Joss Whedon returns to the director's chair for Avengers: Age of Ultron; the highly-anticipated sequel to 2012's Avengers Assemble (aka the third-highest grossing film of all time).
Envisioning a time when the Avengers can finally live out their days in peace, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) secretly starts the Ultron program. Intended as a shield around Earth, the advanced artificial intelligence instead decides it would rather wipe out the entire human race. Awkward. Voiced by James Spader, Ultron is undoubtedly the greatest threat that our heroes have faced to date. To make matters worse, he's teamed up with newcomers Pietro Maximoff / Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and his twin sister Wanda / Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). Armed with lightning speed and hypnotic magic, they bring a refreshing new dynamic to the equation.
Returning to action are (deep breath); Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Bruce Banner / Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Maria Hill (Colbie Smulders) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie). While the Avengers try their best to work together, their egos and differing ideologies ensure plenty of joyous personality clashes throughout.
While juggling a growing list of characters, we are also offered more glimpses into their pasts; particularly those of Black Widow and Hawkeye, who have yet to receive their own movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Avengers definitely feel more vulnerable and human this time round. With the stakes raised, it's not clear who will be able to overcome the odds, and if they do, at what cost...
The tone throughout is undoubtedly sombre and foreboding, making moments of levity that much more entertaining. One particular highlight involves the Avengers testosterone-fuelled attempts to move Thor's hammer to prove their worthiness.
From the opening scene, the action is intense and breathtaking. Everyone gets a chance to shine, which is impressive considering the mammoth cast. It's no secret that Tony Stark dons his Hulkbuster suit this time round, leading to a nerdgasm-inducing confrontation with an enraged ally.
Previously known as the voice of J.A.R.V.I.S, Paul Bettany finally gets some face time as Vision - a brilliant character that may even give the Hulk a run for his money as show-stealer.
My only criticisms would be that it'd be good to see the Avengers battle an equal number of Marvel villains with personalities rather than increasing hordes of robot cannon-fodder. The addition of Quicksilver and Scarlett Witch is a step in the right direction though. Also, with Pepper Potts and Jane Foster absent, the cast is still incredibly male-centric. Curious too is that despite the film's title, Ultron's age is never actually mentioned...
Already the 11th film in the MCU, Joss Whedon's latest entry is the best yet. Fast-paced, action-packed, emotionally-driven and relentlessly entertaining, Avengers: Age of Ultron is supremely epic. Long may this glorious Age of Marvel continue.