The Avengers 2: Age of Ultron is fantastic entertainment and, like the first Avengers film, it can’t have the focus of one of Marvel’s solo outings, but Joss Whedon has nevertheless made a comic truly come to exuberant life. For being able to do that while managing such a huge script, he might have just made a milestone in the comic genre, albeit one with all the grace of The Hulk on a rampage! The moment in the opening scenes where the heroes slow-mo leap into battle could have been lifted directly from a page of wonderful, garish Jack Kirby inspired art.
There is no room here to focus on an individual character’s arc, that’s all been done in the last few films. Instead this is about exploiting all the hard work built up and having a ton of fun with it (each Avengers is the end of a phase and we’re moving into the third). The Iron Man, Captain America and Thor films range in quality, but have an identifiable style with an effort to progress the characters. There is little such progression in the Avengers films; shit happens and they deal with it, because from a character perspective this is their sandpit and the only point at which they are properly exploited to just be who they are. It’s a playground for the actors too and they must love being able to cut loose and keep their roles going, even if like Iron Man there are no more individual outings on the cards. The comics are just the same whenever they do a crossover. It’s the equivalent of throwing brightly coloured mud at a wall just to see what sticks. Compared with the likes of the superb Captain America 2, possibly Marvel’s best film, The Avengers 2 is a bit of mess, but then, it’s kind of supposed to be.
Marvel and DC comics in their daftest moments pile more and more super-people into increasingly absurd plots. Any one character on their own is treated with development and moral choices that can be emotional and affecting (take Peter Parker, haunted by an early decision that led to the death of his Uncle Ben), but once all the egos are together it’s balls-to-the-wall action, flinging themselves around, smashing stuff up and somehow claiming to take it all seriously. Welcome to comics. It’s awesome.
In film it’s hard to recreate that unbridled destructive joy and Whedon has done a phenomenal job to balance all those characters and keep it as fast and as fun as he does. Frothy and funny dialogue with narrative sleight of hand to use the least-super-person as the anchor (Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye) while developing a romance between Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) keeps the film from falling into noisy Transformers style nonsense. The set-pieces are jaw-dropping (Iron Man versus The Hulk is a stand-out; “Go to sleep! Go to sleep!”), while repeat viewings will bring out the details that are setting up the next few films, such as the seeds of distrust that will lead to the devastating Civil War storyline rumoured for Captain America 3.
And then we have nostalgic geek moments like bringing Vision to life. Vision is incredible and Marvel are almost vulgar in their confidence to be able to bring him into the mix! Paul Bettany is great in the role and must have loved the upgrade from phoning-in Iron Man’s voice-only PA to a fancy cape and a sunburn. I’m really looking forward to where he appears next, hopefully not far away from The Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen).
DC can claim to have the best individual film with Christopher Nolan’s magnificent The Dark Knight, but quite frankly, Zack Snyder cocked up Man of Steel and the trailer for Dawn of Justice doesn’t bode well. The relationship between Superman and Batman in the comics is brilliant and clever, but the new film appears to be as miserable and serious as the last one. They should always be different to Marvel of course, but can they be as much fun?