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Title: Avengers: Age of Ultron
Reviewer Rating: Star Wars RatingStar Wars RatingStar Wars RatingStar Wars RatingStar Wars Rating (0)
Avg User Rating: Star Wars RatingStar Wars RatingStar Wars RatingStar Wars RatingStar Wars Rating (4)
Published Date: May 1, 2015
May 7, 2015
There are certain unwritten rules about sequels – they have to be bigger, more over the top, different (but also the same) – and that is certainly true of “Avengers: Age of Ultron” which sees the team of superheroes return to face their most daunting foe yet … themselves. As big as these kinds of sequels tend to get, they’re increased scope does not usually include more insight into their basic premise, but that is exactly what writer-director Joss Whedon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) has in mind, assuming he can fit it around all the explosions. The set pieces have been cranked up to eleven and then some giving everyone involved a workout and showing off ever more inventive ways to make the most of the different heroes abilities. At the same Whedon flexes his own thematic muscle as he attempts to grapple with the idea of superhumans’ responsibilities to protect regular people from themselves and whether or not they are worth having given all the fantastic destruction following them around. It’s engrossing enough on both levels to make you forget just how long a film it is.

At least on first viewing. The ultimate reality is this is an overstuffed film – filled from stem to stern with bright shiny exploding things (and dull, greasy exploding things), too many characters to perfectly balance for everyone’s taste and a bottomless pool of wit – which, for as much as it tries to focus on the people involved, also has action beat after action beat to incorporate. In an effort to keep the kind of devastation witnessed in the first film from occurring again, and forgetting the old adage about roads and intentions, idea man Tony Stark (Downey, Jr.) uses a stolen alien artifact to build a global peacekeeping system and instead ends up with ‘a murderbot’ named Ultron (Spader) intent on wiping out humanity.

A fantastically realized villain, Ultron controls the screen through menace and charisma as he grapples with his competing derision for the human race and his desire to save them from their flaws (or kill them in the attempt). Sure it’s impossible to understand why he’s doing what he’s doing – because he’s insane – but it is possible to understand why it makes sense to him. He is fully realized from start to finish, a testament to both the visual effects technicians at Industrial Light and Magic and to Whedon’s own assured characterization. He know what makes these characters tick, mostly, and how to get it out in the most efficient way possible (which is important as time between action beats is at a premium). It’s a skillset he’s forced to dig into more than once through “Ultron’s” running time and several characters are added to the cast from other pieces of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and quite a few more – notably Elizabeth Olson’s Scarlet Witch and Paul Bettany’s Vision – are introduced for the first time. If that feels like a lot of plates to keep spinning at the same time, that’s because it is and even a storyteller of Whedon’s talent can keep it up for just so long. By the time a hundred Ultron’s swarm the Avengers in the final showdown of ultimate destiny it all feels a bit much to the point of sensory overload.

Nor are your senses the only things likely to be overloaded. It’s not often that a film critic can legitimately talk about too much of a good thing (especially when it comes to summer movies) but there is only so much space for use in discussing the potential for Hulk (Ruffalo) romance or fighting waves of killer robots and in trying to frequently have his cake and eat it too Whedon occasionally makes a mess. While he works hard to give everyone their due he still seems to have less of an idea what to make of extremely straightforward classically heroic characters like Thor (Hemsworth) and Captain America (Evans) who don’t make for more angsty, melodramatic heroes, so he puts more effort into other things. In the case of Hawkeye (Renner) this is a good thing, but it also means a near constant stream of Bruce Banner/Black Widow scenes that would probably work better if they weren’t constantly getting shoved down our throat. Whedon has decided this is the emotional hill he is going to die on which unfortunately means if the pairing doesn’t work for you the movie has no heart. The only thing you won’t get overloaded on is Quicksilver, who is so perfunctory he could have been left out of the entire film with minimal effect. Apart from one scene he spends most of his time standing behind Elizabeth Olson.

But if it is a mess it is a glorious one that charms as often as it overloads, at least up until Ultron initiates his master plan to recreate the meteor strike that wiped out the dinosaurs which only the fractured, dysfunctional Avengers can stop. The end result is still fun and zippy, which is pretty much all you could hope from a big summer movie. A lot of the pizzazz of the first film and the excitement of seeing these disparate parts come together. Come the new film they’re still disparate, struggling against an overstuffed narrative a bit too dependent on coincidence to keep things moving, but for all that it’s still better than we usually get. But if it is a mess it is a glorious one that charms as often as it overloads and if it doesn’t quite have the pop of its predecessor … well, not clearing such a high bar is not exactly the same as failure. This isn’t the Olympics after all.
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