Avengers: Age of Ultron has plenty of fireworks, as befits a movie with no fewer than seven superheroes, a few more superheroes in waiting, some minor bad guys, and one very major villain at the core.
However, as opposed to the seamless blend of exciting action and quirky characterizations that marked the first Avengers movie, this time around the set pieces seem overly busy and repetitive, and you might find yourself waiting for the quieter, more reflective moments that showcase the actors at their best.
Joss Whedon’s second shot with the Avengers opens as the team is doing battle with Hydra’s Baron Stucker in an attempt to wrest Loki’s scepter (Thor’s evil brother is not in this installment, but his scepter looms large) from Stucker’s evil clutches.
Amidst the carnage and some stillborn attempts at humor, the Avengers not only recover the scepter, but also encounter some of Stucker’s “experiments,” namely twins Pietro and Wanda. Pietro has superspeed, Wanda can control minds and energy—and both blame Tony Stark/Ironman for their parents’ deaths. The Avengers’ meeting with these twins results in some terrifying visions for some of our intrepid heroes—especially Stark who embarks (with the grudging assistance of Dr. Banner/Hulk) on a misguided plan for peace that results in the creation of Ultron (James Spader), a robot whose own idea for peace involves the extermination of the human race. Banner is also affected, as his Hulk goes on an extended (read needlessly protracted) rampage that leads to mass destruction (at least of property….no deaths are reported but you can be sure of a few broken bones) and a lot of ill will toward the Avengers. It also sends the Avengers scurrying for cover, at least until they can figure out how to rectify the situation caused by that mad scientist: Stark.
Avengers: Age of Ultron certainly has its moments, including the welcome, if relatively brief appearances of Samuel Jackson, Anthony Mackie, and especially Don Cheadle (whose attempts to elicit laughter from others regarding his own heroics are particularly amusing). Mark Ruffalo (Banner) and Scarlet Johannson (Black Widow) are engaging as they cautiously test the romantic waters, while Elizabeth Olsen nicely portrays Wanda’s growing ambivalence towards her own role in the unfortunate events. Once again, Chris Evans’ Captain America and Chris Hemsworth’s Thor remind viewers that nobility need not be dull, while Robert Downey seems a little more subdued than usual, perhaps due to his character’s role, however unwitting, in placing the world in imminent danger. Spader’s Ultron is a formidable creation, from his silken threats to his malevolent crooning of “I’ve Got No Strings.”
Too often however, the film is plagued by excess, as well as a paradox at its own core.
Avengers: Age of Ultron wants to be a little darker, to examine the nature of peace (and war) in our time, as well as science’s role in these developments. This might be fine, but it also gets in the way of one’s viewing pleasure, and let’s face it, once you get to thinking, it opens a Pandora’s Box of implausibilities. Questions come to mind, such as: in light of these events, why do the Avengers tolerate Stark? How does Ultron manage to create his own army so quickly? Why does Black Widow want to get together with the fairly unstable Banner? Why is Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye included in this august company of Avengers (outside of his rudimentary skill with an arrow)/? Why is the world still here (it seems after every Avengers encounter, there’s plenty of collateral damage, not unlike when Godzilla was a “good” monster confronting those “evil’ monsters)? Movies like these demand you suspend your disbelief, but their desire to be taken more seriously leave them open to more scrutiny—and consequently detract from one’s enjoyment.
There’s still enough here to enjoy, but in the end Avengers: Age of Ultron is nowhere near as satisfying as its predecessor.