Given that the first Avengers movie made over $1.5 billion, it’s safe to say that this highly anticipated sequel has an excellent chance of becoming the most seen movie of 2015 even with a new Star Wars sequel to come later in December. Let me relieve some of that anticipation. It’s not as good as the first one, and it’s not as good as the mini-Avengers movie that was last year’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” Considering those are the two best movies that have come out of Marvel’s Studios, that’s not saying that Age of Ultron is bad. It’s not, but expectations should be in order.
This time around, the Avengers have to deal with the closest thing they have to an arch nemesis in the comics, the artificial intelligence/robot Ultron (James Spader). In the movie, he is inadvertently created by Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) when they put to use the Mind Gem that was in the scepter of Loki, the primary antagonist in the first film. (Despite rumors, Tom Hiddleston does not reprise his role as Loki here, probably having been left on the cutting room floor.) Although envisioned as a peace-keeping program that would allow the Avengers to retire, Ultron goes rogue and decides to cause a catastrophic extinction event to wipe out humanity and replace it with an evolved version of himself.
To this end, Ultron enlists twin brother and sister, Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olson), who were given powers through experimentation by terrorist Hydra leader Baron Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann). The siblings hold a grudge against Tony Stark, whose weapons were used to kill their parents, not that holding a weapons manufacturer responsible is any more believable than someone going vigilante on Smith & Wesson. Toss in a romance between the Black Widow Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Banner, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) dealing with his wife Laura (Linda Cardellini), the distrust between Iron Man and Captain America (Chris Evans), and the origin of a new hero, the Vision (Paul Bettany), and you’ve got story overload.
Ultimately, all of that seems to have overwhelmed writer-director Joss Whedon. The film is like a patchwork quilt that Whedon is trying hard to stitch together but it’s fraying at the seams. Despite the movie’s 141 minutes, it feels rushed, especially the quieter moments. Whereas the first film was paced well with organic story beats, now the movie pushes ahead relentlessly to get to the next event before what’s on screen can be savored. It never drags but feels more like a feature-length highlights reel than a story.
That said, these highlights are pretty spectacular. The opening with the Avengers invading Strucker’s base, each Avenger taking turns trying to lift the hammer of Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man battling an out-of-control Hulk, the Avengers fighting Ultron’s army of drones, a city rising into the sky – Whedon knows how to provide fan service. And it’s all perfectly serviceable. If only the story gave the audience more time to catch its breath and more drawn-out character moments, all the action would have more emotional resonance behind it.
Hayley Atwell, Julie Delpy, Idris Elba, Anthony Mackie, Stellan Skargard, and of course Stan Lee all make cameos.