It’s been several months now since Avengers: Age of Ultron was released in cinemas.
We’ve had another Marvel movie since then (Phase II closer Ant-Man), and everyone is starting to look ahead to Captain America: Civil War next year, which promises to be perhaps the most highly anticipated instalment yet, given the provocative and tantalising nature of the set-up (Avengers vs Avengers!)
As such, with the home release of Age of Ultron, it’s a good time to reassess the second big centrepiece of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – not to mention take a look at the Blu-ray extras.
Now that the dust has settled, it’s difficult to really feel passionately about Age of Ultron one way or the other. It gets some things right, it gets some things wrong. It’s a perfectly serviceable entry into the Marvel saga, and remains more than slick and entertaining enough to pass away a few hours, but it never transcends the genre quite like 2012’s Avengers Assemble did.
Or perhaps it’s merely that we’ve seen it all before – both in terms of the Avengers gang all operating together, and in terms of these characters and the superhero genre in general. It’s good, but it’s definitely a case of diminishing returns.
On the plus side, as the franchise’s new additions, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are a resounding success. Elizabeth Olsen, in particular, makes a big impression as the powerful Witch, while even Aaron Taylor-Johnson is passably engaging as the speedster – so much so that it’s almost a shame he won’t be around for the follow-up. Still, it’s about time a hero actually died in a Marvel film, so Ultron gets props for that.
The film remains the story of the more human Avengers: Bruce Banner, Natasha Romanoff, Clint Barton. The character work for The Hulk and Black Widow remains strong, and while Romanoff’s back-story is a bit of a mess (she’s supposed to have had her secrets exposed at the end of Winter Soldier, but that’s never mentioned here), Scarlett Johansson and Mark Ruffalo work well together.
But this is arguably Jeremy Renner’s film. Hawkeye is revealed to have a cosy hidden family life, which gives the team something tangible to fight for; a symbol of everything they’re trying to save. The relatable humanity of Barton’s life is what the film hinges on. Vision, meanwhile, is a less human face, but it’s great to see Paul Bettany finally step out in front of the cameras, even if his Vision doesn’t have a huge amount to do here (there’ll be plenty more to come, no doubt).
On the other hand, the action feels uninspired – Hulk vs. Hulkbuster aside – and the humour isn’t as vibrant as it once was. A running joke about Cap calling out Stark on his language falls flat, and seems to lack any real punchline, while Ultron himself is played a little too much for laughs.
James Spader does great work providing the voice, but the way the character is written seems inconsistent. If this was an attempt at conveying Ultron’s dual psyche – he’s half Jarvis, half Stark – then the film doesn’t go far enough down that road, and he just comes off disjointed, as if the writers couldn’t decide on an angle.
The changes and cuts that were made to the film unfortunately still stand out glaringly, and sequences like Thor and Dr. Selvig’s trip to a magic underground pool remain bafflingly incoherent, while Andy Serkis’ Ulysses Klaue is one character too many for the film. He’ll appear again in future films (most likely the upcoming Black Panther) but surely we could have waited until then for his introduction.
As for the extras, the main attraction is a documentary covering the making of, which isn’t terribly in-depth on any one facet, but does offer a pleasingly wide spread over the film’s production.
Thus we get lots of behind the scenes footage of the ensemble working against green-screen (and it’s still amusing to see, for example, Scarlet Witch throwing balls of energy around without the CGI attached – she’s just dancing at the bad-guys!), while we also see how Paul Bettany is transformed into The Vision (it’s more complex than you might expect). It’s very apparent how much fun everyone has on set, and just being able to glimpse the gang palling around with each other is worth forking out for.
The documentary also takes us to several of the filming locations around the globe, including our very own London, in which a sprawling set was constructed on an old housing estate. While much of the film is CGI, physically seeing such a phenomenal set with superheroes running amok and explosions going off in real life is quite something to behold.
There’s another short documentary that looks at the shooting locations, but it’s largely just repeating footage from the first one, and feels a little superfluous. And, of course, there’s the obligatory gag real, which is gently amusing, but also feels rather perfunctory in this case.
The deleted scenes, too, are something of a mixed bunch. For the most part, they’re simply extended scenes, and there’s nothing terribly exciting. A scene between Cap and Maria Hill gets an extended cut, and is much better for it, allowing for some neat character work, while Thor’s much-derided trip to the magic pond is given some context that helps it make far more sense.
There’s still no sign of the mystery woman glimpsed in early trailers – and fans expecting a Loki cameo are to be disappointed – but it fills in enough of the gaps in Thor’s narrative in the film to be significant, and gives Chris Hemsworth some different notes to play.
Ultimately the extras are very similar to the film; they’re perfectly satisfactory. Without the hype machine blaring, and the instant, reactionary backlashes, Avengers: Age of Ultron is just okay.
“Yes”, you’ll think. “That was a Marvel film”. And then you’ll get on with your life and wait for a better one to come along. If Avengers Assemble was the blockbuster in its purest, most deliriously entertaining form, Age of Ultron is a step down. But this a Marvel film, and there are too many good people involved in making it for it to ever be bad.
This is the tricky middle chapter out of the way, and there are surely only better things to come for the MCU.
Released on 3D Blu-ray™, Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 14 September 2015.
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