Film of the Week: Avengers: The Age of Ultron (12A) ****

Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner and Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark

Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner and Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark

Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleeson in Hampstead.

Cinema and TRAILER: Keaton brings the common touch to the Heath in tale of London life

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The roaring success of last year’s Guardians Of The Galaxy confirmed that our appetite for films set in the Marvel Comics universe is voracious.

The roaring success of last year’s Guardians Of The Galaxy confirmed that our appetite for films set in the Marvel Comics universe is voracious.

This eagerly anticipated sequel to the 2012 action adventure Avengers Assemble is poised to smash box office records with the same unstoppable clobber of a rampaging Incredible Hulk.

Director Joss Whedon is back at the helm to lay the narrative groundwork for the 2016 blockbuster, Captain America: Civil War, which will tear the eponymous team apart as governments worldwide prepare to pass an act regulating superhuman activity.

In many respects, Avengers: Age Of Ultron is business as usual.

Whedon’s film fleshes out the back stories of existing characters, introduces new friends and foes to the fray, and continues the relentless cross-pollination of this menagerie of mighty misfits.

While the sequel delivers exactly what we expect, it lacks some of the pizzazz of the first film and pacing noticeably sags in the middle

Marvel Comics chairman Stan Lee makes his traditional cameo and Whedon’s script glisters with polished one-liners.

While the sequel delivers exactly what we expect, it lacks some of the pizzazz of the first film and pacing noticeably sags in the middle, plus overly enthusiastic editing of set pieces reduces some skirmishes to an incomprehensible blur, which strain the eyes in 3D.

In the breathless action sequence which opens the film, the Avengers storm a Hydra stronghold in the central European city of Sokovia under the control of Baron von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) in order to reclaim Loki’s magical staff, the Chitauri Scepter.

During the melee, emotionally scarred siblings Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Pietro Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who have been subjected to secret Hydra experiments, are unleashed.

Wanda infects the mind of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), using her dark sorcery to convince the billionaire that he will bring about the deaths of the entire team.

Tormented by his nightmarish vision, Stark secretly plans to harness the power of the Chitauri Scepter to awaken a dormant artificial intelligence program to protect mankind.

Instead, Stark unwittingly unleashes the villainous Ultron (voiced by James Spader). Steve Evans aka Captain America (Chris Evans) clashes with Stark for control of the Avengers, comprising Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Natasha Romanov aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Dr Bruce Banner aka The Incredible Hulk and Clint Barton aka Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).

By introducing a hulking automaton arch-nemesis, Avengers: Age Of Ultron duplicates some of the large-scale digital destruction of the Transformers franchise.

Spader’s vocal performance lends gravitas to his mechanised megalomaniac while Downey Jr predictably snaffles the majority of the droll quips.

Meet Marvel’s finest

The latest instalment in the Marvel Comics franchise is set to be spring’s mammoth blockbuster.

It’s been three years since Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk, Captain America, Hawkeye and the Black Widow, banded together in The Avengers.

Now the sequel’s almost upon us, and it’s set to be even bigger and better than their last outing.

Not sure who’s who? Let us introduce you...

- Robert Downey Jnr is Iron Man

Iron Man’s brought to life by billionaire playboy genius Tony Stark, who’s created an electromechanical suit that transforms him into a human robot.

When we meet up with him, Stark, the Avengers’ co-leader and benefactor, is still feeling guilty from the fallout of the Battle of New York in the last film.

In an effort to restore peace, he tries to jump-start Ultron, a dormant peacekeeping programme with the help of Dr Bruce Banner, aka The Hulk.

- Chris Evans is Captain America

Steve Rogers was too sickly to fight in the Second World War but, after agreeing to play guinea pig, was physically enhanced by an experimental serum, to become the super-soldier known as Captain America.

Frozen for decades, he awoke to find himself in the modern era and continues to try and come to terms with living in a world he doesn’t fully recognise.

- Scarlett Johansson is Black Widow

The super-spy of the team, Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, doesn’t have any ‘super’ powers as such, but her intelligence and lethal fighting ability ensure she can more than keep up with the boys.

Producer Kevin Feige says we can expect to see more of Black Widow’s backstory explored in the sequel.

- Mark Ruffalo is The Hulk

The Hulk was born when genius scientist Dr Bruce Banner, was exposed to radiation that turns him into a green monster whenever angry.

Keen to keep The Hulk in check, Banner’s brought in new protocols, such as listening to calming classical music. But will it prove enough?

- Chris Hemsworth is Thor

The hammer-wielding god Thor continues his work with the Avengers in order to protect the human race.

He warns the other Avengers of threats and acts as their moral compass, questioning the team’s actions.

- Jeremy Renner is Hawkeye

After having his mind controlled by supervillain Loki in The Avengers, Hawkeye now has full control of his thoughts. A superhuman archer, with the ability to fire augmented arrows with precision, Hawkeye will prove to be a vital part of the team when they go up against Ultron.

- Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson are twins, the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver

Scarlet Witch’s superpowers include telekinesis and hypnosis. Her twin brother Quicksilver is faster than the speed of light – when he wants to be. They want to stop the Avengers, believing they are bringing destruction to the world.

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