AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON
Direction: Joss Whedon
Actors: Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo
They first assembled on the big screen three years ago to save humankind from annihilation. In the process, the titular team also raked in $1.50 billion at the global box office. Not surprisingly, the Avengers have reconvened for another installment of light-hearted escapism. As refreshing as an ice lolly on a scorching summer's day, Age of Ultron raises the ante for future comics-to-screen adaptations.
This time around, it's an artificial intelligence peacekeeping programme which turns out to be the cause of our planet's problems. Designed by the playboy inventor who moonlights as Iron Man (Downey Jr.), the eponymous mechanised force (voiced in chilling tones by James Spader) gives in to the power of the dark side.
Ignoring its primary aim of ensuring peace, the rogue megalomaniac decides that earthlings are the enemy and sets out to wipe them out once and for all. Can the band of mighty comic-book crime-fighters prevent a robot apocalypse? You don't have to be familiar with the mythology of Marvel's cinematic universe to enjoy the ensuing mayhem.
Besides jaw-dropping action set pieces, returning director/co-writer Joss Whedon infuses the dialogue with plenty of laugh-out loud one-liners. (Sample: at one crucial juncture during the climatic Armageddon, the shield-bearing World War II-era super soldier, aka Captain America, advises a colleague, "if you get hurt, hurt back; if you get killed, walk it off.")
The filmmaker also gets the viewer to invest in the character dynamics from the get-go. The budding romance between the gargantuan green-skinned Hulk (Ruffalo) and the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, sultry as ever) forms the emotional core of the narrative.
To further enliven proceedings there is jovial rivalry among the super-powered group with the anxiety-ridden Iron Man constantly reprimanded for his monstrous creation.
Among the older allies, count the hammer-wielding hunk (Chris Hemsworth), a veteran military commander (Samuel L. Jackson, still sporting an eye-patch) and an ace archer (Jeremy Renner) who now gets a back-story and more screen time.
Also unleashed into the fray are a few foes-turned-friends led by a mysterious mutant (Elizabeth Olsen) who uses her telekinesis skills to manipulate the minds of the do-gooders.
The A-list ensemble delivers assured, larger-than-life performances. Moreover, there are wonderful cameos by comics icon Stan Lee, Paul Bettany who portrays a cyborg clone and motion-capture maven Andy Serkis (from The Lord of the Rings trilogy) as an arms dealer.
Marvel geeks might be disappointed to learn that Joss Whedon has declined to direct the next two installments (Avengers: Infinity War Parts 1 and 2) of the blockbuster franchise which are slated for release in 2018-19.