If you've been one of the Marvel true believers for years then they've never made a bad movie. And, for the most part, I'd agree. There's just as many mediocre Marvel films out there as genuinely great ones, but Avengers: Age of Ultron stings the most because of how much it rests on what works and the fact that they're Marvel. It almost seems that that sentiment is acknowledged in director Joss Whedon's sequel, when a villainous henchman says nothing can defeat the Avengers because "They're the Avengers," and too often that adage is utilized to keep the plot rolling when it's obviously thought itself into a corner. There are some great moments and characters warranting their own movie rather than being squashed in this ridiculous action movie, and this is definitely an appropriate kick to the door that is summer movie season, but the Marvel seal of approval doesn't gel completely.
The Avengers assemble (pun intended) to defeat the villainous robotic Ultron (voiced by James Spader) and his henchmen, twins Wanda and Pietro Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson).
That synopsis is fairly succinct, so why does Age of Ultron feel so bloated at two and a half hours? The first Avengers team-up and the subsequent origin stories removed additional introduction, so a good chunk of Age of Ultron's runtime is devoted to elaborating on characters no one was interested in back in 2012, specifically Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Had Whedon and crew focused on this triumvirate of tales, it would have been a deeply compelling and entertaining feature. What makes the Avengers enjoyable as a unit comes through in these moments of quiet domesticity, as they simply struggle to live lives outside of fighting evil artificially intelligent robots.
Renner's storyline is cut and dry. We learn he has a wife (always awesome seeing Linda Cardellini) and children living in a country retreat. There's also a few jokes at his expense that work wonders, particularly how he one-ups Wanda on her mind-manipulation because he's "done" that, and another critiquing how his bow and arrow "makes no sense" in the grand scheme of the Avengers team. In fact, while not every joke lands, the Whedon-esque nature of the script allows for poking fun at the canon as well as other pop-culture tidbits (I particularly loved "Eugene O'Neill long"...see the film for proper context). But, too often the movie wants everyone to deadpan jokes like Robert Downey Jr. In the case of RDJ and James Spader, that type of dry humor works. For others like Cobie Smulders, it lands flat on its face.
Returning to the nature of the story, the strongest elements involve Johansson and Ruffalo, who act like they're making a 1940s film noir. For a PG-13 movie put out by Disney, these two have some jokes that will definitely make you blush but when did anyone expect an Avengers movie to have sexual chemistry between characters? The two stars have some great chemistry, and there's amazing examination of their own inner failings. Honestly, these two deserve their own film and every time you watch them, you're reminded of how much more interesting they are without all the whizzbang of crap blowing up.
And SO MUCH BLOWS UP! There are at least four big action sequences, starting right from the opening frames - said opening action scene, with its hyper-kinetic motion and obvious CGI doesn't sit well. It's nice that there's little room for suspense to wane, but the quieter moments sit there as if they're waiting for something to start blowing up. By the climax, the movie has been completely smothered with typical action-movie cheese, from the random girl the camera seems in love with - they did this in the last film - to a small child being left behind, causing the death of someone significant (unlike the first Avengers, it's doubtful said character's death will be resurrected later). Without spoiling too much, there's a significant death toll prepared through Ultron's plan, but because the script can't figure out how to avoid massacring millions, a literal Noah's Ark arrives to save everyone. Furthermore, Ultron is "defeated" at least 20 different ways, with no one reason working until the final frames when he's finally defeated...purely because the movie has to end.
And that's how the script works because, ultimately, Ultron is an inept villain. The basic tenet for his villainy is being an artificially intelligent robot, but he waxes poetic about not being bright and new....in comparison to what? He acts like Tony Stark rejected him, but he never tests that theory. By the middle of the movie, his aim is to save the world by cleansing it of humanity, but still reminding us he was never loved. It's a bizarre sequence of events.
Avengers: Age of Ultron is a decent popcorn movie and the side characters continue to be amazing. (I loved Elizabeth Olsen too, but don't get me started on her Boris and Natasha accent.) For those who continue to preach at the church of Marvel, this will be right up their alley, but the script is woefully inept, as is the villain, and the bloated runtime leaves little time for characterization, but a whole lot of time for things to go BOOM!