I mean, it couldn’t possibly live up to the hype, right? Biggest movie of the summer, sequel to the record-breaking game changer of 2012…it was bound to fall a little bit short. And it does. Does it lack entertainment value? No, of course not. Will it fail to rake in over a billion dollars in ticket sales? Not a chance…it’s made over 600 million already. But I’m still a little tired of hearing Iron Man/Tony Stark’s smarmy quips, and a good deal of the luster is gone from Thor’s fish-out-of-water charm. But you know what saves it? Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America is still flawless with his squeaky clean combat boy image–but he’s brought even more gravitas to the role this time around. And there is some genuine emotion and longing in scenes featuring Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk, interacting with Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. There’s even some unexpected domesticity from Clint “Hawkeye” Barton (mere mortal Jeremy Renner). However, that development is hit-or-miss.
The plot involves the Avengers saving an Eastern European town from the evil Hydra organization, and then discovering an artificial intelligence unleashed by Loki’s destructive scepter from the first “Avengers” movie. The “intelligence” morphs and adapts to a humanoid robotic form, is called Ultron (James Spader), and (what else?) tries to destroy the planet. Plus, the heroes are already dealing with a couple of super-twins in Pietro (Quicksilver portrayed by Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen is the Scarlet Witch). In fact, Wanda, in particular, is so powerful that she manipulates the minds of our suited-up do-gooders via dark, prophetic dreams/nightmares. The team eventually hides out on a farm to regroup, and before long every Avenger, and every sort-of Avenger (Falcon, War Machine and Vision) band together in an attempt to thwart Ultron. And, of course, in IMAX 3D, it’s gigantic and ear-piercing and comin’ at ya! If only Ultron was actually scary.
So, it’s big, and loud, and it looks awfully expensive. And there are moments when you believe everything is going to come together and be something special. But they are running out of places to go with these characters and the consistent “save the world” plot lines. Positive steps were taken last year with the months apart releases of the wonderful “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and the atypical “Guardians of the Galaxy”–they both seemed fresh. So, this installment is a bit of a step backwards. It’s not a fatal blow to the series, and “Age of Ultron” is still often fun and involving. But I’m starting to see the punch lines coming, and writer/director Joss Whedon is going to have to create some real stakes for this series–before it begins to flat line. We’re not there yet, but the upcoming two-part “Avengers: Infinity War” has its work cut out for it in 2018 and 19. Until then, the yearly superhero glut will proceed unabated.