It would have been easy for Avengers: Age of Ultron – the sequel to Marvel’s franchise mega-hit Avengers Assemble – to rest on its laurels. Thankfully, Avengers 2.0 improves on its predecessor on many fronts even if it doesn’t fully recapture the magic of the 2012 endeavour.
Whereas it took a little while for Avengers Assemble to get going, the opposite is true for the sequel. We begin with a Bond-esque opening skirmish between our heroes and HYDRA cronies that ends with the recovery of Loki’s scepter and a party to remember. But when Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) attempt to use the power of the scepter to jumpstart a peacekeeping program, the inadvertent result is Ultron (James Spader), a highly intelligent robot hell-bent on human extinction. Making matters worse, Ultron joins forces with powerful Maximoff twins Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen).
Where Captain America: The First Avenger was an efficient if slightly underwhelming piece of superhero entertainment, the star-spangled hero’s second solo outing helmed by Community’s Anthony and Joe Russo is an altogether different beast; multi-layered and action-packed, it’s Marvel’s best standalone film yet and easily the best representation of the character on screen thus far.
While Thor returned to Asgard and Tony Stark retreated to his armoury, Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans) has been working for S.H.I.E.L.D since the events of New York whilst trying to acclimate to the modern world. When a colleague comes under attack and conspiracy is suspected, Steve goes rogue and teams up with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in a bid to expose the corruption, a mission made more difficult when an old friend from his past re-emerges as a formidable adversary – the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan).
Our culture’s increasing reliance on technology has been a heavily utilised plot point in cinema for quite a while, the most prudent example being the Terminator franchise. With Her, Spike Jonze – here directing from his own script for the first time – has tackled the topic in a much more intimate fashion, and the result is a gloriously original and imaginative examination of love and human connection that, whilst perhaps not being ideal date-material, will have a wide appeal.