Avengers: Age of Ultron Is Full of Spectacle and Exposition, But Light On Substance.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Director:Joss Whedon.
Writers:Joss Whedon (characters by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee).
Actors: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, James Spader, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany and Samuel L. Jackson.
Opens at: Wide.

With returning director Joss Whedon back at the helm, Age of Ultron feels like what it is — a progression from the original 2012 Avengers film and a precursor to the Avengers: Infinity War double feature that's coming in 2018 and 2019 (as well some prep for Marvel's planned Phase 3 movies).

In other words, it's a bridge.

And while the movie has a very charming cast that boasts some undeniable chemistry, it's also a movie filed with a lot of script issues.

Of course, this is nothing new when it comes to Marvel's movies. These blockbusters have already shown a propensity toward relying on the charm and chemistry of their leads (and novelty of seeing these larger-than-life characters on screen) over actually having any strong cohesive plot or editing to speak of.

Want an example? OK. Great as Guardians of the Galaxy was thanks to the likability of Chris Pratt and Co., the movie was still, at its core, a series of set pieces loosely connected via exposition.

Naturally, Age of Ultron follows this same model. Just not as successfully, is all.

Let's start by talking about the good stuff here: A sequel in the truest sense, Age of Ultron is a continuation of Avengers, with the team actually acting as, y'know, a team this time around instead of just a group of people. The group dynamics have changed for the better, and you can definitely see this in the way the fights are choreographed: Much like a video game, the Avengers are now using combo moves (see: Thor striking his hammer unto Captain America's shield to create a shock wave blast), and the group now looks at ease during battle scenes.

The chemistry is very real, even in how well the new characters — Aaron Taylor-Johnson's Quicksilver, Elizabeth Olsen's Scarlet Witch and Paul Bettany's Vision — integrate themselves into the cast like they've been there all along. Whedon uses this well, too, providing the opportunity it affords him to offer up some character development and background the characters who don't have their own movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye, Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow and Mark Ruffalo's version of Hulk).

Also, let's give it up for James Spader's Ultron! One of the major grievances of the MCU in general is the lack of memorable non-Loki villains. No worries here: Ultron is a very fine successor to the mantle. It really helps that we're hearing Spader's voice coming out of the robot here; as soon as he's created, he's played with just the right combination of evil, charm and wit — which makes sense, since he's positioned here as a dark and twisted version of Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark/Iron Man. Actually, it's pretty interesting to see Spader — and, let's just be honest, Renner, too — steal the show from Downey when it comes to funny one-liners this time around.

Now, for all of those positives, there are some major issues, as well.

For a movie that's 141 minutes long, it feels insanely rushed, like it's trying to race to the end credits. There are many times, too, when a character will be in one place and then move halfway around the world in a split-second, leaving you a little disoriented and not sure how much time, if any, has passed in between scenes. Not only that, but there's a lot of exposition that happens so quickly here that it undermines the plot and leaves me wondering if any non-comic book fans out there will be able to understand it.

Ultron's character and development gets hit the hardest by the pacing. A little background: In the comic books, Ultron goes from being an advanced robot to a homicidal menace because he becomes corrupted; here, Ultron comes online and is immediately antagonistic, giving his “no strings on me” speech from the trailer five minutes after being created. It's kind of hard to see the leap of logic there.

The most obvious culprit is that, as the last Avengers movie before the big Infinity War finale, Age of Ultron is forced to spend much of its time trying to tie itself the larger MCU, rather than telling its own story well. In turn, Thor is all but sidelined thanks to a C-plot involving a vision and the Infinity Stones.

It's a little ironic, then, that the movie's action scenes also mark a change-in-direction for these films by placing an emphasis on protecting human lives instead of just punching bad dudes into buildings. There's a lot of saving going on in this film, even as it fails to save itself.

Still, Age of Ultron stands as director Joss Whedon's overall successful exit from the MCU and comic book movies. It definitely feels like a Whedon movie: The cast is strong, the dialogue is great, the tone is pleasing and the references are clever. Also, the fight scenes are fun.

It all work fine in the context of the greater Marvel Universe. But it's far from a perfect film.

Grade: B-.

(Oh, and in case you were wondering, there's only one post-credits sequence. No need to stay until the very end.)

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