When you have the huge success of Marvel’s Avengers (or Avengers Assemble depending on which country you saw it in), where do you go next? Go bigger? Go darker? More plot? More characters? More explosions?
It’s a question that must have given Joss Whedon some head-scratching, lie-awake-for-hours nights. Whether he got the answer right is debatable (especially given reports that there was meddling from studio management), but he’s given it a good stab, ending up with a film that is enjoyable and engaging, but doesn’t perhaps quite have the ‘complete story’ feel that the first film had.
There’s a lot going on from the very beginning – we’re thrown right into an Avengers mission against Hydra which leads to the unfortunate creation of Ultron. There are a lot of characters in the film. Not only do we have the main six Avengers from the first film, we have the introduction of two potential new Avengers (albeit on the wrong side at first) in Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, plus the reintroduction of other characters from previous Marvel Cinema Universe films, such as War Machine and Falcon. That’s without mentioning the new character/Avenger who comes about as a result of the film’s events (I’m trying not to be too spoilery here!).
In fact, by the end of the film, there’s a distinct feeling that the Avengers team we see now is largely different to the one that starts the film. Some of the people absent at the end will, no doubt, be brought back by the time of the Infinity Wars films.
The film is so jam-packed with ‘main characters’ (and would have had more if Whedon had had his way) that part of a scene early on goes into unexpected length as to why neither Pepper Potts or Jane Foster are present.
While the Ultron storyline is a big bang wallop sort of a story, full of the requisite explosive action, it’s actually only one part of a multi-stranded plot, with different characters all going on emotional journeys.
Tony Stark is very much at fault for inadvertently creating Ultron. This comes from a good place – a desire for a world where the Avengers just aren’t needed – but causes the movie’s main problem for the team to solve. And sadly, Stark gets away without any real consequences.
Captain America’s storyline is, in some ways, weaker. It’s a continuation of his adjustment to the modern world (which gives an opportunity a cameo for Hayley Atwell’s superb Peggy Carter), coupled with his developing role as head of the Avengers.
Black Widow and Hulk’s stories are mainly intertwined and largely about both romance (which has brought some of the internet audience out in Tourette-like hives) and how they both learn to live with their past and who it has made them become. By the end of the movie, Black Widow has been torn apart emotionally.
Thor… well, he’s just Thor when it comes down to it. Which is generally enough. Even if there is the oddly-segued subplot of his dip in a pool which is basically just a set up for his next solo film (and as Whedon pointed out, was forced on him).
Hawkeye probably gets the most character development of the lot – possibly to make up for the fairly appalling way the character was treated in the first Avengers movie (and how Renner felt about that). It’s great to see where the character is taken and the background he is given, even though this left me convinced all the way through that this meant he was going to die.
I could quite easily not write about Iron Patriot and Falcon for the amount they appear in the movie. In fact, I’ve almost written more here than how much they turn up for…
What of the new characters?
The twins, Pietro and Wanda, aka Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, are an interesting pair to add to the mix, especially as they start on the wrong side, before realising the error of their ways. Quicksilver’s background is markedly different to the version seen in X Men: Days of Future Past, but still interestingly done. Scarlet Witch is more key of the two, causing much of the mischief for Ultron early on (and impacting on most of the major characters in different, serious ways) and then markedly changed herself by a dramatic change later in the film. Although her powers are perhaps a little undefined…
The Vision is… well, we’ll have to wait and see. As a by-product of Ultron’s destruction, he is potentially ‘worthy’ (at least in the sense of being able to lift Thor’s hammer), but doesn’t at this point have a lot of character. Paul Bettany (who has also played the voice of Jarvis in the Iron Man and Avengers films) does what he can with relatively little. The final scene suggests, however, that he will have more of a part to play in future films (especially given recent news that the third Captain America film will be an Avengers movie in all but name).
Amongst all the bang, smash, wallop (and I don’t just mean Hulk going off on one), there is Ultron, the unfortunate and accidental creation of Stark (who, frankly, should have known better than to play with Hydra creations in the presence of Loki’s staff). He starts off anguished, but soon becomes a plain old unstoppable monster. The addition of some good lines and James Spader’s sardonic tones help a little, but (with so much else going on) Ultron doesn’t really light the screen up as a first-class villain.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to like about the film, but it can’t quite live up to the self-contained fun of the first Avengers movie, with something of an overload of characters and character arcs, with plenty of bang and, when it comes down to it, not a lot of plot.
If you haven’t seen it, it’s definitely worth a watch, though.