We know we should be mad at the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s perennial spanner-in-the-works for leaking the teaser for Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age Of Ultron. But we can’t stay mad at those lovable scamps for too long - and besides, Arnim Zola’s hackers have prompted the official HD release of the teaser for us all to enjoy, and for Empire to break down in our customary ever-scrupulous, really-should-get-a-life fashion. There’s a lot to talk about in this teaser for the movie which could well be 2015’s biggest film. So let’s get to it.
If you were one of the 6,500 people lucky enough to be crammed into Hall H back in July, you would have been privy to the Age Of Ultron footage that Kevin Feige and his illustrious cast brought with them. If you weren’t, well, this teaser is essentially a shorter version of that, shorn of the amusing intro where the team, and Don Cheadle’s James Rhodes, relax at Avengers Tower in New York and pass the time by trying to pick up Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir. You can still see glimpses of that footage in the teaser, for it is here that James Spader’s utter AI-hole, Ultron, makes his first appearance.
Also missing, although glimpsed at the end, is the stunning shot of Tony Stark standing over the fallen bodies of his comrades, in what looks like a vision/dream sequence. The shot of Captain America’s shattered shield at the end of the teaser comes from that sequence.
Joss Whedon has referenced both The Godfather Part II and The Empire Strikes Back (even though he professes to hating that film’s ending) while talking about Age Of Ultron, and it’s not hard to see why. Even though it’s something of a cliche for sequels to go down the darker route, when done well it can still work. From the off, the tone is the complete opposite of the bright breeziness that Whedon fostered in the first Avengers. A menacing voiceover, shots of people running and screaming in terror… it’s clear that Age Of Ultron is going to be a very different beast. In fact, the uninitiated may not even know that they’re watching an Avengers trailer until that first shot of Captain America about 15 seconds in.
With Tom Hiddleston’s Loki sitting this one out while he swans around on the throne of Asgard and Thanos not ready to duke it out with the Avengers just yet, it falls to a new villain to turn the Avengers’ collective smile upside down. Whedon has plumped for Ultron, a genocidal maniac of a robot whose clanking metallic boots are filled by James Spader. Origin retconned to fit into the MCU, Ultron was created in the comics by Hank Pym, aka Ant-Man. But with that character not due to debut until his own movie next July, Whedon has taken the entirely logical step of making Marvel’s alpha male genius inventor, Tony Stark, aka Captain Hubris, Ultron’s creator. He inadvertently gives Ultron life when trying to build an army of Iron Man-style robots that will protect mankind and render the Avengers obsolete - but, in the ultimate example of being careful what you wish for, the AI, infused with Tony’s own idiosyncrasies, rebels, and Ultron is the result. He’s super-smart, super-methodical, virtually indestructible, and has serious daddy issues with Mr Stark. The age of Ultron has begun indeed. "He's got a touch of the apocalypse about him," Whedon told Empire.
Early on in the teaser, we see Ultron as he first reveals himself, post-creation, to the startled Avengers. That’s him crushing the faceplate of Tony’s Iron Man armour, a symbolic gesture if ever we saw one. But at the end of the teaser, we see the finished article, mocking and malevolent, armed with perhaps the most powerful weapon of them all: Spader’s mellifluous voice. It’s like someone put Steven Toast inside the body of a Terminator.
Although the Avengers were constantly bickering and snapping at each other in the first movie, all their little scraps ultimately came to naught. Thor vs Iron Man and Captain America in the forest early doors? Just a big misunderstanding. Thor vs Hulk? Boys will be boys. But here, there’s already a real sense that the fractures in the group are going to be much larger, more serious and possibly even irreparable. Take Thor grabbing Tony Stark by the throat and lifting him off his feet, for example. Clearly hugging it out is not an option. And it’s hard not to blame Thor in a way - although we don’t know exactly why the Norse God of Thunder is pissed at Stark, the fact that Iron Man is, essentially, responsible for the potential destruction of humanity might have something to do with it. But the biggest scrap, by far, is…
This is the big one. Forget the Rumble In The Jungle. So long, the Thriller In Manila. Say hello to… The Blow-hannesburg in Johannesburg. Because, erm, it takes place in Johannesburg, and features some mighty blows. It’s the Hulk - Bruce Banner’s not-so-friendly green giant - vs Iron Man in his new, souped-up Hulkbuster armour. One of the most popular iterations of Stark’s armour in the comics, its debut here is bad news for fans of the Stark-Banner axis. They’re BFFs. They’re the Science Bros. So why are they duking it out? Well, Feige told us at Comic-Con that the Hulkbuster suit is a contingency plan, designed for the very day when Banner may no longer be able to control the Hulk. And, judging from the various shots of Mark Ruffalo looking troubled and haunted, that day may have finally come. "The Hulkbuster is from after my time [as a reader]," said Whedon. "But even I knew what a big deal it was. It makes sense because there's no-one who can really go up against Hulk, but more importantly, those guys are best friends, so what that battle is and what it means is fascinating to me."
