With Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson. Written and directed by Joss Whedon. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction, and for some suggestive comments. 141 minutes.
For those not immersed in the Marvel Universe (like this reviewer), here’s what you need to know going in to AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON. The gem in the artifact recovered at the beginning is part of a larger story that will pay off in a subsequent film. The twins Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) are really Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, but they can’t say that nor mention that Magneto from the “X-Men” movies is their father, because those movies are made by a different studio. And there’s one brief scene early in the closing credits and nothing further at the end except a promise of more “Avengers” movies.
So the villain this time is a robot/artificial intelligence creature named Ultron (effectively voiced by James Spader) who was created in the laboratory by Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). Things go wrong and Ultron decides that the best way to make the planet peaceful is to destroy humanity. In terms of plot, you can probably guess where this is going. After all, if Ultron had succeeded, we wouldn’t be here.
The reason to see the film is not the plot but the characters, with the actors having a great time with the situations and dialogue fashioned by writer/director Joss Whedon, returning for his second outing with the superheroes. In between the special effects battles, Whedon does a solid job balancing a large cast of stars and supporting players. Everyone gets moments to shine.
Scarlett Johannson returns as Black Widow, now tasked with keeping the Hulk under control, Chris Hemsworth gets a running gag about who can wield Thor’s hammer, and Chris Evans gets some laughs with a throwaway line at the beginning of the film that keeps coming back to bite him. As usual with Whedon, the witty banter plays counterpoint to more serious situations. During the climactic battle involving Ultron raising an entire city to turn it into a meteor, there’s actually concern by the good guys about getting the civilians out of the way. This may be a first for these summer special effects blockbusters. Along the way, we also get glimpses of the hidden demons that haunt our heroes, making them more than just wisecracking action figures.
Almost forty years ago, George Lucas was considered foolish for opening his science fiction blockbuster at the end of May, weeks before the start of summer. The success of “Star Wars” changed Hollywood thinking in several ways, including reconsidering the calendar. There may still be a nip in the air some days, but as far as the movie world is concerned, summer has begun. “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is a comic book movie, to be sure, but it’s got enough spectacle, wit, and talent on display to make it a most entertaining kickoff to the season. There will be more films to come hoping to strike it big at the box office, but this one sets the bar marvelously high.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.