“Avengers: Age of Ultron” is going to sell a lot of tickets and toys and T-shirts.
Heck, it might even sell a few comic books.
But what it won’t do is make you feel much of anything.
Oh, there’s the occasional self-satisfied thrill at spotting a C-level Marvel Comics character — Andy Serkis is playing Ulysses Klaw! Bruce Banner said “Wakanda!”
But feeling something beyond, “Coool!”?
Of course, many a Marvel minion will retort, “What? Feeling? Who cares? Hulk smash!”
And this contingent will be very, very pleased.
“Age of Ultron,” the 11th chapter in the never-ending story of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, pits our heroes — Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) — against a threat of their own making.
Namely, Ultron (creepily voiced by James Spader), an artificial intelligence created by Tony Stark and Bruce Banner — the super-smart alter egos of Iron Man and Hulk, respectively — in an effort to “put a suit of armor around the world.” Apparently, Tony is ready for some serious beach time and is looking to make his little band of adventurers obsolete.
But as the trope turns, Ultron goes rogue, deciding the only way to protect the world is to destroy humanity.
Along the way, he recruits twins Wanda and Pietro Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson), war refugees made superhuman by agents of the terrorist-military organization Hydra. Their powers are summed up as “He’s fast and she’s weird.”
If it seems like “Avengers” has a lot going on, it does. Sometimes too much. But at its core, this is the Pinocchio story. Ultron just wants to be a real boy, doggone it, and he keeps singing “I’ve Got No Strings” from Disney’s animated classic just to drive the point home.
Director Joss Whedon gives us plenty of what fans want. Sassy dialogue, epic fights and more superheroes than you can shake an enchanted hammer at. But his efforts to make this more than a billion-dollar B-movie hit the floor like a sack of wet mutants.
Whedon desperately wants you to feel something for Hawkeye, filling in the archer’s backstory with scenes so out of place they beg to be spoiled (we won’t). Wanda and Pietro are supposed to be siblings, but aside from a biographical infodump, their connection consists of standing next to each other.
A budding romance between Natasha (Black Widow) and Bruce shows some promise — you’re never certain if she is attracted to him or if it’s all spy work to control “the other guy.” By the end of the film, though, she’s relegated to playing the girlfriend-in-distress role.
That’s uncharacteristic for Whedon — from “Buffy” to “Firefly,” strong females are his trademark. Wanda is often a cowering mess unless her brother holds her up (a problem with the comic character, too). Stark even replaces his armor’s A.I. with a female voice called F.R.I.D.A.Y., which has way too much Siri and not nearly enough Rosalind Russell.
Strangely, the moment that evokes the most emotion comes when the newly aware Ultron attacks Stark’s operating system J.A.R.V.I.S. (voiced by Paul Bettany). On screen, it’s all lights and voices and computer graphics, and when J.A.R.V.I.S. goes dark, there’s a real sense of loss.
There’s plenty to like in “Avengers.”
None of the Marvel movies do the Whedon repartee like Whedon, who also directed the first film and had a hand in the scripts of others. He crushes a running joke about Captain America’s World War II-era fuddy-duddiness, and he’s even able to rein in Downey’s ramblings, which were nearly incoherent in “Iron Man 3.”
Whedon also puts on a master class in film editing in the opening scene, which shows our heroes attacking a Hydra army while trying to recover Loki’s magic staff. The team appears to be a tactically brilliant fighting force, but in the whole initial 15 to 20 minutes, actors rarely share the frame with one another. It’s a great, seamless open, and the rest of the film’s action sequences are similarly fabulous, even if the destruction of tall buildings and whole cities occasionally approaches Michael Bay levels.
And while fanboys lamented all the color filtering (among other things) that went on in DC’s “Man of Steel,” it’s used appropriately here, for the most part. A fight between Iron Man and a mind-controlled Hulk is oversaturated in a dusty yellow; the big boss battle against Ultron at the end is a twilight gray. The digital artists in “Avengers” may be using color filters and speed to obscure the animation, but it’s a huge improvement over rainy night fights. At least the action occurs in the daylight.
In many ways, the sequel improves on the first “Avengers” but lacks the heart in last year’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” or “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
Perhaps that’s because the whole Marvel movie formula is starting to feel a little tired. Remember that kid from your childhood who always wanted to play the same thing whenever your parents stuck you together? That’s what these Marvel movies are starting to feel like.
As an unabashed nerd and comic reader, I left the theater wondering if maybe we’ve finally seen all that the comic book movie genre can offer. How many more CGI skyscrapers do we need to see tumble to the ground? Do we need another faceless horde of computer-animated robots attacking everything in sight?
But “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is going to satisfy a great many people. There’s still a thrill in seeing all of these comic book characters together in a movie.
Even when it’s just Ulysses Klaw.
To reach David Frese, send email to email@example.com. Twitter: @DavidFrese.
Rated PG-13 | Time: 2:21
3-D OR NOT 3-D?
Don’t bother. At no point in the movie does the 3-D make the effects better.