Family Movie Review: The Avengers 2: Age of Ultron (PG-13)

TheAvengers2AgeofUltron ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewKernel Rating (out of 5): whole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernalhalf popcorn kernal

MPAA Rating: PG-13       Length: 141 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 13+. Typical Marvel movie stuff. Lots of action scenes where people are killed in a non-gory way and a few with some bloody wounds; some scenes with corpses; lots of gunfire, laser beams, hand-to-hand action, shield throwing, and the like; some romantically themed conversations, jokes about sex, and flirting; a conversation about sterilization forced upon a character; some cursing; and a plot point that could lead to the end of the world.

'The Avengers 2: Age of Ultron' is an extra-long, extra-stuffed blockbuster even by Marvel standards, and the film doesn't have nearly enough time to breathe. But its moments of great fun come early and often.

By Roxana Hadadi

The Marvel cinematic universe is an array of puzzle pieces, and "The Avengers 2: Age of Ultron" does a good job fitting everything together. There are rough edges here, things that don't really work, and a sometimes frustratingly short memory, but even when "Age of Ultron" is just pretty good, it's a fantastically fun time.

As a follow-up to not only its $1 billion-earning predecessor but also the other Phase 2 Marvel movies that have been released since 2012, "Age of Ultron" has a lot to consider. Since "Avengers" was released three years ago, there have been 2013's "Iron Man 3" and "Thor 2: The Dark World" and 2014's "Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier" and "Guardians of the Galaxy," all of which move the central story—the Avengers team, individually and together, battling to save the world from evil—forward in some way.

But "Age of Ultron" isn't nearly the last movie in this world (there is one more movie left in Phase 2, this summer's "Ant-Man," and then there are 10 movies scheduled for release through 2019 as part of Marvel's Phase 3), and the greatest problem here is how much director and writer Joss Whedon can wrap up and how much he has to leave open. Characters address what they've been through in previous movies, but sparingly. Characters change and grow and regress, but incrementally. With 11 more installments to go, you can only do so much in one film—and these disparate, unwrapped storylines are impossible to ignore after "Age of Ultron's" 141-minute runtime. Marvel is a sequel-run industry, and "Age of Ultron" struggles with the inherent limitations of that formula.

The premise is this: After the Avengers, including Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr., of "Iron Man 3"), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans, of "Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier"), Thor (Chris Hemsworth, of "Thor 2: The Dark World"), Bruce Banner/the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, of "Begin Again"), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, of "Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier"), and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner, of "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters"), saved the world from an alien invasion led by Thor's brother in New York City, things have been busy, and things have been rough. Everyone knows who the Avengers are now, but they still have to fight arms dealers, large-scale criminals, and the threat led by Hydra, the international terrorist organization that has been accumulating power for decades, to keep the world safe. In fact, the film opens with a fantastic action sequence in an Eastern European country where Hydra has been hiding out and experimenting on humans: twins Pietro Maximoff/Quiksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, of "Godzilla"), tweaked into being super fast, and Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen, of "Godzilla"), enhanced with mental powers like telekinesis and mind control. They have a beef against the Avengers, and they're not going down lightly.

For their part, the Avengers have dealt with their infamy differently, but Tony is impacted the most, struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and convinced that a peacekeeping force made of robots modeled after his Iron Man suit could keep the world safe so the Avengers could retire. But things go badly when his and Banner's design for an artificial intelligence system becomes self-aware and goes rogue, resulting in the super-powerful Ultron (voiced by James Spader, of "Lincoln"). Shaped by Stark's fear that the Avengers will all die while trying to protect the world, Ultron becomes convinced that his mission is to make the world safe by destroying them—and as an adversary, with his ability to access all the world's information in an instant, he may be the worst foe the group has ever faced.

It's not that "Age of Ultron" is somehow a boring movie for its abundance of well-choreographed set pieces or thrilling action scenes, but that with so many of them—each attempting to outdo each other—character motivations get buried. The film opens with a bang with that attack on Hydra, but then there's another sequence at the Avengers tower, and then in Africa, and then in South Korea, and then back again with Hydra, and for all of Whedon's wonderfully executed tracking shots and witty banter between the Avengers, it's all too much of the same. Even with 141 minutes, there are only two or three scenes of the Avengers just hanging out, and those (with their easy chemistry, their jocularity, their charisma) are the most electric, especially a party at the Avengers tower that showcases everyone's personalities to great effect. Stark is smug and self-confident to a fault, Rogers is driven by his convictions, Natasha is no-nonsense and assertive, Clint is sarcastic but self-doubting, and so on—there are layers to these people, and they're the coolest kids around, and in that scene, you feel it and you love it.

But the demands of a Marvel sequel, and the plot lines that have to be introduced but not resolved, are too great, and they take their toll. Stark's motivations are almost fascist here, but there are no repercussions for his actions; those probably won't come until 2016's "Captain America 3: Civil War." A totally unnecessary and unbelievable romance between Natasha and Banner is left dangling in a way that undermines her as a character and leaves him a mystery, but they probably won't interact again until 2018's "The Avengers 3: Infinity War Part 1." The Maximoffs are a worthy addition to the cast (as Scarlet Witch, Olsen practically steals the film with her nightmarish powers and nicely developed story arc), and Clint gets a worthwhile buildout for his character here, but none of them will get standalone movies of their own in Marvel's plans, so their storylines are irritatingly open-ended. You could do this with every character—why isn't Thor worried about Asgard or his nefarious brother Loki; why doesn't anyone mention the Winter Soldier that was Steve's foe so recently—and it becomes clear that the film is more predominantly focused on the future movies than the past ones that got the Avengers to this point.

If you live in the moment, though, "Age of Ultron" is fun and thrilling and amusing, a little subversive in how well these characters get along and how united they are and how much fun they seem to be having. It's Whedon's thing as a pop culture creator to create teams of friends who prioritize loyalty and understanding over practically anything else, and that method works perfectly for a group like the Avengers, all weirdos in their own ways who really only find family with each other. If only "Age of Ultron" could have spent more time exploring that dynamic.

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