And so the Marvel Cinematic Universe juggernaut rumbles on. Its cynics remain (they’ve been there since it started, and will never go away), and in fairness a certain element of superhero fatigue may have started to set in, but the interconnected film franchise now numbers eleven films, with a twelfth out in a couple of months. As a series, it has out-grossed any other in history, including the 23-film James Bond franchise and the hugely successful Harry Potter movies, so its financial success is unquestionable, but what remains even more impressive is the pretty high level of quality Marvel Studios have managed to sustain. They’ve yet to churn out a true dud, though some of their instalments are distinctly average, despite going in some risky directions and making some brave choices with actors and directors.

Until recently, the standouts were the first Iron Man¬†and the first Avengers¬†films, but last year they seemed to raise the bar somewhat with the wildly different but actually quite artistically daring one-two of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (which brought a topical and resonant political subtext to the table and hugely shook up the status quo) and the joyous Guardians of the Galaxy (the studio’s riskiest project yet, and tellingly its most enjoyable). Say what you like about the films being too similar, or getting too complicated, or the fact that there’s just too many of them – as long as they remain as resolutely entertaining as they are, and continue to make interesting artistic decisions, it’s unlikely that audiences or this blog will get tired of them.

Age of Ultron attempts to do a similar job to its predecessor – it’s essentially a balancing act of giving appropriate character service to the various members of the Avengers team, while upping the stakes enough so that rather than fighting their own individual battles the team faces a more global (even cosmic) threat. This is getting harder and harder to do – there are now six members of the core team with two major allies and three new characters introduced here, not to mention the new antagonist. That’s a writer’s nightmare, and it’s to the enormous credit of Joss Whedon (also directing here again) that he does a mostly terrific job of allowing each of these larger-than-life people an opportunity to evolve over the course of the film. In fact, the few scenes that are genuine character ensembles are by far the best – watching the team unwind at a party and take the piss out of each other is surprisingly more entertaining than watching them fight people.

Not that the action scenes are at all lacking – as is becoming par for the course for Marvel movies now, the level of scale and spectacle on display here is pretty first-rate. Whedon also never loses track of personalities amongst all the sound and fury – each of his characters remain very individual in their approach to things, whether it’s awkwardly managing social situations or fighting hordes of aggressive robots. There’s some interesting subtext going on too – a reasonable attempt at exploring the nature of artificial intelligence (embodied by a memorable and darkly amusing villain in the titular Ultron), as well as a strong sense of humour throughout – it’s practically a straight-up comedy for much of the running time. So while the various subplots (inserted to set up future movies and continue the smooth development of the series) occasionally make things a little unfocused, this is yet another remarkably strong entry into a franchise that is going to stay with us for some time yet.

Yet more top-quality superhero escapism8
An almost miraculous demonstration of plate-spinning character development9
A consistent and really quite essential sense of humour throughout9
The whole franchise is getting remarkably complicated now...7
But who honestly cares when it's this much fun?9
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
  • The female characters talk to each other
  • They talk about something other than men
Bechdel Test Failures
  • n/a
8Overall Score

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