If there’s one thing that a sequel typically promises it’s more of everything. But as we’ve learned over time, more isn’t always better. And that’s one of the key problems that befalls Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. Which isn’t to say that Age of Ultron is an epic disappointment, it’s to say that Age of Ultron isn’t a piece of well-oiled pop entertainment as its predecessor.
One of the weakest spot of the first film was its introduction, and that’s not a problem for the sequel. Opening with the Avengers staging a raid on a Hydra compound in the fictional country of Sokovia. The action is bigger and more assured that Whedon’s work in the first Avengers film. This scene is very reminiscent of the lengthy shot that featured the team working together during the climatic action scene of the last flim. The Avengers are after the MacGuffin from the last film – Loki’s scepter – and their daring raid the film introduces the twins – Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) – who terrorize the Avengers with their psychic abilities and lightning quick speed. Having secured the scepter, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) spend time studying the scepter, discovering a form of intelligence hard-wired within. This leads Stark and Banner to develop Ultron (voiced by James Spader), an artificial intelligence that they see as being a form of peace keeping. Of course, Ultron doesn’t work as planned and quickly forms himself into an angry, egomaniacal machine intent on destroying the Avengers to save humanity.
From there, the Avengers jet around the world looking for clues to figure out Ultron’s plan, which leads to major action set pieces in South Africa and South Korea. But while these action sequences are undeniably thrilling, a lot of what surrounds them is fairly underwhelming. While it may have been a problem for other moviegoers before, the amount of effort in establishing future installments comes at the detriment of this story, like the heavy cogs of the Marvel machine have become so great they can’t help but weigh down the film. By expanding the canvas of Marvel Universe, narrative efficiency is sacrificed which doesn’t help the film’s pacing. The first film established its villain, his motives, and the MacGuffin within the opening minutes, a luxury that Age of Ultron doesn’t have by sheer means of its massive scale.
But all is not bleak with Age of Ultron. As I said earlier, the action sequences are bigger and more confidently directed. The Hulk looks better than ever and his battle with Iron Man in the Hulkbuster armor is an astounding piece of cinematic spectacle. And like he did with the first film, Joss Whedon has inserted a lot of humor into his action spectacle, though I’d definitely say that this movie isn’t as funny as the first. But there is still that sense of fun that is present in most Marvel movies, especially in a scene where the Avengers are trying to lift Mjolnir. It’s just a little scene that emphasizes Whedon’s affection for the characters and the mythology of the Marvel heroes.
It’s really impressive Whedon is still able to craft strong moments of character in such a massive, overstuffed film. Having been woefully underserved in films before this, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is given a new depth in his personal life as well as a number of funny quips. One of the more interesting character dynamics is between Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Bruce Banner, the details of which will be withheld for spoiler-ish reasons. I won’t get into the details surrounding the appearance of The Vision (Paul Bettany), but the long-anticipated character does deliver in more ways than one. Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth are steady as usual as Captain America and Thor, respectively. And James Spader’s vocal performance as the menacing Ultron is one of the film’s highlights, alternating between funny and creepy. However, Aaron Taylor-Johnson is the film’s acting dead weight, bringing a ridiculous accent and slightly more charisma than he had in Godzilla – which isn’t saying much.
I wanted to love Avengers: Age of Ultron, but I walked out merely liking it. It’s a film that isn’t as rip-roaring a good time as The Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy, but still remains an entertaining film even if it is a bit too long. But using Age of Ultron as a means to set-up parts of Captain America: Civil War, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, and Avengers: Infinity War diminishes the films impact in the immediate. Though it’s not as chaotic and undisciplined as Iron Man 2, Age of Ultron suffers from the same problems by looking too far into the future at the cost of the present. Avengers: Age of Ultron does offer more of most everything from the first film, but it only proves that quite often more is less.