Mark Reviews Movies

Avengers: Age of Ultron


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Joss Whedon

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Chris Hemsworth, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Cheadle, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Anthony Mackie, the voice of James Spader

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction, and for some suggestive comments)

Running Time: 2:21

Release Date: 5/1/15

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Review by Mark Dujsik | April 30, 2015

The movie universe of Marvel superheroes may have become too big for its own good. Avengers: Age of Ultron ends with the re-introduction of what they call "the big bad"—the apparent end-game villain who seemingly has been working behind the scenes to set most, if not all, of the events of this massive franchise in motion. One of the characters suggests that this villain is playing a game, simply waiting for the pieces to be set. After all of the movies focusing on individual characters (and their sequels) and now two movies about the Avengers (not to mention the movie about that other team of intergalactic anti-heroes), one would think the pieces have not only been placed but also been examined, re-organized, given a second look, and adjusted to make sure they're perfectly spaced out and equidistant from each other.

Such, apparently, is not the case, because this sequel to the surprisingly good first film about the Avengers is still giving us the background for a battle that will (We hope) eventually arrive and adding new heroes who will (We assume) be part of that fight. Every pitfall that The Avengers avoided is present here: The characters take the backseat to an abundance of plot, and the plot is an expansive mash-up of so many elements that the central story starts to feel like the least important thing in the movie.

Thinking back on the first film, we likely don't remember its plot, which was a relatively simple affair about a group of superheroes preparing for and fighting against an alien invasion. We may not even remember that climactic battle itself, which played out like a multi-million-dollar trip to a toy store (albeit an entertaining one). What sticks in the memory is the way writer/director Joss Whedon (who returns for this installment) took a sextet of heroes with diverse personalities, histories, and powers and developed an entertaining group dynamic that allowed each of them to shine in their own, unique ways, while also playing them off each other.

Here, the stakes are hypothetically raised for the characters. One has a secret family. Another pair shows signs of a burgeoning romance. A few others have their deepest fears revealed, thanks to the tinkering of a mind-manipulating villain. All of these moves, though, feel artificial, and in half-heartedly attempting to reveal more about the characters, the group dynamic and much of the humor that resulted from it are lost.

The story, which starts with a raid to recover a glowing gem (For all the time and energy these movies have afforded them, these things had better pay off big time), has Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), aka Iron Man, using an artificial intelligence within that gem to create a peace-keeping program. It's called Ultron (voice of James Spader), and it has determined that the best way to propagate peace is to destroy the Avengers.

Ultron is the movie's most intriguing creation, and so, almost inevitably, it receives short shrift from its rushed start. The thing is a collection of paradoxes—a humanity-saving program that ultimately determines the only way to save the human race is to destroy it and a logic machine that displays a fondness for religion that borders on zealotry. Whedon's screenplay, of course, has the robot and its hive-mind cohorts running around to put together a ludicrous plan to destroy life on Earth, putting itself in a series of situations in which the Avengers can jump into action (The most amusing involves a chase in which Ultron is riding in the back of a delivery truck, which seems like a rather mundane mode of transport for any supervillain, let alone a super-intelligent artificial brain).

The other heroes—Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and the mild-mannered Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) who becomes the unstoppable (or, depending on the requirements of the screenplay, completely stoppable) Hulk—return, too. Joining Ultron are Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), "enhanced" twin sibling who, respectively, have the power of super-speed and telekinesis. Other heroes from the previous movies arrive and disappear, and yet another new hero shows up late in the movie with as little explanation as possible for as big a part as he plays in the final showdown.

Too many of the story elements outside of the Ultron plotline come across as extraneous (At this point, talk of the Infinity Stones—those gems—and the introduction of new heroes to be utilized in future installments might as well be considered contractual obligations). There's a promising sequence involving a fight between Stark in a massive Iron Man suit and a rampaging Hulk that hints at the playful attitude of the previous Avengers adventure, but it becomes yet another display of mayhem for the sake of mayhem. The final battle is all-too familiar to the one in the first film, with a swarm of robots replacing the swarm of aliens.

That's not to imply that Avengers: Age of Ultron is merely a rehash of the previous film. That would almost be preferable to the path taken here, which has drained most of the joy, fun, and life out of these characters.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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