Probably one of the more eagerly awaited sequels in recent memory, Avengers: Age Of Ultron crafted by Marvel Studios/Disney and directed by Joss Whedon, makes a decent entry into the second-film-of-the-franchise market, but does not supersede the original in acting, writing or humor (so one can forget the “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Superman II” and “The Dark Knight” allusions).
It does, however, hold up well in the action department, with thousands of robotic entities (most of which are as useless and easier to kill than the Orcs in the “Lord Of the Rings” trilogy) flying about attempting to menace our sullen heroes who continue to require assistance from other sources and to question just what their purpose is in the world of weak humans.
And while the first installment, “The Avengers” (also helmed by Whedon), featured puns and bon mots being tossed around by Tony Stark/Iron Man and Dr. Bruce Banner/Hulk (Academy Award nominees Robert Downey Jr., “Tropic Thunder” and Mark Ruffalo, “Foxcatcher”), this one widens the comedy influence so that unemotional Norse god Thor (Chris Hemsworth, “Blackhat”) and bland Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans, “Snowpiercer”) even get a few throwaway laughs.
We are also treated to a rather forced love affair between Hulk and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, “Under the Skin”), both of whom have secrets (although her’s is admittedly much darker than the big green guy’s problems). Plus, we even find out Clint Barton/Hawkeye (another Oscar nominee, Jeremy Renner, “The Hurt Locker”) has secreted away a spouse and a couple of nondescript moppets) and enjoys basic home repairs.
While all of this is going on, the emotional center of Avengers: Age Of Ultron lies in the creation of uber-villain Ultron (voice of James Spader, “The Homesman”), who was evidently created as a peacekeeping entity for when the Avengers retire or take a vacation or whatever. Seeking to make a better world — or just to play God for awhile — Stark and Banner go against their own team to develop the program, and well, you know what happens in these kinds of situations.
Ultimately, Ultron “absorbs” Stark’s Jarvis (voice of Paul Bettany, “Transcendence”) artificial intelligence software and begins to take on an evil life of his own. While this is happening, Spader sets the record for the most talkative villain in movie history, dropping historical references (“Peace in our time” is a favorite quote), pop cultural asides and explanations to the viewers.
He then creates the aforementioned dozens of robot helpers who are no help at all and which begs the question of why these things are necessary to make in the first place. He is given valuable aid, however, by a pair of superhuman twins, Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, “Godzilla”) and Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen, “Martha Marcy May Marlene”), whose ultimate allegiance is questionable.
To complicate things even further, Ultron uses Korean technology to create a quasi-human entity, Vision (Paul Bettany, again), which ultimately doesn’t do him much good, either.
Luckily, the artificially intelligent baddie is (almost) all powerful or Avengers: Age Of Ultron would sink under the weight of all its pretensions, as well as a number of plotlines harnessed from past movies and setups of even heavier future installments (including introducing a whole new class of heroes for part three). Even the inclusion of the Asgardian scepter and Mind Stone (one of six Infinity Stones), among other relics and characters — Andy Serkis, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” makes a promising enough, non-motion captured appearance as Ulysses Klaue, but he’s gone before we’ve barely understood his reason for being there in the first place — are rather underplayed here (obviously more of a plot device for later editions in the Marvel Cinematic Universe).
Even so, despite the various individual stories and character developments going on, the battles between the Avengers and Ultron’s robotic armies and even between the Avengers themselves highlight the seamless work of the various special effects departments (which could populate a small army) and continue the amazing and stellar FX work of this franchise. In a nice touch, Whedon even incorporates a little arthouse element into the proceedings as Scarlet Witch forces Tony Stark to view an uncertain future, Captain America to experience a World War II victory dance he never got to attend and Ms. Romanoff to live through an especially painful period in her life.
Even creator Stan Lee makes his patented hilarious cameo we’ve come to expect in Avengers: Age Of Ultron, but overall, the blended elements of hilarity and possible ultimate destruction is lost in a blur of exhilarating, yet sometimes confusing action which focuses not so much on destroying the bad guys, but evacuating a group of civilian bystanders from an Eastern European metropolis.
I don’t know, maybe I subscribe to the old adage that a film full of heroes needs an equally and opposite villain. Or, maybe I just miss Loki.