Director: Joss Wheedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, James Spader, Elizabeth Olson, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Paul Bettany
Like all comic book stories, Avengers: Age of Ultron (AOU) does not shy away from its dual responsibility as a vehicle for social commentary as well as entertainment. Thinly veiled behind its excellent special effects, action set-pieces and rip-roaring adventure, lie the foundation of Marvel's recent superhero success stories: characters with flaws, stories that touch a contemporary nerve and a strong moral centre. AOU picks up from the previous instalment (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), which saw the destruction of SHIELD and The Avengers are now a close-knit team working to tie up the loose ends of HYDRA's influence. In the exciting opening sequence, all Avengers mount an attack on the last remaining HYDRA stronghold in order to retrieve Loki's sceptre and bring about the return of peace and security to the world. Little do they realise that success would bring further danger to the world, from within the Avengers themselves.
This brings us to the pivotal point in the film where parallels with our own governments' attempts to bring order and security through technology, intrusive laws and an unhealthy dose of paranoia, leading to a difficult question: Just how far should the human race go in protecting ourselves, and in doing so, are we causing more harm than good? For Tony Stark/Ironman (Downey, Jr.), who witnessed first-hand the alien invasion in the Avengers Assemble, the Human race only barely scraped through. He and Bruce Banner/Hulk both share the belief that a global defence system capable of protecting Earth's inhabitants is the solution. Things go disastrously wrong when the artificial intelligence behind Loki's sceptre merges with Stark's proposed defence system, creating Ultron, an android whose interpretation of his programming determines that humanity's aggressive nature is really the biggest threat to itself, and thus needs annihilating on a biblical scale. Naturally, the rest of the Avengers are fairly nonplussed by this incident, causing a rift in their alliance, benefiting Ultron, who plays on their weaknesses.
Enter two youngsters with special powers (and a grudge against Stark) who join Ultron's side, and the Avengers are, frankly, a right mess. When Hulk, under the influence of Scarlet Witch's (Olson) magic, dukes it out with Ironman in full public view, the damage is not only measured against buildings, but their reputation. With public support waning, the Avengers withdraw to assess their options. Can and should the public trust these "unregulated" superheroes? Who should be responsible for dealing with security threats when the solution itself becomes dangerous? Thankfully, they wouldn't be called heroes if they didn't have some sort of moral compass guiding them the right way, and with Ultron's megalomaniacal circuits already planning and plotting mass destruction, it doesn't take long for the Avengers to convince the rest of the world whose side they are on.
A gripping finale demonstrates just what teamwork and sacrifice is all about and how much superheroes are still needed in these dangerous and uncertain times, even if some redemption and learning from past mistakes is required. This is more than just a gung-ho action movie featuring flamboyantly dressed soldiers, but a carefully crafted allegory of the danger of absolute power, the strength one can find in failure, and the importance of love and friendship. Played with genuine affection for the characters, and filled with tongue-in-cheek humour and Marvel references for the fans, this is a highly enjoyable and accessible entry to the Marvel Cinematic Universe for any film lover. Ignoring the underlying themes discussed here, it's still a cracking actioner from start to finish! Roll on Phase Three...
© 2018 Chris Sandles