The Internet has been abuzz with talk of this week's big movie opening, the latest release from the Marvel Studios. This, of course, is the second installment in the Avengers franchise, sequel to the third highest grossing film of all time, and we got a chance to see it earlier this week. Will it live up to the hype?
Marvel's latest film Avengers: Age of Ultron is definitely a comic book movie if there ever was one, and it certainly aims to please.
Held together by writer/director Joss Whedon's typically sharp dialog, a cast of fun characters, and generously loaded with action, you almost won't notice there's no real story going on. This is a film that doesn't waste much time with exposition, so much as it weaves together a sequence of scenes of characters interacting. Whedon has definitely left his mark on the series, infusing all of the Avengers with the same kind of quirky ensemble chemistry that created such devoted fan-bases to his earlier franchises like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. Whether or not they're really very believable superheroes ends up being mostly irrelevant, as they make for fairly entertaining characters. Not having been overly attached to the Avengers as a kid (I was more of a Spiderman and X-Men fan), I couldn't tell you how faithful his Avengers are to the source material, but they're at least likeable and engaging. The dialog is snappy and fun, and there's that slightest bit of self-awareness to the film that holds its gleeful excesses together. The film also makes sure to toss in cameos and other brief appearances by a fair number of the various franchises' regulars (you'll get a little bit of Don Cheadle as War Machine, Stellan Skargård and Edris Elba from the Thor series, and of course Samuel L. Jackson pops in as Nick Fury).
And a Giant Iron Man.
But really, there's so little story, you'll still be able to enjoy this film even if you haven't seen the first one. Maybe some of the little details might not make sense, but they're also largely irrelevant as well. It's a comic book movie. From the first shot, the audience is thrust in media res on a mission to do... something violent, and it often seems like the film only takes breaks so it can make jokes that wouldn't make sense while somebody got punched. The Avengers are in Eastern Europe, and they're beating up a small army of hapless scrubs (though well-equipped scrubs, all things considered). I'm guessing there is a lot of material in this film that comes together if you've more closely paid attention to the television series and the previous film, but Eastern European bad guys (one of them complete with track suit) with nefarious plans are fairly self-explanatory, even if the more nuanced plot particulars might not be.
Setting up the main story, however, Tony Stark, once again played with Robert Downey Jr's roguish charm, is tricked into thinking that he will fail the Avengers and cause them all to die. This apparently causes him to forget the plot of every science fiction movie and novel ever, and becomes convinced that he can create an artificial intelligence that will be able to replace the Avengers and bring world peace. You can imagine how well that turns out.
Ultron, the film's villain voiced by David Spader, is a new kind of enemy for the franchise. He's a digital sentience, able to infiltrate vast areas of the Internet, thought he spends most of his time in a variety of robot bodies that he never seems to have a shortage of. The good news is, the movie won't really give you too much time to wonder why Ultron doesn't more thoroughly exploit his digital power beyond occasionally turning off the lights, because everybody is so busy punching one another. And Ultron, much like the Avengers, spends most of his time punching people and laying waste to as many urban locales as possible, with a few breaks to deliver witty dialog. It's a very Joss Whedon movie, but also something of a shame that the movie doesn't take more time to explore Whedon's strengths (dialog and characterization) and less time destroying random cities.
Pictured Here: The important members of the Avengers
You may, like me, wonder what it is that the Black Widow and Hawkeye bring to the Avengers, given that most of the rest of the group is a god, or effectively invincible, or shoots ray guns. This was somewhat problematic in the first film, but the multiple demolition derbies in Age of Ultron make it glaringly apparent. The movie even pauses briefly to acknowledge this fact, when one character explains their perceived tardiness by retorting "Not all of us can fly". Really, with all his robot helpers and robot satellites and robot robots, why hasn't Tony Stark built the Black Widow a robot suit? I mean, War Machine got one. The Black Widow's only apparent superpowers are the ability to ride a motorcycle and somehow not get squished while all of her god-friends run/fly around. And Hawkeye seems far too excited to get stuck in, when his ability seems best suited to climbing tall things and shooting from them. But hey, comic book movie.
However, despite its near-complete lack of depth, this is a fun movie. It's nowhere near as good as last year's surprisingly excellent Guardians of the Galaxy, but it will keep you entertained for most of its nearly two and a half hour running time. The cast has a fairly decent amount of chemistry, and despite an awkwardly forced romance, and a string of questionable decision-making that serves to force the Ultron plot into action, this leaves you with a movie where you will care about the characters, even if you won't really know much about them. At least until Whedon's apparently three-hour-long initial cut appears (on DVD and Blu-Ray!) perhaps.
If you asked for a letter grade, I'd give it a B. For stars, I'd give it 3 (Out of 4? Out of 5? Eh, doesn't really matter). You're not going to leave any wiser, but if you are willing to look past its flaws and have a good time, you won't walk out feeling like you wasted your time and money.