Avengers: Age of Ultron – good guys or just fakes in latex?

The blockbuster action-fighting genre has divided the general public for as long as it has graced our screens: The explosions, dramatic plot twists and attractive leading actors please the majority. The predictability, egocentrism and eternal focus on the microcosm that is America displease others. Whatever side of the fence you sit on, the second installment of Marvel’s biggest franchise definitely has something to tickle your taste buds.

Coming in blazing from the first few minutes, the opening sequence welcomes the viewer in with all of its weapons, extensive CGI and the impressive tally of victories for the Avengers in true Marvel fashion. The second side of the fence groans.The studios are aware of their might and are not afraid to show it. This results in pretty much flawless CGI, extremely entertaining storylines and characters that you grow fond of, become attracted to, and root for from the get-go. And there’s is no exception in Age of Ultron.

The viewer is eased back into the universe thanks to the characters’ trademark costumes, specific battle moves, and quick puns. Humour seems to have been prioritized in this installment, giving the heroes a refreshing edge, a slight pinch of salt in their super-sweet demeanours. It has to be said that a main selling point of the Avengers franchise is its familiarity and trademark characteristics, and the sheer length of the saga. Like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings or Star Wars, Avengers is a film franchise that has developed its own intense fanbase, whose expectations grow with each new installment.

This means that instead of having to fight through the masses to stand out amongst new releases, there is such hype around each new installment that box office success isn’t really questionable. Fans spend months on end creating their own sequels and storylines, so when the official installment finally graces the world with its presence, it’s the amateur screenwriters, the fans themselves who judge the writing, and see if it is indeed better than their own version of the story.

People come back to see big explosions, strong cheekbones, a happy ending. People buy a ticket to see this team of vigilantes overcome the problems of the world we live in, and prove that if you work as a team and believe in America, you can always beat the bad guy. The real question is, how are these superheroes going to save those on the other side of the fence and convince them that they really are the good guys and not just a bunch of fakes in latex?

The new big issue that was set to be introduced in this instalment was the threat posed by artificial intelligence, a growing issue in the world and an increasingly fashionable topic in film this year. And a favourite of mine. In the past, menacing villains have taken the shape of demi-gods and mutant creatures, all deemed inferior to humans on a mental level. The fact that here the threat is something that isn’t actually malleable by another human mind adds a new level of intensity and a true risk for the Avengers for the first time in the saga.

What works with using artificial intelligence as a form of antagonist is that it breeds from a human’s mind – and as creators as a race we can only assume that we are masters of our own creations. What is fascinating is that here, the Avengers are not. Ultron is born from Stark’s intentions of peace making which spiral out of control, creating a freethinking robotic life form dead set on destroying the edifices that the Avengers built for the world. Ultron grew from Stark’s mind and ultimately seems to have overtaken him and his intelligence, making him and his allies all the more vulnerable.

This newfound vulnerability makes the heroes more relatable and ultimately more likeable, as it shows that there are actual cracks in the mighty wall of humanity. For the first time, we are not actually sure if the Avengers will make it. This vulnerability that ultimately makes Age of Ultron a more human film also stems from the focus on characters, which may have been ever so slightly in the shadows in the previous installment, like Hawkeye, Black Widow and even Bruce Banner.

The choice to focus on Hawkeye’s personal life, including real-life love and family that seems to exist outside of the superhero bubble, softens the hard shell of superhero bravery and the heartless façade. Intelligence can be reproduced and developed but ultimately emotions cannot. This also shines through with the development of Natasha and Bruce’s relationship, ever complex and growing, adding a very interesting new situation and sub-plot to grow attached to.

When talking to the Guardian, writer Joss Whedon mentions the necessity of this new focus on human relations – Avengers is definitely about making good superheroes that promote good values, but it’s also and more importantly about making good films, by all means necessary. And now, for round 2, a bit more human emotion was crucial. Depicting model heroes that fight for the right things and win for the right reasons can only be a reproducible pattern that will work for so long until it feels worn out and overused.The values that the team of legends has previously been advocating actually become apparent and tangible here. All forces must come together to alleviate the Earth from the dark forces, created by man but that have spiralled way out of his control.

Another issue that raises concern here is that the film may gain from the emotional depth brought by the previously somewhat secondary protagonists, however having so many powerful figures could pose a risk of overcrowding the film, making it seem somewhat sloppy. This especially applies to the addition of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, both secondary but still very strong characters.

Where this could be considered a problem in other films, with writing such as Whedon’s the presence of so many strong characters only enhances the action: Each character has a slightly different narrative arc and set of relationships, and although fighting for the same things, each takes a different approach. Be it because of romantic involvements, family commitments, post-mortem responsibilities, each character has a clear motivation, which in this installment is believable and effective.

Although this has been the case in the previous installment and in superhero films in the past, here the links between the characters and their backstories are tastefully highlighted and made apparent, meaning that each character has more depth and meaning. No singular figure overpowers another as each represents a different and integral piece in a puzzle ultimately fighting for the same thing without being a generic pawn in the great game orchestrated by a main puppeteer.

And so we can say that on both sides of the fence will stand content viewers at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron. The film remains vibrant and fresh, providing 2 hours and 20 minutes of compelling action and entertaining storylines. This side has been enhanced with a focus on humour, a development of on-screen chemistry and more isolated distracting and amusing two to three-minute sketches.

On top of its energetic outer shell, the second installment of the Avengers tackles real issues and asks questions that leave the viewer actually interested about the answer – and not simply rolling their eyes before replying to a text message on their phone. The issues raised and ideas presented are gripping and genuinely fascinating, allowing the viewer to not only root for the superhero they find the most attractive, but actually warm to them and develop a true connection.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is the superhero film for the viewer who didn’t use to like superhero films: It is an amped-up 141-minute epic which will entertain, teach, shock and ask all the necessary questions while effectively distracting you from everything else happening in the world while in that room. Aiming to please all without taking any half measures, it’s gone that step further and proven that film is still evolving and can and will always get even better.

★★★★☆

Originally written as an assignment in first year of Film and Television Studies at Bristol University.

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