Earth's mightiest (and most attractive) heroes burst back on to the big screen this weekend with their second epic adventure Avengers: Age of Ultron. And with it the now-seemingly unstoppable juggernaut known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe lumbers on, with logic and coherence barely holding on. Like such previous fantasy sagas as the Harry Potter series and Peter Jackson's Tolkien adaptations, the longer these cash cow franchises run, the more cumbersome and convoluted they become.
The big bad this go-round is Ultron, the ultimate of artificial intelligences, accidentally created by Tony Stark (a.k.a. Iron Man, a.k.a. Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (a.k.a. the Hulk, a.k.a. Mark Ruffalo). Unleashed upon the world ostensibly to bring peace, Ultron (snarkily voiced by James Spader) deduces that the best way to do that is to eliminate all of mankind. Naturally, the Avengers have a problem with that, and leader Captain America (Chris Evans) calls for their mighty assemblage. In addition to Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner, who must have had it in his contract to have a better role this time), three new heroes are on hand, not to mention a couple of sidekicks, a resurrected Nick Fury and SHIELD, and an endless, swarming horde of Ultron's killer robots. Needless to say, things get a little crowded.
But a cast of thousands isn't Age of Ultron's only misstep. With the first Avengers, director/co-writer Joss Whedon expertly mixed humor and action, creating a popcorn roller coaster that was equal parts fun and thrills. This time, however, the humor seems forced, especially an increasingly bad running gag about goodie-two-shoes Captain America. Subplots fare no better, most notably an odd, manufactured (and more than slightly sexist) romance between two of our heroes (no, sadly, not Cap and Thor). Near fatally of all, the film's pacing is seriously out of whack, jerking from one action set piece to another then screeching to a halt for a stilted batch of character development.
As is usually the case in the first-of-many-planned-sequels, Age of Ultron has a lot of threads leading into and out of it. That's understandable (to a point), what with all the projects Marvel is juggling; no fewer than 10 movies are already scheduled, from this summer's Ant-Man to the next two Avengers movies... in 2018 and 2019! Yet it is hard to get emotionally invested in a film like this that, even though it has all your favorite heroes (and then some), just feels like its all a big set up for the next one.
MD Rating: B-
Review by Kirby Holt, creator and editor of Movie Dearest, The QuOD: The Queer Online Database and the Out Movie Guide.