Marvel, and Whedon, have been upfront about the Hulk-Hulkbuster fight from the off, releasing concept art very early doors. And it’s refreshing to see that we have finished FX shots of the big green guy at this early stage, when we didn’t see The Hulk at all until the very last minute first time around. But what they haven’t revealed is the outcome - will the Hulk, indeed, get busted? Will we get to see the Savage Hulk for the first time in the movies? And if so, just how will the Avengers deal with this threat from one of their own?
In the first movie, Loki’s alien army invasion was confined to Manhattan. Ultron’s attempt to conquer the world and eradicate mankind takes place on a truly world-spanning scale, with the Avengers scattering to the four corners of the globe to try to stop him. We’ve already seen that there’s going to be a big battle in South Africa, but also glimpsed here are scenes set in Italy, South Korea and the US. Do you get Avios for flying in the Quinjet?
We glimpsed them at the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, in that film’s post-credits tag, but this is our first proper look at Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as The Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. Although they’re mutants (and Magneto’s kids, no less) in the comics, here – due to the complicated rights situation that means Fox have already introduced their own Quicksilver in X-Men: Days Of Future Past – they’re products of genetic experiments by Thomas Kretschmann’s Baron von Stucker. But they quickly align themselves with Ultron, and use their powers (in the comics, Scarlet Witch can manipulate reality itself; here, she seems to be an incredibly powerful telekinetic; he’s a super-fast speedster who makes the WiFi on Virgin Trains look like dial-up) to make the Avengers’ lives even more complicated. "I fiercely dislike the idea of just throwing in more people for the sake of doing that", says Whedon. But last time I had all of Earth's Mightiest Heroes versus one British character actor, and I needed more conflict."
Fans of the comics may know that the siblings aren’t all bad, and soon become members of The Avengers. Whether it plays out that way in the movie is yet to be seen, but what is clear is that this version of Quicksilver will be very different from Evan Peters’ cocky, quippy X-Man.
Speaking of new blood, still no sign of Paul Bettany as The Vision, aka Stark’s former butler, J.A.R.V.I.S., made flesh by Ultron. They’ll be keeping him back for the next trailer, no doubt.
We don’t know who he’s playing yet – one Twitter wag suggested he could be reprising his role as Lumpy the Cook from King Kong – but this is a rare sighting of Serkis in the wild, unencumbered by CG or one of those silly little suits with the ping-pong balls. Serkis’ Imaginarium studio in England was instrumental in helping Ruffalo and Spader with their mo-cap work, and it’s good to see the great man show up here as well. Bet he’s playing a bad guy. That evil smirk just screams ‘up to no good’.
And an incredibly good one, setting the scene for the basic premise of the movie: something bad is coming, that something bad is called Ultron, and that something bad will kick The Avengers’ arses into the middle of next week. But it’s still just a teaser, holding back on a sense of the movie’s plot and its major money shots. And rightly so. In the meantime, we’ve got more than enough intriguing glimpses – Black Widow holding her hand up to Hulk’s, perhaps as an attempt to calm him down mid-rampage, perhaps as a way of saying goodbye; a shirtless Thor screaming in rage; Black Widow’s nifty ride-a-motorcycle-off-a-moving-plane trick; Nick Fury in a hat; Captain America doing his detective thing again – to keep us going for the next couple of months.