BY COLIN HERZOG
Marvel’s most ambitious project to date mostly pans out.
If the poster of “Age of Ultron” is anything to go by, it looks like the “Avengers” is getting a little crowded. With Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Heimsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and new faces Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), the Vision (Paul Bettany), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and, of course, Ultron (James Spader) himself, there are a lot of heads fighting for screen time, and “Civil War” isn’t even out yet. Still, despite cutting around 40 minutes from the film for the theatrical run, Director Joss Whedon manages to craft an enjoyable, engaging film that, while not surpassing the cohesiveness of the original, is a worthy addition to Marvel’s franchise.
The story picks up a year or so after the first film, with the Avengers working to hunt down Loki’s scepter, which had been lost when SHIELD disbanded in “Captain America: Winter Soldier.” Tony Stark, determined to protect the Earth in SHIELD’s stead, works with Bruce Banner to create the A.I. Ultron to manage his fleet of drones to step in so the Avengers don’t have to. Naturally, Ultron gets too powerful and attempts to fulfill his mandate to bring peace, even if he has to destroy the Avengers and the world to do it.
Let’s just address the elephant in the room: the cast size. Yes, it is substantial, and yet Whedon finds time to give each of the main characters some character growth or complexity—well, except Nick Fury, James Rhodes and Maria Hill, but given their second-stringer status, this is hardly surprising. Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch get an interesting, if not politically relevant, backstory and a solid enough foundation with their grudge against the Avengers, while Spader’s Ultron is charismatic, sarcastic and surprisingly human in his interactions. This humanity makes him more engaging than most of Marvel’s villains, and while he may not be as menacing as the trailers suggest, he is still unpredictable and charismatic enough to compensate. Hawkeye gets much needed spotlight time and makes the most of it, winding up with some of the best lines in the film, while the Hulk and Black Widow romance is interesting and gets about as much attention as it needs but will probably need the extended cut to really come into its own.
Naturally, this being a Marvel production, the costumes, effects and sets are top notch, with the global scale giving a variety of locations and environments that helped keep the film feeling fresh, even if some of the action scenes may overstay their welcome, such as the opening scene with the raid on Striker’s lab drags a bit. Overall, however it moves at a fast enough clip, and the character drama still feels effectively conveyed.
However, while the theatrical release is solid, the film does feel like it needs the extended cut to really flesh out Thor in particular, as he leaves to discover the Infinity Gems and then suddenly returns with all the necessary exposition, which feels like a deux ex machina. Rhodey and Maria Hill vanish completely for much of the film with little explanation, and the ending could have used a tad more fleshing ou, to bring the character arcs home more firmly. Tony and Cap and the issue of their differing methods especially felt like it needed to be given some more resolution . . . so it could be pushed over the edge with 2016’s “Civil War.”
Overall, it is a solid film with great performances all around, though the story suffers from some pacing and editing issues.