What It’s About: Of course, “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” is a dizzying, explosive 3-D spectacle. One wouldn’t expect anything less. Yet, the weight of the world is a heavy responsibility that our crime-fighting superheroes wrestle with, for everyone knows super powers come with consequences. While the action is fast and furious, the film feels as heavy as Thor’s hammer.
Too many characters, too many plot lines, and too many locations bog down an overstuffed film. For a comic book franchise with a global reach, this saving-the-world-from-a-killing-machine-robot story sure is complicated. “Avengers 2” is serious business, as we hop from Eastern Europe, New York City, Africa, South Korea, upstate New York and bucolic farm country in America while death and destruction are everywhere, mired in a story often hard to decipher.
A mission in Sokovia, involving the ominous Hydra organization, kicks off this chapter. The genetically engineered “miracle” Maximoff twins, telepathic Wanda (The Scarlet Witch) and super-speedy Pietro (Quicksilver), are introduced as enemies, but will eventually flip to allies.
At the terrorists’ lair, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner discover artificial intelligence in Loki’s scepter, but Starks’ peacekeeping program for global defense goes awry, creating instead the nefarious Ultron, who computer-jacks his butler J.A.R.V.I.S. and wreaks havoc. Thus, our super-six attempt to save humanity while stopping Ultron’s robot drones from annihilating the Earth. Cities topple, chunks of concrete fly across the screen, and Fury and the headquarters team send help.
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Unfortunately, because this Marvel universe has too few moments of lightness and levity, we are barraged with mind-numbing mayhem and lots of explosions with little relief. But when there’s a sweet or funny moment of character development, showing what writer-director Joss Whedon does best, that’s when the movie really comes to life.
But one’s level of fandom will dictate how the rest of the film is perceived. No matter what, this Disney/Marvel juggernaut will make big bucks, and sets up two more planned sequels (”The Infinity Wars, Part I and 2”). Nevertheless, one is at a disadvantage if not familiar with back stories.
Performances: For all its hype and computer-generated images, what appeals is the camaraderie and teamwork of the six Avengers:the sarcastic, glib genius billionaire Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), the noble soldier from a bygone era Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), former foe now formidable friend Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), tortured scientist with monster alter-ego Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), the Asgardian god of thunder Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and the Olympic archery whiz Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).
They have effectively given their characters distinct personalities, and work so well together, that by now, their shorthand is noticeable and engaging. We understand their wisecracks. Nobody can read high-tech dialogue better than Downey, master of timing and quips. His chemistry with Ruffalo made the first “Avengers” movie snap and crackle. Here, the other guys are in on the “pop.’
In an ensemble effort, they have too many things going on to give everyone a meatier subplot, although Hawkeye finally has some quiet moments to shine and Renner delivers the movie’s best line about his weapon of choice, the bow and arrow.
A romantic subplot involving Banner and Romanoff has promise, but sputters and stalls. However, you can see the sparks between Johansson and Ruffalo.
The addition of the Maximoff twins gives young stars Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson an opportunity to work Eastern European accents into their repertoire. Here, they are devoted brother and sister. In “Godzilla,” they were husband and wife.
James Spader’s menacing voice gives Ultron a more threatening, evil tone, which helps make the hunk of metal villainous.
What Works: The cast really is a dream team — one can’t imagine anyone else in those six roles. And women are just as important as men characters, which is such a great statement.
Whedon, who wrote “Toy Story” and created “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” is known for writing witty dialogue and giving his superheroes more human frailties, and when he’s able to do that here, the characters connect. The zippy, zesty repartee helps elevate these blockbusters. The running gag about Thor’s hammer is the best part of the film.
The slow-mo sequences are nifty, but the frenetic action is at times so dense, it’s hard to follow.
What Doesn’t Work: We just don’t have the six Avengers to deal with — there is the support staff, villains, and introduction of new Avengers. It’s hard to keep the characters’ straight without a roster.
The sound and fury of these special effect extravaganzas is appealing to some, but too extreme for others. I’m not a fan of loud, repetitive and intense action pictures without a suspenseful story to maintain interest. This one seems to wear out its welcome quickly. Yet, the humor saves the day.
“The Avengers: Age of Ultron”
Stars: Two and a half stars
Director: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Cobie Smulders, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Samuel L. Jackson, Stellan Skarsgard, Idris Elba, Don Cheadle, and James Spader.
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction, and for some suggestive comments.