By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

As I typed the rating above, I still question how generous I am being with this film.  Going into this screening, I kept an open mind and tried not to let my anticipations or preconceived hype affect my opinion of the film.  Still, I ended up leaving the theater with a pleased smile on my face.  Yes, the movie is not better than its first installment, and yes, other entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are actually better than this one, but hell, I still had a great time enjoying all of the positive elements this movie has to offer.  I would compare this experience to that of a reunion concert by a beloved rock band.  Sure, they haven’t exactly aged to perfection and sure, one can easily notice the flaws in the execution, but damn it, it really is badass to have the band back together. 

Following the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the television series, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the location of Hydra leader Baron von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) has been determined and the Avengers have been dispatched to capture him and recover Loki’s scepter.  The mission doesn’t go completely smoothly, but the heroes get the job done.  After returning to New York, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) begins to ponder the future of super-heroism and the threat of further villainous escalation.  His concern about future threats inspires him to complete his Ultron program, a global defense plan run by artificial intelligence.  However, things go majorly awry when Ultron (voice of James Spader) becomes sentient and threatens to wipe out all of humanity across the globe.

Written and directed by Joss Whedon, Avengers: Age of Ultron does have some of the usual problems sequels have.  A few of the jokes don’t have the same punch the ones in the first film has. The desire to up the ante with more and more elaborate action sequences does sacrifice some strong storytelling in the process.  Again, more is not necessarily better.  On the positive end, I love that Whedon chose to focus on more development of some of the supporting cast members in addition to that of Stark’s story arc.

Audiences get to see more personal sides of Hawkeye/Barton (Jeremy Renner), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo).  Not a tremendous amount of development is dedicated to Steve Rogers and Thor,  other than foreshadowing of future conflicts.  The movie also has a minor subplot dedicated to setting up another future Marvel villain for another hero movie, and an enjoyable one at that.  This works in the grand scheme of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but is a tad extraneous within the film alone.

The main conflict of the movie between Ultron and the Avengers is mostly cinema magic, though.  Spader’s incredible voice work brings this deliciously wicked villain to life and makes him an exciting, thrilling and menacing one.  Whedon’s writing is definitely at its strongest when it comes to the awesome lines he has written for Spader to gleefully spout.  Perhaps spout is a poor choice of words because Spader comes across as eloquent as a Shakespearean actor.  He truly delivers the stand-out performance of the film.

That is not to say that everyone else performs flatly, but it appears that the returning cast members suit up as their respective characters comfortably and effortlessly.  New additions, Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor Johnson perform adequately as the twins, Pietro and Wanda Maximoff.  Their characters are fun visually, and Wanda’s abilities serve an important purpose in the movie, but otherwise, the characters get somewhat shorted with  minimal writing and development.  I have to admit that I find the X-Men: Days of Future Past version of Pietro/Quicksilver more exciting and entertaining.

And to be honest, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is more exciting and entertaining than this film.  Nevertheless, I had a great time seeing my beloved Marvel characters tangle and clash with not only one another, but also with super baddie Ultron.  He probably is a much more satisfying and fascinating villain than Loki is in the first Avengers, but that’s mainly because Loki is merely pawn in that film.  In this one, Ultron pulls all the strings and proves to be a worthy adversary to the “super-hero boy band.” Seeing them assemble once again is the reunion I have been happily anticipating since 2012.

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