scenes with a morally responsible social commentary. In one scene for example, Captain America is admonishing Iron Man for creating Ultron. He says, “Every time someone tries to win a war before it starts, innocent people die.” It’s undoubtedly an important thought, but he speaks such a powerful line right after he has ripped a log apart with his bare hands. So, while every noble gesture is to be taken with a pinch of salt in a film providing laughter for the same moment, it’s great that both elements work equally well.
The threat of Ultron is greater than Loki’s menace in the previous movie. The idea of self-awareness is a scary one; this entity that we have somehow created but do not fully understand turns on us. In a way, certain portions from the film evoke memories of last year’s iCloud scandal, when private photos of celebrities were criminally hacked and then made public. Technology is not as reliable and fool-proof as we think it is and Age of Ultron, though a superhero film, makes its well-rounded characters tackle big, topical issues. Of course in the first instance, the film is a romp, a thrilling ride, but it’s also deeper than most will give it credit for.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, April 26th, 2015.