Avengers: Age of Ultron

Posted by Joel Copling on April 30, 2015

It's not that this so-called cinematic universe about myriad superheroes is, perhaps, growing too large for its own good (The knowledge that the final installment in the series will be split into two parts, releasing in 2018 and 2019, might be nirvana for its fan base, but for the rest of us, it's a worrisome thought, given the number of characters with which it will, by then, need to deal). It's not that the films themselves have, with a single exception (2013's "Iron Man Three"), followed the same basic formula of "Well-meaning hero + generic villain = finale in which they inevitably face each other" (which, ok, was followed by the aforementioned threequel by the end, yes). It's that the stakes in "Avengers: Age of Ultron" feel almost entirely insular.

This was not so in 2012's "The Avengers," which, for all its difficulty rallying a troupe of disparate heroes together and maintaining a singular personality, at least embraced those many personalities and giddy action sequences into an infectious blend. Here, things are more functional, purposed to push forward a plot that, miraculously, at least makes some sort of sense but feels entirely existent within itself until the end of the third act (and, of course, excepting the usual, mid-credits sequence with the end-game villain against whom these quirky characters must work when all is said and finally done). The result is a slight confection of diverting action sequences that lead to other diverting action sequences and rarely pause long enough to hear what the characters are saying (another stark difference from the first film, which basically simmered in its appealingly written and performed exposition dump).

The Avengers themselves have grown into their roles as world-savers and chemistry as bickering, friendly rivals, and each has his or her own issue this time around. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is still sort of suffering PTSD from his previous adventures with this group as Iron Man; he and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), who becomes a hulking rage monster when rankled, have been dabbling with Loki's scepter, which exhibits artificially intelligent behavior, and accidentally create Ultron (voice of James Spader, who is wonderfully vindictive and sarcastic in this role) in the process (He wants to control the world by eradicating it of humans, because that makes sense). Bruce and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), aka Black Widow, start up an entirely inconsequential romance that goes nowhere and serves no purpose. Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), aka Hawkeye, has a secret family (Linda Cardellini fills the Concerned Wife role, but at least it's Linda Cardellini). Only some of these attempts to deepen the characters beyond the face value of the thing for which they stand really work.

Director Joss Whedon's screenplay fails to do that for characters like Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who is just a big, lovable demi-god with a hammer, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), who has almost always been as dull as his Captain America alter-ego, returning but smaller characters (Don Cheadle and Anthony Mackie appear briefly as Tony and Steve's compatriots, James Rhoades/War Machine and Sam Wilson/The Falcon, and Samuel L. Jackson has another extended cameo as Nick Fury, head of the now-dissolved S.H.I.E.L.D. organization), and new ones (Ultron might be a curious contradiction at first, but he's ultimately just a metal brute with an evil plan, while Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen's appearances as a set of oddball twins with their own, supernatural powers are entirely because of the plot). The action sequences are only as fun as they're allowed to get when Tony, in the famed Hulkbuster suit, and Bruce, in glorious, green form, duke it out as a kind of dueling machismo takes over; the climax is mostly underwhelming (though a new hero excites both in his Frankensteinian creation and in the way he makes everyone else completely redundant) and certainly derivative of the first film's blowout. "Avengers: Age of Ultron" does very little that is distinctly wrong; it just reeks of not being very distinctive.

Film Information

Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark/Iron Man), Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America), Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/Hulk), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow), Jeremy Renner (Clint Barton/Hawkeye), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Don Cheadle (James Rhodes/War Machine), Paul Bettany (J.A.R.V.I.S./Vision), Cobie Smulders (Maria Hill), Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson/The Falcon).

Featuring the voice of James Spader (Ultron).

Directed and written by Joss Whedon, based on the comic book by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

Rated PG-13 (intense sci-fi action/violence/destruction, suggestive comments).

141 minutes.

Released on May 1, 2015.