Avengers: Age of Ultron ★★

The embargo's finally lifted so I can share with you all my surprising take on the second Avengers flick: it's shite.

Now calm down, I will be fair; there are some improvements on the first one, which I hated with a burning passion. The awful 'witty' dialogue has been toned down for the most part. The treatment of the characters is more sympathetic to their solo adventures, if not canon. The Hulk, written backwards from one of those oh-so-witty lines in the first film, is redrawn here as the classic tragic child-in-a-monster's-body; Hawkeye is not the one from Matt Fraction's superlative comic run, but at least gets a respectful role in the story.

Even the story is an improvement in being marginally less convoluted than its predecessor, though it does gets stupider and more illogical as it progresses (I mean, even if you can suspend disbelief for a movie about an evil robot battling a team of superheroes).

That's because Joss Whedon just can't help himself. For all his improvements - in de-Buffy-ing the first film's bland fight staging, in shooting with a wider angle and finally grokking how not to frame so tightly - he still can't eschew his trademark flaws. For instance, there's still too much wisecracking from characters who just don't talk like that (Thor especially: he's far too self-aware in Whedon's hands, when the whole point is that he should be oblivious to his pomposity. What's so difficult about that?).

The worst offender is the lead villain, the dastardly robot Ultron (voiced by James Spader), who should instil fear in the hearts of all who are good and true, but is mostly a vessel for Whedon to slash wildly at the tension with all the subtlety of a baboon. Indeed, subtlety is not a concept Whedon appears to get; what would be a background hint in another filmmaker's vision is boldly underlined for your convenience by a director who's fine for '90s TV but has yet to show any real flair for cinema.

There's also an argument to be made that the film is racist by ignorance. So many white people - all bar one, Samuel L Jackson in his usual cameo as Nick Fury (Don Cheadle and Anthony Mackie are even further in the back, and decidedly put in their place). Not to mention a flying visit to Wakanda, which while in itself is a blessedly contemporary treatment of a modern African city (it was filmed in Johannesburg, so gleaming skyscrapers instead of crime-ridden slums) is still the butt of a joke (a name the white American characters are hopeless at pronouncing? How funny!) and is located, according to the on-screen text, on the 'African coast' (North? South? East? West? Who gives a shit?). The less said about Andy Serkis and his woeful 'Sahth Ifrican' accent - worse than Leo DiCaprio in Blood Diamond - the better.

That the film as a whole falls into the usual 'superpowered people destroy a bunch of shit' mode is really the least of its problems.