Those who have been attacking Joss Whedon with accusations of sexism, or worse, as a result of a perceived imbalance in the gender representations in this latest instalment of the Marvel franchise-that-never-ends need to think about where their anger should really be directed. Yes, Whedon is the director of Avengers: Age of Ultron but he is certainly not responsible for creating the characters. You see, superhero stories have an inherent sexism embedded within them long before they make it to the screen. Could he have made changes to accommodate these shortcomings? Perhaps. After all, Whedon has been widely praised for his commitment to developing strong, positive female characters through television shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dollhouse. The problem is, as several directors have discovered, the control that Marvel exerts in protecting their properties makes it very difficult for any director to stray too far from the template from which these films are carved; a template that has been created by men to tell stories about men saving the world. Perhaps Whedon could have bailed from the project in the interests of protecting his feminist bona fides, but would that have made any difference to the representations of female characters in this film? Of course not, but it most definitely may have resulted in a lesser film overall. In fact, it’s hard to imagine anybody else making this over-the-top, nonsensical special effects-laden sequel as entertaining as it is; which isn’t to suggest that this is a great piece of cinematic art. Like so many superhero films these days, there seems to be a genuine desire to see just how much destruction and chaos can be invoked in the name of good versus evil. I mean, even if we put the sheer ludicrousness of a scenario in which an entire European city is literally lifted from the earth to one side, the number of people who would be killed during the violent confrontations between our hero squad – Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jnr), The Incredible Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and their various nemeses is impossible to calculate. But rest assured it is a shitload. I mean, at one point Iron Man and The Hulk are tearing up the city fighting against each other, a battle of ego versus anger. Sure, we don’t really see any innocent people suffer a gruesome death, but we don’t need to see people die in the concentration camps in WW2 films to understand that they did perish. In this case, we don’t see them die, but we know that many thousands would be killed amid this level of destruction. Maybe I am taking things too literally – this is science-fiction after all – but it just seems as though the priority of every new superhero narrative being churned out by the Hollywood machine is simply to be bigger and bolder without any thought to what the consequences of such mayhem would logically be. I don’t believe for a minute that a more subtle approach would necessarily result in a film that is any less entertaining. As far as story guys, in this instalment our intrepid sextet are forced into action when a peace-keeping program developed jointly by Stark and Banner goes awry and comes to life as the villainous robot Ultron (voiced unmistakably by James Spader), whose mission is, of course, global destruction. Needless to say, much action ensues as our heroes take on the nefarious collective known as Hydra before tackling the mechanised miscreant and his minions (no, not those minions). There are two new heroes that emerge in the form of Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), while franchise regulars Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Maria Hill (Coby Smulders), War Machine (Don Cheadle) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) all feature to varying degrees and they even find a way to squeeze Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) into the narrative for the briefest of moments. There is an overload of action and, as such, character development is necessarily scuttled. Of the few moments of character interaction that aren’t wisecracks, sarcasm and/or the apportioning of blame, it is the clunky interlude between Romanoff and Banner in which she laments her inability to have children that has drawn so much fire. Such criticisms may be justified, but it is important to remember that of all the Avengers, Black Widow is perhaps the strongest of all in that she has no special powers or weaponry and is often required to ‘rescue’ the men. Perhaps this scene is designed to make us remember that, no matter what, she is still ‘just a girl’ with all the weaknesses that implies. With a stellar cast such as this, and with Whedon at the helm, it would be almost impossible for Avengers: Age of Ultron to be terrible and it is certainly entertaining enough, even it doesn’t make a lick of sense. Bigger in every way than its predecessor, Avengers: Age of Ultron is sophisticated only in a technological sense and ultimately fails to fully utilise the collective talents of all involved to make something that resonates long after the credits have rolled.