Avengers: Age of Ultron wins more on its charms than its muscles.
Avenging the Avenged
Watching this Avengers sequel makes for a busy couple hours. There’s humor, drama, action and something that, at least in comic book terms, equates to romantic overtures. And, of course, the fate of the human race is at stake. Oftentimes, though, this extravaganza feels less like a movie and more like a piece of cold, calculated machinery; it’s the kind of mechanical cinematic prowess that a $250 million budget can buy.
Basically, it’s a second helping of more of the same; the mix of the good and the bad that comprised the first installment return in equal measures. Ultron suffers from some of the same narrative strains of the first assembly; while there’s lots and lots of intricately staged action, that’s also when the emotional connection breaks.
Space aliens destroying New York City? Yeah. Okay. Move along.
Some Internet-based artificial intelligence wiping out a (fictional) Eastern European city that’s been - quite literally - uprooted and floating above the countryside while all sorts of chaos breaks loose? Yeah. Okay. But where’s the emotional core? Some random kid separated from his mom? Seriously?
What works best are the humorous bits, the team bonding and some of the character-based drama.
This time around, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr., Sherlock Holmes) has a plan to provide planet Earth with a giant, web-based shield of peace. In his view, it’s the ultimate fulfillment of the Avengers’ mission: to save the world and then disassemble, retire and live “normal” lives for the superhero set.
Of course, nothing is simple for Tony. This movie has fun picking him apart. Tony’s got issues with making the distinction between good and evil; his plan is quickly compromised and goes horribly awry. The force for good almost instantly tunes into Tony’s dark side and uses that to inform its plan for world domination.
From there, Age of Ultron turns into something of a Marvel hot mess, with loads of characters to geek out over (or not) as Marvel Universe references of one sort or another litter the screen. It’s not possible to simply tune into the Avengers as a standalone series. Ultimate Ultron enjoyment requires the time-consuming effort of digesting all that transpires in the individual character movies (Thor, Captain America, Iron Man), Guardians of the Galaxy and even the TV series Agents of SHIELD.
Don’t Be Evil
Ultimate enjoyment isn’t necessary, though. The movie’s so densely packed, it’s a bloated smorgasbord of stuff that’s easy enough to pick at and still leave the theatre feeling at least somewhat satisfied, even if it’s only on a superficial entertainment level.
That entertainment value typically surrounds the superheroes acting like “normal” folk. It’s fun to watch the various teammates try to lift Thor’s hammer during the equivalent of a superhero happy hour. With the promise of ruling Asgard on the line, Tony makes repeated attempts with various Iron Man parts, but to no avail. And, while that’s going on, there’s also a nice scene of flirtation between Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, Lucy) and none other than Mr. Cranky, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo, Begin Again).
The movie also benefits from plenty of quotable dialogue.
On the one hand, Tony goes sinister when he says, “I don’t trust a guy without a dark side.” On the other hand, he’s a cut-up when he talks about the Avengers having “A Eugene O’Neill long day.”
But the best line, sure to make appearances on T-shirts and bumper stickers across the Marvel Universe comes from Captain America (Chris Evans, Snowpiercer) when he rallies the Avengers ahead of the climactic battle, “If you get killed, walk it off.”