Spoilers below. Don’t read if you didn’t watch the movie!
There’s a built-in bathroom break thirty minutes into Avengers: Age of Ultron. The whole team winds down a cocktail party with a game of “Who Can Lift Thor’s Hammer?” Usually the blooper reel isn’t edited into the movie itself, but I sensed director-writer Joss Whedon and the gang just wanted to hang together. (Scarlett Johansson, always a welcome addition, wisely sits this bro-fest out.)
So Avengers: Age of Ultron goes: it’s like an old friend’s wedding with a few pesky party-crashers. It’s tough to call this Avengers 2 when it’s Marvel Cinematic Cash-Cow #11. The next several Marvel films that Ultron sets in motion will dredge the comic cemeteries, unearthing any sunken superhero they can, unwilling to let Howard the Duck rest in his grave. Once civil war and then Infinity War come, we may long for enjoyable installments like this.
As one of the uninitated, Age of Ultron is not as dizzying as the first Avengers. We open on the battle against Hydra, and end with the team taking job applications for a new crew. Overall, I’d say this movie changes little. They save the world from certain destruction—again—and separate to star in their own movies—again. The Hulk may have temporarily withdrawn, but I have no doubt he’ll avenge again. So this chapter is the lighthearted scherzo of a limitless concerto, a buoyant swirl of cotton candy manufactured to appease fans and move us from point A to point A-prime.
Even the first ten minutes seem to parody the Marvel phenomenon. That slow-mo action shot of the Avengers careening across the screen! (See above.) It’s a marketing department’s dream. The dialogue (starting with prudish Captain America’s “Language!” quip) is sillier than usual, and I began to wonder if I’d were watching a Saturday Night Live send-up.
I am impressed how Whedon squeezes in eight A-list stars, plus new faces like Elizabeth Olsen, without much of a sweat. We only have time to go deeper into a few characters, and it’s nice that those are Hawkeye (who lucked out with Linda Cardellini) and Bruce Banner (who surprisingly isn’t contracted for The Incredible Hulk 2: More Incredible, More Hulk). Mark Ruffalo, a mumbling bottle of neurosis, acts as if he’s in a different movie than the others, awkward and uncomfortable while the others swagger around cocksure. He gives Ultron a necessary hint of soul.
One last note: There’s little thought given to massive destruction, especially in the African city where Tony Stark and the Hulk battle and nearly wipe out countless civilians. As an afterthought, the Stark Relief Foundation is sent to—what? Rebuild towers and aid traumatized citizens? The sight of an imploding skyscraper is still an unsettling one.