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"AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON"
(2015) (Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Action: A superhero team must contend with the creation of a powerful being that has set his sights on destroying them and wiping humankind from Earth.
PLOT:
Having previously defeated the super-villain Loki, the Avengers -- Tony Stark (ROBERT DOWNEY JR.), a.k.a. Iron Man, a billionaire playboy inventor who wears a high-tech and armored flying suit; former WWII hero Steve Rodgers (CHRIS EVANS), a.k.a. Captain America, who spent 70 years in suspended animation; the hammer-wielding Norse god Thor (CHRIS HEMSWORTH); former Soviet spy/assassin Natasha Romanoff (SCARLETT JOHANSSON), a.k.a. Black Widow; archer Clint Barton (JEREMY RENNER), a.k.a. Hawkeye; and physicist Bruce Banner (MARK RUFFALO) who turns into the monstrous Hulk if angered -- have arrived in an Eastern European country to raid a Hydra outpost helmed by Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (THOMAS KRETSCHMANN).

He's been experimenting with Loki's powerful scepter, specifically on twins Pietro (AARON TAYLOR-JOHNSON) -- a.k.a. Quicksilver who possesses super speed -- and Wanda Maximoff (ELIZABETH OLSEN) -- a.k.a. Scarlet Witch who has telekinetic powers and the ability to get inside people's heads to manipulate them. The Avengers defeat von Strucker's forces and before Thor returns his brother Loki's scepter to Asgard, Tony wishes to test the device.

His goal is to use it to create his Ultron global defense program, and believes he's found the key with the discovery of artificial intelligence contained inside the scepter's gem. Unfortunately for him, his sentient computer assistant known as J.A.R.V.I.S. (voice of PAUL BETTANY), and the rest of the Avengers, that A.I. escapes and manifests itself within a robot known as Ultron (voice of JAMES SPADER).

Creating a robot army and recruiting the Maximoff twins to join him, he states that his desire is to kill all of the Avengers. But as the superhero team comes to grips with that and having to deal with the powers wielded by Pietro and Wanda, they learn that Ultron's goal is not only to evolve into something grander, but also to wipe all of humankind from Earth. After a brief regrouping at Hawkeye's secret safe house -- where his wife, Laura (LINDA CARDELLINI), lives with their kids -- and eventually getting help from former S.H.I.E.L.D. head Nick Fury (SAMUEL L. JACKSON), War Machine (DON CHEADLE), and others, the Avengers try to find a way to stop Ultron and his nefarious plan.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
As a kid, I grew up watching Godzilla destroy Tokyo and other Japanese cities. Okay, in all honesty, that didn't really occur in the land of the rising sun as I'm pretty sure it would have been big news at the time. But I did see it happen in the movies, and there was something fun and certainly goofy in watching some actor in an obvious rubber suit smash through not exactly believable or realistic models of cities.

Such cinematic destruction usually transpired in a fairly slow fashion, as was the case with most grandiose special effects of that time, including similar style footage found in so-called disaster films of that era.

But then computers came around, their internal horsepower grew exponentially, and the destruction of buildings not only started to look more realistic, but it also was delivered in a more frenetic visual style. The "Transformer" films really took that approach to heart, followed by later superhero flicks where heroes and villains smashed each other into and through buildings in increasingly harsh and brutal ways.

That trend continues in "Avengers: Age of Ultron," the sequel to the mega Marvel hit "The Avengers" from back in 2012. Apparently believing in or simply falling prey to the bigger is better filmmaking mentality, returning writer/director Joss Whedon ups the ante in terms of incidental and purposeful damage.

The end result, however, is a case of diminishing returns for people who care about story, characters and brilliant, rather than overly busy action scenes. Fanboys who simply want to see things get smashed by their favorite superheroes will likely vehemently differ.

Whedon starts things off with a bang and then some as we're immediately thrust into a woods-based battle where the various title characters (Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, the Hulk, etc.) from the first film are engaged in a large-scale battle (where characters, vehicles and innocent trees get bashed, smashed and sometimes pulverized) to get to an enemy lair.

The multi-minute sequence certainly isn't boring, but it's not that engaging either unless you simply geek out over the thought of simultaneous personal battles being brought to life thanks to a rich special effects budget no doubt funded by the first film's massive global haul of more than $1.5 billion at the worldwide box office.

While the first film wasn't my favorite superhero movie of all time (despite the comic book series being just that while growing up in the 1970s), the fun was in watching the assembly of the various characters that Marvel previously introduced in their own, standalone films designed as appetizers for that inevitable full-course meal.

With that part now out of the way (along with the introductory clashes of personalities), Whedon doesn't have as much interesting material with which to work. Despite being a natural progression from much of what preceded it, the overall storyline isn't anything particularly compelling, although one particular subplot does come off as interesting.

And that would be the continued introduction of the Maximoff twins (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen) who were briefly introduced during the credits roll in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." While the portrayal of Quicksilver isn't as much fun here as it was in "X-Men: Days of Future Past" (and its terrific, slow-motion Pentagon sequence set to Jim Croce's "Time in a Bottle"), Wanda/Scarlet Witch is an intriguing character, mostly stemming from the performance by Olsen

Although she doesn't get a tremendous amount of screen time (something that also affects Thor and, more surprisingly, Iron Man), the actress makes the most of it. Other characters getting more time are Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), although his related "home time" scenes don't really end up adding anything, while the budding romance between Scarlett Johansson and Mark Ruffalo's characters doesn't exactly sizzle as intended (and the obvious "Beauty and the Beast" comparison is either missed or purposefully ignored).

Simply put, and as was the case the first time around, the film has too many characters and not enough time to thoroughly explore all of them. Yet, the story isn't engaging enough to justify adding any additional minutes to the already too-long running time of nearly two and a half hours.

Okay as a diversion but nowhere close to matching any number of other singular superhero movies, "Avengers: Age of Ultron" is okay, but relies far too much on frenetic action and wanton destruction rather than character or plot. Not quite as enjoyable as the first flick, it rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed April 28, 2015 / Posted May 1, 2015


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