There is a moment that follows the closing credits of nearly every Marvel film.
It's as if everyone in the entire auditorium has achieved a simultaneous nerdgasm, one can feel an almost volcanic rush of energy that fills the room with smart phones bursting forth and impassioned discussions about Marvel minutiae that will carry on long through the night and into the days and weeks ahead.
If that makes it sound like I'm about to give a thorough trashing to Avengers: Age of Ultron, rest assured that is not the case.
Avengers: Age of Ultron is a film that occasionally lives up to that simultaneous nerdgasm, but more often than not it's a film that feels like a necessary evil on the way to bigger and better things in the Marvel universe.
The film is breathless, but not always in the good way. Too often, Avengers: Age of Ultron feels like an intentionally over-stuffed cinematic behemoth that packets a whole lot into its nearly 2 1/2 hour running time yet never really manages to say much of anything. It's a film that I'd dare say isn't much of a stand-alone film, though certainly its impressive technology and abundance of action sequences may very well prove pleasing to anyone regardless of their familiarity with the Marvel scene. For the most part, Avengers: Age of Ultron continues the Marvel tradition of connecting its various theatrical and television properties in such a way that you practically have to watch them all to really appreciate everything that's going on.
Of course, you know the usual heroes - Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner/Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).
Avengers: Age of Ultron kicks off in the fictitious Eastern European nation of Sokovia, where Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) has gotten his hands on Loki's scepter and is conducting experiments involving Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen). Pietro is able to move faster than the human eye can see, while Wanda has some wicked firestarting capabilities and a pretty impressive gift for mind control.
As a side note, anyone familiar with Olsen's career has to chuckle that the Oscar nominated actress had her big breakout in a film about her life in a cult and is now being featured in what will unquestionably be her biggest box-office success in a role where she practices mind control.
Oh, the tangled web we weave. But, I digress.
It kind of goes without saying that eventually our Avengers will repossess the scepter with the intention of returning it to where it belongs. However, Stark and Banner can't resist their rather narcissistic do-gooding urges to try to harness the scepter's power into a form of AI that they are convinced will lead to a peaceful world.
The result is Ultron, impressively performed by James Spader through snarky vocals and convincing stop-motion capture, an impressive beast of an AI being with an almost unstoppable ability to duplicate himself and an uncompromising belief that the only way to actually achieve peace in the world is to annihilate the Avengers and pretty much all of humanity.
Think the Indiana State Legislature.
The rest of Ultron's running time is filled with action sequences galore, though it's worth noting that amidst the usual humor and witty banter that Avengers: Age of Ultron is a more deeply felt, darker, and more intense film than we experienced the first time around as Wanda's mind control leads to each of our heroes being forced to examine their deepest fears, an examination that is beautifully manifested and surprisingly vibrant emotionally and visually.
Writer/director Joss Whedon takes his time with each chararacter including giving Hawkeye a good amount of attention this time around. Age of Ultron really has a little bit of everything in it including family drama, glimpses of romance, and a rather stark (pun intended) humanizing of our bold and brash heroes.
There are also some surprisingly strong morality choices along the way, most notably a fairly pronounced effort to separate the Avengers from the bad guys by making sure they're constantly and intentionally trying to reduce the risk of collateral damage throughout their exploits. Whedon, an avowed comic book nerd himself, has clearly heard some of the complaints about the cartoonish taking of lives and found a way to address it without distracting from all of the fun.
The Marvel regulars do their usual top notch work. Hemsworth, Evans, and Downey Jr. are fun to watch, funnier to listen to, and have clearly figured out how to get into the soul of their characters. Renner clearly relishes getting a more expanded role this time around and gives the film a nice sense of family and humanity. The chemistry between Johansson and Ruffalo is strong enough that their growing bond makes sense, while Ruffalo nicely brings to life Banner's emotional turmoil and conflicted presence. As the soon to be Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, Aaron-Taylor Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen are uncomfortably convincing. The supporting players, including Don Cheadle, Samuel L. Jackson, and Paul Bettany, are strong as usual.
Avengers: Age of Ultron is a good film, but not a great film. While it would be ludicrous to have expected it to have the impact of the original film (it doesn't), the simple truth is that it's an over-stuffed and occasionally dissatisfying film that takes too long to get where it's going and at times becomes a major case of sensory overload along the way. The film's 3-D conversion is a complete waste and was utterly unnecessary, though this seems to frequently be the case for film's not actually shot in 3-D.
Despite its flaws, there's little doubt that Avengers: Age of Ultron will for the most part prove pleasing to the masses who consume the Marvel Universe like Captain America and vibranium.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic