Joss Whedon's Avengers sequel comes with a lot of fanfare and some very high expectations. There's no denying Age Of Ultron is bigger, faster, stronger and louder than its predecessor -- but is it better? Now that the embargo has finally lifted click on for my take...

Marvel's Avengers: Age Of Ultron opens with quite an incredible action set piece involving all of our heroes attempting to retrieve Loki's sceptre from Baron Strucker. It's audacious, thrilling, funny, and just slightly ridiculous... and that's pretty much Joss Whedon's sequel in a nutshell.

As I said in my first post on this movie, your enjoyment of it will likely depend on how much of a Whedon fan you are. His signature style was evident in Avengers of course, but it seemed somewhat subdued (a good thing in my opinion) whereas here he just goes for it. While some scenes work brilliantly and have a natural flow to them, others come across a bit forced. Whedon seems to think that every second character exchange needs to be a witty/snarky comeback, gag or quip; and while, yes, these are frequently funny, too many just seems like overkill -- especially when the jokes go down like a lead balloon.

Fortunately along with the negatives, the positives are also amplified, and there is some truly great stuff on display here. Whedon obviously loves and understands these characters and manages to give them all a proper arc and something important to do. He's also clearly the actor's director he's been hailed as and coaxes fine performances from his entire cast; with Jeremy Renner emerging as one of the standouts. As you'd expect, there is some strong emotional stuff here (even if things threaten to get a bit schmaltzy on occasion) and very nice moments between Mark Ruffalo's Banner and Scarlett Johansson's Romanov in particular.

And what of our new cast members? Every superhero sequel needs more superheroes, and in this case it's Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch... though in an interesting twist on things they do start out as villains. We'll forgive the fact that Aaron Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen's accents are a bit wonky, because they do good work here. Olsen, especially, makes good use of her relatively small amount of screen-time to ensure her Wanda Maximoff is someone we'll be happy to see a lot more of. Johnson has his moment to shine too -- though Whedon (perhaps wisely) chooses not to try to match X-Men: Days Of Future Past's slo-mo set piece. We also get Paul Battany as Vision, and he's pretty damn awesome. I was never really a fan of this character in the comics, but how and why he's introduced here makes his addition that much more interesting.

Marvel doesn't have the best track record with villains, and though James Spader's Ultron doesn't belong at the bottom of the heap with Thor: The Dark World's Malekith for example, he's no Loki either! His motivations are definitely interesting and he's not a flat out evil bastard, but he's a tad too snarky to really come across as creepy or intimating. Ultimately, his purpose is to provide an army of disposable CGI suits of armor for the team to obliterate, and as tedious as that might sound to some of you, at least Earth's Mightiest do it in style.

No, action fans won't be disappointed. There are some really stunning battles, scraps and skirmishes to revel in, with the Hulk/Hulk-Buster scene just clinching the top spot from that highway chase involving Cap and Widow that we glimpsed in the trailers. Towards the end things do get a bit messy/rushed though, and some last minute developments only really end up making things convoluted. You may find yourself echoing War Machine's (ugh) completely out of place "yeah, what?" line before the credits roll.

In terms of sheer spectacle this is a worthy follow up to The Avengers, though it falls just short of matching it as far as overall quality goes. But, although I was left a tad disappointed, Age Of Ultron is still a blast from start to finish, and serves as a satisfactory Phase 2 finale and lead in to Phase 3. As always, see it in IMAX if at all possible.

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