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Avengers: Age of Ultron should make $2 billion globally before it closes – more than the final Harry Potter film, more than Frozen, and more than the 2012 original. It should also be the biggest movie of the year in Australia and globally unless Star Wars: The Force Awakens gets in the way. Both are under the umbrella of the Walt Disney Company so for them, it’s really a win-win situation.

Astronomical figures aside, the film is epic across the board. Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L Jackson and Cobie Smulders return the fold after three years of their own adventures. Don Cheadle graduates from the Iron Man series to Avengers with seamless charm while dynamite supporting actors Anthony Mackie and Hayley Atwell are seriously underused in a film bursting at the seams with characters, plot and action.

hulkbusterHere’s the thing though: the action isn’t senseless. It’s incorporated into the story and accelerates the plot instead of Transformers-esque destruction porn. Points there for Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse and the writer/director of the both the original Avengers and Age of Ultron. He’s quoted as saying that for the first instalment he was initially unsure to sign up and which direction to take, but immediately he knew that the sequel would incorporate Quicksilver, Scarlett Witch and Vision.

That’s half of the six characters making their debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Maximoff twins Quicksilver and Scarlett Witch are a youthful and raw foil to the mix of seasoned pros, played by Kickass’ Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Godzilla’s Elizabeth Olsen. Vision, the most unique Avenger yet, was masterfully brought to life by Paul Bettany. Science fiction has always loved debating the ethics of artificial intelligence and the contrasts of Vision, JARVIS and Ultron gave it some meat to chew on.

Ultron is twice the villain Loki was – no easy task. He was equal parts merciless and hilarious, accounting for a portion of the film’s comic relief. The vocal work from James Spader is outstanding and the effects team blended Ultron’s human and mechanical elements excellently. Disappointingly, not even a namedrop of Hank Pym or in-film reference to “dormant peacekeeping program” mentioned in the synopsis. Still, from his pursuit of Vibranium to creating new life to his ultimate, abstract endgame Ultron delivered in spades. 

In this pursuit we meet our final two additions. On the side of good, Dr Helen Cho offers advanced medical aid to the team and Avengers-Age-of-Ultron-Trailer-1-Ultron-Avengers-Logo-620x370serves up a neat plot device half way through the film. Claudia Kim’s performance was on par – a tough feat with this crowd – and while underdeveloped is the wrong word, her character is ripe for exploration further down the line. Future Avenger Black Panther arch-villain Ulysses Klaw also entered the fray and experienced a portion of his origin without the audience ever feeling as though they were leaving Avengers: Age of Ultron.

That deserves a lot of credit. Marvel Studios have created an elaborate, intricate universe with a sprawling supporting cast each with backstories and motives and goals that cannot be accurately surmised in one Avengers movie. It balanced the plot so that Age of Ultron could act as a sequel without worrying about the other films in Phase Two – although a cameo from Gwyneth Paltrow or Tom Hiddleston wouldn’t have gone astray.

The core cast were expectedly excellent and continue to thrive on repeat performance, Johannsson especially. As one of the few Avengers without a headline film it is exciting to watch her foil with the team while filling in her backstory. Her dual performance with Mark Ruffalo was a highlight and gave the film a lot of heart. Downey Jr and Evans lead decisively, tiptoeing Civil War while still remaining chums by the time the credits rolled. Just like last time, Joss Whedon managed to give everyone a slice of the pie. Even Hawkeye.

In typical Whedon stlyle, a few meta-jokes flew at Hawkeye being the useless Avenger. Then he subverted the trope roughly twelve thousand times and cleverly fixed the biggest squabble over the first film. Hawkeye is now a really likeable and formidable character.

ultron3If anyone was a lone wolf it was Thor. Apart from acting as a deciding vote between Stark and Rogers the Asgardian spent most of his time battling armies or on solo missions that lead onto Thor: Ragnarok and eventually Avengers: Infinity War. His final words even foreshadowed the next instalment – that four Infinity Stones had appeared in such rapid succession.

For those counting, that’s the Tesseract (Space Gem), the gem formerly in Loki’s staff and now in Vision’s Head (Mind Gem), the Aether (Reality Gem) and the gem in the orb featured in Guardians of the Galaxy (Power Gem). It could be then inferred that Thor knows of Xandar, it’s near-miss with Ronan and the Guardians of the Galaxy. Maybe.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is an unabashed great time and everything anybody could ask of a sequel. It introduces a thousand new elements, amplifies others and spends half the time in beautiful character moments and the other half in blockbuster action spectacle. As a standalone film, a sequel to the Avengers or the eleventh chapter of an elaborate shared universe Avengers: Age of Ultron will not disappoint.

Avengers Age Of Ultron is showing in Australian cinemas now.