Earth’s Mightiest Heroes return in Avengers: Age of Ultron, the sequel to the 2012 megablockbuster of the same name sans subtitle. Expectations couldn’t be any higher for the new film following the massive success, both critically and commercially, with both casual and hardcore comic fans alike, of the original. The question on everybody’s mind is, does the sequel live up to the original. For those who are concerned, the film is just as big, just as loud, just as action packed as its predecessor. The heroes have more than their work cut out for them dealing with new bad guy, Ultron, a rogue a.i. bent on world devastation. Or salvation, as he sees it, though it’s never really made clear exactly what his ultimate plan is beyond killing millions of people and causing countless billions in property damage.
There’s a lot to like here for fans who loved the first film, or fans of hero flicks in general. The action scenes are as frantic as ever, maybe even moreso, with so many faces, old and new, vying for screentime. Newcomers to the series, Wanda “Scarlet Witch” Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Piotr “Quicksilver” Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), first teased in the post credits sequence to Captain America: Winter Soldier, come into their own here. Wanda’s creepy “chaos magick” related powers wreak havok on the team’s collective psyche. Quicksilver is a blur of speed who works well as comic relief. His impact is dampened somewhat, given ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’s much better execution of the character in that excellent “Time in a Bottle” sequence but he’s still a welcome addition.
The main characters’ interactions are as great as ever. When the group is just sitting around exchanging words Whedon’s trademark snappy dialogue shines. Be it Tony Stark daring Thor that he’ll be able to lift his hammer or Tony and Cap simply chopping wood together, when these characters talk their chemistry is superb.
Creepy new villain, Ultron, portrayed by voice casting coup-d’etat James Spader is a force to be reckoned with. His silky, yet paradoxically robotic delivery of, “There are no strings on me.” chills the blood. The metal man is composed mostly of CGI but he seems more eerily lifelike than your average robotagonist. His countless tron-bots are all over the screen at all times, swarming over the team like ants. So yes, count on plenty of kicks and ‘splosions. The movie is jam-packed with things to see and do.
Which is really the problem with this film, when you get down to it. It becomes a victim of its own success. The very same remarkable coordination it takes to bring together so many disparate film franchises for one film– what worked so well in the first movie– is seriously starting to weigh down the narrative now that most of the heroes have their own separate franchises, each with its own continuity issues to contend with. I’m counting not one, not two, but at least three different subplots that take up significant chunks of screentime in AoU, but which don’t significantly add anything to the film other than serving as setup for other movies.
Thor disappears around the middle chunk of the film only for an empty set piece that sets up his upcoming ‘Thor: Ragnarok’. A brief interlude with a weapons dealer off the coast of Africa hints at the upcoming ‘Black Panther’ movie. Yes, as a comic fan these Easter eggs are always welcome but not at the expense of the main narrative. Comic books have struggled for years with unwieldy continuity and how to deal with so many divergent threadlines. Who knew comic book movies would so quickly succumb to the same fate? (So wait, is Ben Affleck Batman the same guy from Nolan’s trilogy? But didn’t he sorta maybe kinda die at the end? Or at least retire. But that’s a whole other can of worms.)
Then there are the nagging plotholes. In the original Marvel storyline inventor Hank Pym (soon to be in the upcoming ‘Antman’) creates Ultron. Ultron gains sentience and terrorizes the planet. Clean, simple, straightforward. However in the Marvel cinematic U Tony Stark creates Ultron. Or wait, did the Ultron a.i. come from the yellow gem they retrieved from Loki’s staff? If so, who designed the original program? Is that a thing that happens on Asgard? In addition to ancient Norse gods and goddesses fighting frost giants and trolls, there’s also… pale-skinned programmers sipping lattes and coding malevolent a.i. systems, then hiding them in Infinity gems. To what end? So Tony thought it’d be a good idea to take a program retrieved from Loki of all people, that he hadn’t had time to properly test or even analyze and integrate it into his own software.
Spader’s icy cool delivery elevates Ultron to sublimity but Whedon’s knack for witty rapport ultimately comes to hinder the bot’s imposing presence. It’s hard to take a world level threat villain seriously when he alternates between stark, Nietzschean level meditations on the nature of God and man in one breath, then snarky quips about Cap’s shield in the next.
Avengers 2 is very much a spectacle movie, full of plenty of CGI and big action set pieces that fill the screen. If you’re craving a big summer action movie, it hits the spot. What’s missing from this robot, fittingly enough, is its heart.