Avengers: Age of Ultron (8 out of 10); Directed by Joss Whedon; Starring Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Robert Downey, Jr., Scarlett Johansson, James Spader, et al; Written by Joss Whedon; Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction, and for some suggestive comments.; 141 minutes; In wide release on May 1, 2015.
"Avengers: Age of Ultron" starts with a bang, picking up immediately in the middle of an action sequence. They're after Loki's sceptre from the first film and they'll stop at nothing to get it back. The plot of the film kicks into high gear when Tony Stark and Bruce Banner use Loki's staff to develop an artificial intelligence to take over for the Avengers.
This plan goes immediately south and results in the creation of Ultron, who believes that the best way to create peace is to kill the Avengers, as well as most of the population of Earth.
The plot is standard comic book fare and you'll find no surprises in that regard.
As for what makes this outing different than the last film, is that Whedon has introduced a variety of new elements. First, you have Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olson) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor Johnson) who are orphans who underwent genetic modifications at the hands of Baron Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) in order to get revenge on Tony Stark. Then you have Hawkeye, playing a much larger part in this film. And Whedon also manages to juggle characters from across all the other Marvel films, from War Machine (Don Cheadle) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) to Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) and Heimdall (Idris Elba), they're all in this film. The film has a lot of moving parts and the pace is such that it doesn't let up on you in any way.
Each grouping of characters has a small arc through the film that ties into the plot and, for the most part, the screenplay is incredibly economical and manages to give everyone something to do. And in what seems to be Whedon making amends to Jeremy Renner for making him a bad guy through most of the first film, Hawkeye is given the biggest backstory treatment and probably a few of the best lines in the entire movie.
The film is loud and fun and doesn't seem like it's well over two hours long. Whedon manages to keep you involved and keep you laughing nervously as you wait for the team to save the world from total destruction at the last second, just like the first film.
Perhaps the best addition to this film was James Spader as Ultron. As an entity who has learned to speak and quip from Tony Stark and the Internet, Spader takes Whedon's dialogue and just runs with it, imbuing it with a menace and humor and realism that I simply wouldn't have expected. I was dreading a boring and monotone take on Ultron, the way Christopher Nolan might do it, but Spader's take was a breath of fresh air.
My single largest problem with the film (and it's a minor one for all the time I spent enjoying it) is that the last act of the film is just a mess. There are so many characters off doing so many things in such a close proximity aimed toward the same goal that their screen time just isn't balanced properly. The different goals of each of the disparate groups of Avengers were too disconnected from each other.
Whedon, who seems as into George Lucas as I am, would have done well to take one more page out of the George Lucas playbook. I can't think of another filmmaker who so cleanly and capably tells multi-situational climaxes across different goals that interconnect while constantly raising the stakes. In Ultron, none of the pieces feel like they need to fall into place in any particular order, there's no incremental victories or losses to make us invest more fully. There's just not a whole lot of structure to the ending and it could have used it.
Other than that, I had a fun time watching this movie. It's not a masterpiece and probably won't be remembered as the greatest filmed adventure of the Avengers, but it's definitely worthy of Marvel and will certainly make boatloads of money back.
I give this film an 8 out of 10.
It comes into wide release May 1, 2015.