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It was five minutes before one in the morning when the credits rolled on The Avengers: Age of Ultron. We were exhausted after 150 minutes of smashing, pounding and smacking. The Marvel carousel turned up to eleven.
As fifty other movie goers and I awaited the obligatory end credits teaser, I looked around. Something was wrong. There was a lack of energy in the room. No buzz, no excited conversation. My left brain chalked it up to the hour but my right lobe began poking me with a stick. What it said was troubling: maybe the second film in Marvel’s flagship franchise wasn’t that good.
While the truth isn’t as bad as my noggin suggested, one thing is clear: The Avengers: Age of Ultron is a step backwards from 2012’s incredible original. Like a degrading isotope or a Xerox of an Ansel Adams photo, Avengers 2 is still has a lot of good things going for it. Just not as awe inspiring as the original print.
Age of Ultron finds the Avengers crew feeling pretty good about being Avengers. Super crime is down around the world, Hydra has become a memory and they are all stars. But when Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) discover an incredible AI inside Loki’s scepter, they unwillingly unleash a new, terrible threat.
The threat’s name is Ultron, a hyper intelligent AI given body from the spare parts of Iron Man drones. Expertly voiced by James Spader (The Blacklist), Ultron is the sharpest Marvel villain in recent memory. Entertaining and foreboding all at the same time, Ultron is more human than the earthlings he surrounds himself with. A blend of Tony Stark’s sarcastic wit with a villain’s snarl, Ultron steals nearly every scene he’s in.
In fact, Ultron has more personality than the story’s main heroic leads. Where 2012’s The Avengers was essentially Iron Man 2.5, the sequel’s drama rotates around the bow toting Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannsson) and Bruce Banner. With the exception of the non-destructive Hulk, Hawkeye and Widow have always been the “who cares” members of the team. Making them a major plot point was a brave choice, but it only serves to highlight how “meh” their characters actually are.
The other plot point, aside from Tony Stark’s computer program with a death wish, is Captain America’s (Chris Evans) growth into the team leader. Despite Evan’s fantastic portrayal of the all American boy, the character is still one noted. Avengers 1 had Iron Man as the narrative locomotive. With Captain America, Hawkeye and Black Widow pulling the train, the film fails to gain as much speed.
It also doesn’t help that the two new characters, the lightning fast Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and telekinetically gifted Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) are downright awful. With very little time to develop them beyond troubled teens with super powers, they’re weight on the film’s caboose.
Luckily, when everything clicks, the ride still soars. Director Joss Whedon’s quirk heavy script continues to provide fun moments and eye popping set pieces. The action also maintains the fluidity that made the original stand out and while the noise is dialed up to maximum overdrive, it never becomes too exhausting to swallow.
The story is also easily digestible. A simple tale of an AI’s attempt at saving the world via destruction is a great canvas for our heroes to fight on. Tony Stark and Captain America still dislike each other, Thor is still Shakespearian and The Hulk is still amazing when he gets all green and crazy. The core of the film’s appeal is how much fun it is to be around this unlikely team of heroes and that stays true in the sequel.
When The Avengers hit three years ago, it was the perfect blend of gripping action, quirky dialogue and relatable characters. It wasn’t trying to be dark like Batman or super silly like Spiderman. It was fun done right. With nothing drastically new to keep things fresh, Age of Ultron feels like a diluted mixture. Like lemonade with a hair too much water.
Luckily, even a B level Avengers film is a first class adventure. As the Death Star for Marvel’s empire, The Avengers: Age of Ultron proudly carries the flag with excellent action, clever writing and a heavy helping of fun. But like waiting in the theater in the wee hours of the morning for a final teaser that never happens (sorry, you can’t spoil things that don’t exist), it feels like something is missing. And in end, you can’t help but be a touch disappointed.
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