"A camel is a horse made by committee," as the saying goes. Much like the villainous robot's birth, Avengers: Age of Ultron was created with the best of intentions and while the undertaking of producing a sequel to the jewel in Marvel Studios' crown wasn't taken lightly, too much was asked of it.
In the original super-outing of Avengers, audiences got to see the culmination of all their heroes, if not the franchises, of Marvel's best and brightest. Never before had we felt so trusted as audiences to follow the detail and combined narrative of an entire shared universe. We were rewarded too. Joss Whedon rewarded geeks, nerds, regular cinema-goers and Friday night visitors to a healthy dose of super-human spectacle. Even the most casual Whedon fan is familiar with his ability to throw together a group of dysfunctional people, put them through the mill and still emerge triumphant. However, Whedon's ability to have the moments and exchanges inform both characters and story always takes him to first place (as reflected in the Avengers record breaking box office returns). This wasn't Mojlnir-sourced lightening in a bottle. So what could go wrong?
Well, you seemingly overload the movie with the responsibility of ending "Phase 2" and starting "Phase 3". If that wasn't enough, how about introducing characters and set ups to serve other individual outings. It all seems a little messy even before the death-from-above climax we've come to expect. While the whole endeavor has the burnt whiff of studio interference, Whedon still makes a heroic effort in keeping the wiring complete enough to power the creation. Although, no one's looking for a template of the first Avengers, audiences still want another helping of their favorite flavors. As such Avengers: Age of Ultron hits many of the same beats as it's predecessor. Although the movie opens with the Avengers as an cohesive team to begin Ultron still blindsides them (a la Loki being arrested and imprisoned on the hellicarrier). They have a heated disagreement after Ultron introduces himself (a la the lab argument under the scepter's influence). Even Scarlet Witches hellishly introspective nightmares that pulls the team apart has the same results as when Loki left the hellicarrier after killing Coulson and letting the Hulk loose. While the comparisons are easily drawn, there's a lot that's fresh here. The Hulkbuster sequence is inspired wish fulfillment and while a bit messy the chase in Korea still manages to imbue the action with the heavy stakes.
Oddly, it's not the familiar beats that make Age of Ultron feel like a facsimile of it's progenitor. With everything that's packed in to Age of Ultron the highlights aren't quite able to escape the overall dirge. You'd be hard-pushed to find another superhero flick that achieves the heights in pace, action and whit, but with the bar now raised so high by Avengers and even Captain America: The Winter Soldier everything packed in by studio execs only serve the tip the balance of what would otherwise be a finely tuned superhero movie.
As such, Age of Ultron is a reflection of it's villain. A twisted machine of it's well-intentioned creator.
3* - No Country For Bold Men
Others in the series:
The Incredible Hulk
Iron Man 2
Captain America: The First Avenger
Iron Man 3
Thor: The Dark World
The Guardians of the Galaxy
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Captain America: Civil War