The latest in our ongoing MCU round-up reaches Joss Whedon’s explosive Avengers sequel.
Tony Stark creates the Ultron Program to protect the world, but when the peacekeeping program becomes hostile, it’s left to the Avengers to go into action.
It’s never an easy thing to follow up a successful movie, especially one that has since become the fifth highest-grossing film of all time. Looking back, the excitement for Joss Whedon’s sequel to the box office-smashing Avengers Assemble was so great, so overwhelming, that when its trailer dropped on 2nd October 2014 it was viewed a whopping 34 million times in its first 24 hours on YouTube.
Was the hype justified? Avengers: Age of Ultron only has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 75%, 17% down from Avengers Assemble’s 92. Which means that, while people liked it, they didn’t love it in the way they did the first movie. Hell, even Joss Whedon himself appeared less happy with the finished product than the previous movie, saying “I think that did a disservice to the movie and the studio and to myself. The things about it that are wrong frustrate me enormously, and I had probably more of those than I had on the other movies I made.”
That said, it’s still a stellar movie, with one of Marvel’s better villains, the artificial intelligence program Ultron, voiced with velvet menace by James Spader, at the heart of it. And it feels bigger and more expansive than its predecessor, with location filming having taken place in South Africa, Italy, South Korea and the UK.
All told though, it seems the experience of making Age of Ultron was pretty tortuous for Joss Whedon, so stressful in fact that he opted out, not just of directing any more Marvel movies (the Russo brothers are taking over for next year’s Avengers: Infinity War), but of consulting on other MCU films. “I was a script doctor for a long time,” he said earlier this year, “and the part where they listen to you was very rare, so it was very important for my own self to go, ‘We can still be friends,’ but…”
We’re tempted to say James Spader, who breathed some charisma into what is essentially a formless AI threat, but we’ve got to give the gong to Jeremy Renner, who is finally given something meaty to do as Hawkeye.
That the movie gives us some juicy background detail about Hawkeye’s home life does help make amends for Whedon sidelining him so badly in Avengers Assemble (the character spent most of that movie possessed by Loki and so we had barely any time in which to get to know him), and any movie, even as one as packed as Age of Ultron is better with more Jeremy Renner.
It’s got to be the opening five minutes, where, in the Eastern European country of Sokovia, the Avengers are raiding a Hydra facility which is doing cruel experiments on people using Loki’s scepter. It’s an exhilaratingly choreographed sequence, with at least one shot that is almost framable in terms of its ‘Avengers-ishness’.
Unusually this is the only Marvel movie where two composers are officially credited on the soundtrack. Fast & Furious action veteran Brian Tyler was drafted in to add another rambunctious dose of orchestral mayhem following his rousing, acclaimed scores for Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World.
In March 2015 however an eagle-eyed viewer spotted one Danny Elfman credited on a pre-release poster. It seems the comic book expert, who defined the tone of the genre with his Gothic Batman, had been brought on board to craft a new 'hybrid' Avengers theme, one using as its basis Alan Silvestri's Avengers march from the previous film.
It was reported that due to scheduling overlaps with Fast 7 Tyler couldn't return to work on Age of Ultron. Regardless of the messy soundtrack situation the end result is an appropriately gargantuan and adrenaline-fuelled soundtrack that unifies our heroes in a sense of glorious Golden Age heroism.
Stan Lee cameo
Did you know?
Scarlett Johansson was pregnant during filming, so many of her scenes were scheduled early in the schedule, before she began to show. As filming went on, Marvel were forced to use CGI to hide her enlarged belly.
In the comics, Ultron was created by Dr. Hank Pym (AKA Ant-Man). In this film, however, Ultron is a project developed by Tony Stark.
Although the film borrows the title Age of Ultron from the 2013 comic book series, it’s not an adaptation. "We came up with a few titles,” said Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige, “but every month a new comic book appears, and 'Age Of Ultron' is a great title. We had a few other 'Of Ultrons', but that was the best one. So we're borrowing that title, but taking storylines from decades of Avengers storylines."
Andy Serkis makes his first appearance as black-market arms dealer Ulysses Klaue in Age of Ultron. He pops up again, briefly, in Captain America: Civil War, and will return again in next year's Black Panther.
Sadly, there’s no Loki in the film, making Age of Ultron the only Thor-starring movie in which Loki doesn’t appear. That said, Tom Hiddleston did film scenes, only they were cut before release. "In test screenings,” the actor recalled, “audiences had overemphasized Loki's role, so they thought that because I was in it, I was controlling Ultron, and it was actually imbalancing people's expectations."
Vision makes his first MCU appearance in Age of Ultron. Created by Ultron from Tony Stark’s AI operating system JARVIS, he’s played by Paul Bettany, who had voiced JARVIS ever since the first Iron Man.
What the critics said…
“With delectable James Spader voicing Ultron, a robotic artificial intelligence programme, and an opening sequence with The Avengers battling a terrorist group in a frozen wood, Whedon has more than delivered on his promise.” Daily Express
“It’s all operatically mad, and the city-destroying final confrontation is becoming a bit familiar, but Whedon carries it off with such joy and even a kind of evangelism. It’s a superhero cavalcade of energy and fun.”The Guardian
“Joss Whedon’s film gives you that same pop-culture sugar rush, stacking characters, conflicts, subplots and background treats like tiers of wedding cake – far more than you’d think you could possibly cram into a little under two and a half hours without the whole thing crumbling under the weight of its own calorie count.” The Daily Telegraph
“Bigger and, yes, darker than the first, this is less air-punchingly gleeful but probably more consistent. Thanks to Whedon and the most charismatic, compelling cast you'll find anywhere, Age of Ultron redefines the scale we can expect from our superheroes.” Empire
“You barely have time to draw breath between the spectacular set-pieces and mayhem. It’s a thrilling but occasionally exhausting experience that overloads the senses. And, as you’d expect, the effects are dazzling, particularly when seen through 3D glasses.” Daily Mirror
“Avengers: Age Of Ultron remains right at the top of its game. Forget the MCU, this is event cinema which puts Marvel right at the centre of our own, real-world cinematic universe.” Total Film