The mighty Avengers gave it their best shot.
Director Joss Whedon amped up the story for “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” cast James Spader to bring wicked life to the robotic villain, added more characters from the Marvel universe and tossed in some massive action scenes. All of this makes for a good summer action movie. It just falls short of the first “Avengers” movie.
To be fair, the sequel had some big colorful boots to fill, a task as big as finding a tuxedo that would fit the Hulk.
The team of Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) come together again to face the next villainous plan to rule the world. As part of that battle, they trigger an even bigger threat in the form of the artificial intelligence known as Ultron ( Spader).
Ultron’s twisted view of how the world should be saved by wiping the slate clean sets off a series of battles to protect the planet. Two new superheroes on the movie block — Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) — first fight the Avengers before having a change of heart.
The two new heroes aren’t alone. One of the big problems is that Whedon tries too hard to fill the movie with hero cameos. The story gets stretched just so the likes of Agent Carter (Hayley Atwell), War Machine (Don Cheadle) and Heimdall (Idris Elba) can make an appearance.
“The Avengers” found strength in the core unit. Moviegoers not familiar with the Marvel universe had been educated through the solo films for “Thor,” “Captain America” and “Iron Man” before seeing “The Avengers.” Even having Loki as the main threat helped create an immediate connection to the film.
In the new movie, there are those connections but they keep getting muddled with new characters and a confusing plot line. Spader brings great life to Ultron through his voice work, but the character’s origin is nowhere nearly as defined as Loki’s.
There’s also a slight disconnect with the main bad guys being robots. Beating, blasting and battering mechanical foes is as engaging as playing a video game. There’s no big moment like the one where Hulk tosses Loki around like a rag doll in the original film.
“Avengers: Age of Ultron” also suffers from signs of aging. After three “Iron Man” movies and now a second “Avengers” offering, the constant quips by Downey as Tony Stark are beginning to wear thin. Every word out of his mouth doesn’t have to be snarky.
Smart banter is a trademark of Whedon’s writing, but there are times when it just needed to be pulled back. Then he would have had time to better set up some of the surprise twists or better serve his main cast. Hemsworth has been reduced to a supporting player here, and when he does have something to do — such as visit a weird memory pool — his actions aren’t clearly explained.
Where the film shines is in the battle sequences, particularity the showdown between Hulk and Iron Man in the Hulkbuster armor. From this massive battle to the showdown with Ultron, the fight scenes are flawless. But, so were the ones in “The Avengers” and a dozen other big summer action movies.
“Avengers: Age of Ultron” has fallen victim to the Disney curse. Each time the studio releases a new animated movie, it’s compared to the ones before it. Often they aren’t as good — but that’s because the bar is set so high. Even a film with flaws in that context is still better than 95% of anything else in the genre.
That’s the case with “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” The action scenes are spectacular. But the slightly jumbled story and mob of new characters pull focus from what makes the film work the best — the original group of costumed characters.