by David Robinson, Movie Reviewer
Now available on DVD, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” marked the official beginning of last summer’s Big Movie season, reaping in the megabucks and blowing away any competition at the box office. This latest product of the Marvel Comics franchise reunites much of the cast of 2012’s “The Avengers,” and it is again directed and scripted by Joss Whedon. It’s hard to say that we should take any of these extravaganzas seriously — except for the cash they rake in — but they succeed marvelously (sorry) on the level of spectacle. If your appetite is for eye candy, these are just your dish.
The current entry has even less coherence than usual: it’s a fool’s game to try to summarize the plot or multiple subplots. Of course, there’s the usual Battle to Save Humankind and the World as We Know It, but there are numerous stray bits of story line. Almost all of the major heroes get his/her/their piece of the action, expanding the running time to almost two and one half hours. Revenge, romance, sci-fi fantasy, comedy — it’s all here. Like the Upper Midwestern weather, if you don’t like what’s going on, wait a couple of minutes and it will change.
The action picks up a bit after the end of its predecessor movie, or at least I think it does. An evil scientist named Strucker gets killed off, leaving behind two of his fiendish experiments: the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Another character sums them up thus: “He’s fast and she’s weird.” They would fit right in with the marvelously good guys; unhappily, they fall under the evil sway of Ultron, a software program that Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) has built to protect the world from further alien attacks. He leaves the completion of the task to his own software sidekick, J.A.R.V.I.S. (voiced by Paul Bettany) to go party with his buds. When the creation (masterfully voiced by James Spader) overwhelms its creator and assumes robotic form, the game’s afoot.
Trying to repair the damage, Stark is aided by fellow scientist Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), who has serious anger management issues, turning into that not at all jolly green giant, The Hulk. Only Natasha (aka Black Widow), played by Scarlett Johansson, can calm him down when the fit’s upon him. Her romantic pursuit of the good but (very) schizoid doctor creates a love interest, and her ability to pacify his Hyde-like other self brings several fight scenes to a close.
Another love story is developed when super archer Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) reveals that he has a wife, Laura (Linda Cardellini), two kids, and another on the way. They live a quiet rural existence, also supplying a safe house for the battle weary Avengers when they need a rustic getaway. Finally, more stud power is supplied by The Mighty Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Captain America (Chris Evans), both of whom are pretty straight arrows in their very different ways and costumes.
All of the above, plus some cameo appearances by Samuel L. Jackson, Don Cheadle and sundry others, get their moments on center screen, making it daunting to follow any single line. Whedon’s script assumes that we are sufficiently familiar with their characters that we don’t need much back story or exposition, so newcomers to the series may want to rent some of the earlier entries to avoid yet more confusion. They all get together for the battle scenes, whose lightning fast editing and thunderous sound track — I saw it in a new theater, whose floor shook — may also overwhelm the unwary.
For my money, the best parts of the film are Stark’s throwaway comic asides or ripostes and the cleverly inserted allusions to a wide spectrum of referents: Eugene O’Neill, Neville Chamberlain, the Old Testament, and Pinocchio are just a few that I caught. Ben Davis’s cinematography is inventive, constantly surprising the viewer.
“Avengers: Age of Ultron” is rated “PG-13” for “intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence, and destruction, and for some suggestive comments,” the latter being the least problematic and, often, the funniest bits. Parentally-guided preteens will likely find the action scenes familiar from their video games, which the film often resembles: I expected to see point totals at the end of the opening fight. The closing credits afford a glimpse of the next number in the popular series, promising another marvelous fix in the next few years for the fanatics.