Avengers: Age of Ultron.
(Contains heavy spoilers for Age of Ultron.)
So, with the film now having been out in the UK and elsewhere for over a week, and in the US for a couple of days, it's probably safe to write and post this review, right? Right.
The last (?) film of Marvel's Phase Two, Age of Ultron sees the world threatened when Tony Stark is driven to create a dangerous AI: Ultron. Abandoning his purpose of protecting the planet, Ultron sets out to destroy the Avengers and menace the world, with the help of two superpowered siblings, the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, who have their own issues to take up with Tony. Actually, the film could very aptly be called 'Tony Stark Ruins Everything', and that might well be its subtitle in certain countries.
Right, I did really enjoy this film, but before I begin praising it I do have to talk about the one, big thing that really dragged the film down for me. If you've seen Age of Ultron, you most definitely already know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, then, er, maybe go watch it before reading this review? I don't know, you do you, man.
I am, of course, of course, talking about the Natasha/Bruce romance subplot. Where do I even start? Possibly with how the film tries to act as if they've always had incredibly unsubtle romantic subtext, going so far as to have numerous other characters comment on how it's totally obvious to everyone, when actually if you had asked me how they felt about each other before now I would have told you that they're the two Avengers who like each other the least. But no, by the time the film starts, they are in a relationship in all but name, and have been for some time, it seems.
|These two look as exasperated as I feel.|
The second thing to mention is how clumsy it is. It's ungraceful enough that the film tries to pretend this isn't totally out of the blue, but in order to make the romance work, they distort Natasha completely out of character, making her come across as, well, desperate. It's uncomfortable to watch, and it only gets worse when they throw in 'Oh, by the way, I can't have children, ergo we should get together' (I'm not kidding, that's pretty much the conversation boiled down to a sentence) and 'Let's run away together, Bruce, thus disregarding all of my character development.'
It's uncomfortable, and unpleasant. It's also disappointing to me personally, because I've praised how the MCU has written women and especially Natasha before, but I have to admit that there is not a snowball's chance in Hell that these kind of character-twisting shenanigans would take place with a male character, and there is no film where a romance subplot hinges on a male character having had a vasectomy.
Bleck. Let's talk about the things I did like, which was near enough everything else. While the trailers set the film up to be very dark - and is tinged slightly darker than the first Avengers film - it's still a very light-hearted film, peppered liberally with humour from start to finish. Ultron in particular, as performed by one-time Stargate archaeologist James Spader, is as hilarious as he is disturbing, having a kind of affable, wry charm that is very visibly modeled on his creator. Possibly my favourite moment in the film comes when, in a fit of rage, Ultron tears off a man's arm - immediately he switches to frantically apologising, assuring the man that he's sure it'll fit back on, and generally acting as if the whole thing is a social faux-pas akin to spilling wine on someone's carpet, before awkwardly changing the subject.
|Tiny adorable baby.|
Most of the funniest moments in the film come courtesy of Ultron, actually, but not all of them. Tony and Thor have a great moment where they cheerfully attempt to one-up each other with their respective girlfriends' achievements, culminating in Thor gravely remarking "Jane is better, though,"; Steve gets a running joke about bad language; Natasha gets no shortage of sarcastic quips.
Which is good, because I think Marvel's greatest strength has always been its humour. That said, the film handles drama very well too - the fight scenes are excellent, the strife between the cast feels very real (and gratifyingly doesn't end with 'Steve was right all along'), and Ultron is a character with surprising amounts of pathos. His conversation with the Vision near the end of the film is both very engaging and very sad, but more than that, his interactions with the twins humanises him in a very touching way: Ultron genuinely and deeply cares for them. While it initially becomes apparent when he patiently and silently listens to their stories, it really gets hammered in when, lying defeated, he urges Wanda to flee, lest she be caught in his plan and perish.
It mirrors something that I've been saying since the first Avengers film, which is that Tony stands out from the rest of the team by how compassionate he is, not on a wider level so much as an individual one - a key scene of that film, after all, is Tony attempting to convince Loki to give up on a plan that he knows is doomed to failure. Ultron, despite being utterly insane, is just as compassionate, maybe even moreso, and we see that same compassion reflected in the Vision, as well. It's a nice continuation of Tony's character arc, and it makes Ultron's death genuinely sad.
|Well, these two look awkward.|
The film very clearly leaves things on a note that's meant to set up Infinity War, with the Avengers now aware of a wider plot involving the Infinity Gem, and a new team of Avengers ready (well, 'new' - you can be that at least four out of six of the original Avengers team are going to be on that team), which is fine, we all knew that a sequel was coming.
All in all, a very good film, apart from a few niggles and one glaring, unpleasant, disquieting flaw that really can't be overlooked.