Avengers Age of Ultron ✮1/2
by Glenn Lovell
We have seen the future of the CG-saturated action opus and ‒ upon emerging bruised and battered from the local megaplex ‒ can say with certitude that it isn’t pretty.
Like Hulk after one of his transformative hissy fits, Marvel’s $250-million “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is the superhero fantasy hopped up on adrenaline and HGHs, a frenetic parody of every comic book adventure ‒ bloated, garbled, crammed to bursting with series in-jokes and digitized dust-ups.
This installment opens in medias res as the Avengers ‒ Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye ‒ lay siege to old nemesis Wolfgang von Strucker’s castle-cum-lab in Sokovia, East Europe. The team’s mission: to decommission Strucker and his robot army and make off with the all-powerful scepter, which, when last utilized by Thor’s evil brother, Loki, blasted a hole in the heavens for an invading army.
This time around said scepter is used by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) to secretly activate what they think is a global defense system. Instead, it unleashes Ultron (voiced with ominous glee by James Spader), a “murder-bot” AI, which, when it isn’t quoting “Pinocchio,” pits the superheroes against one another and contemplates the extinction of mankind.
Oh, dear ‒
Directed and written by Joss Whedon, “Avengers 2” reverses audiences expectations: Instead of expository timeouts from the knock-downs-drag-outs, the action sequences this time provide much-needed respites from the clichéd comebacks and poorly integrated subplots, one of which introduces Hawkeye’s secret family, another the initially nasty sibs Petro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen). How do you tell the twins apart? “He’s fast, she’s weird.”
Giddy from his newly minted box-office clout, Whedon high-fives his core constituency with winking asides and belabored cameos (Stan Lee does his obligatory walk-on). Careful not to mess with a winning formula, his comic-book heroes are, if possible, even more one-note than before: Iron Man/Stark is all smirking superiority as he makes funny with references to “Moby Dick” and Eugene O’Neill; the shield-slinging Captain America (Chris Evans) remains the square-jawed Dudley Do-Right of the team; Thor (Chris Hemsworth) once again is, by turns, brooding and sheepishly Old World; lovebirds Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) and Banner/Hulk are distinguished, respectively, by their selflessness and self-loathing. Archer Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) makes so little impression he might as well be firing rubber suction-cup arrows. Where’s Katniss Everdeen when you need her?
Not to worry, however. Marvel and Disney have released “Avengers 2” in five formats — flat, IMAX, 3D, IMAX 3D, seat-quaking 4DX — thereby assuring the faithful ample opportunity to riffle through the tangled scrapheap passing for plot.
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON ✮1/2 With Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Elizabeth Olsen, Don Cheadle. Directed, written by Joss Whedon. 141 min. Rated PG-13 (for slight profanity, hyperbolic comic-book violence)