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Avengers: Age of Ultron

4

The Avengers are back! This time, they're gathering to take on Ultron, a robot determined to destroy the human race.

Back in 2012, Joss Whedon's The Avengers opened in theaters and the movie went on to earn more than a billion dollars. I -- as well as millions of other fans -- absolutely loved the movie. It was a great way to capitalize on four years of buildup and it dished out a ton of fan service. Now, Whedon has to capture that same kind of magic all over again. No big deal, right? While Avengers: Age of Ultron may not offer the same kind of sheer joy the first movie did, it does manage to offer more of exactly what you'd expect from it: a whole lot of fun.

One of my personal criticisms about The Avengers was the lack of Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye. He technically had a fair amount of screen time in that movie, but he didn't exactly have the best role around. Now, Clint has a standout part in the story. Without spoiling anything, I'll just say the whole "he's just a dude with a bow and arrow" joke is addressed and it's not only a way to land multiple laughs, but it also does a stellar job humanizing the archer. His personality gets a lot of love and yes, his abilities as a marksman and combatant also get a decent amount of respect. There's plenty of arrows going into robotic heads and what not, but I really appreciate how the focus on him felt more grounded and relatable. As his teammates are taking place in this surreal and explosive fight, things get a little more quiet, focused, and intense when the spotlight turns to him. He's not someone flying around or blasting apart his enemies with ease. He's not flipping around and right in the middle of the madness (most of the time). He needs to stay alert and make sure he doesn't get hit. It may not be a long sequence, but the brief change in tone is noticed and most definitely appreciated.

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Remember that awesome extended shot in The Avengers -- the one that moved from hero to hero during the Battle of New York? Of course you do. For many of us, that was such a jaw-dropper and seeing it unfold on the big screen was astonishing. Well, Whedon gives us a nice dose of nostalgia right in the opening. It's a fun action sequence that gives each character some credit, but it's also a great way to remind us why this movie is something special. Several years ago, we witnessed the *ahem* assembling of some of Marvel's biggest heroes. Now, we get the opportunity to see them in action yet again. Some may think it's an unoriginal move to use such a similar shot once more, but I think it's a very exciting and fun way to bring us back into this world while also reminding us why we love it oh-so-much. Besides, it's not like there's a lack of good shots when it comes to the action sequences. There's more than a few with Captain America and you can't help but love the teamwork that's going on. Even if you've watched clips of Hulkbuster vs. Hulk, odds are you're still going to have a blast with it. As for the big conflict in the end, there's one slow motion bit that gave me goose bumps. There's just something so terrific about seeing the entire team doing what they do best.

It should come as no surprise whatsoever that Avengers: Age of Ultron has plenty of lighthearted banter. There's about a gazillion one-liners (that's a rough estimate) that feel appropriate for the characters and I was constantly laughing or at least smiling. Sure, things get a little more serious from time to time and the movie does quickly dig deep into each of these characters, but a huge focus is placed on making sure we're having fun and I most certainly did. Honestly, who didn't think this one would be full of quips?

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Back when it was announced Chris Evans would become Captain America, part of the internet exploded. Since then, Evans has done a fine job as the super-soldier and he's easily one of the best parts of this movie. First and foremost, Cap's a beast. The feats he pulls off in this movie are pretty staggering and it reminds you he's not just a "normal" human. Secondly -- and every bit as important as the first part -- Evans' performance has a mix of confidence and compassion that makes him simply feel like Captain America. This is yet another movie that makes it crystal clear why Marvel Studios gave him the role.

Being a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe comes as a bit of a double-edged sword for Age of Ultron. On the positive side, there's a lot of fan service and blatant teasers for what's to come. I don't want to risk spoiling any of them, so I'll just say there's a lot to love for fans of Marvel Studios and there's a fair amount of buildup, especially as the credits get closer and closer. On the bad side, I can't help but feel like this took away from the importance of Ultron's presence. Instead of feeling like the robot is this menacing and memorable foe, it seems like the fiend is there to enhance our understanding of Tony Stark (he's basically a dark reflection of Stark) and you can tell the decisions and developments made in this movie will more than likely play an important role in the MCU's future. The film spends a moderate amount of time clearly focusing on looking ahead, so when I walked out of the theater, I found myself also thinking about what's to come instead of reflecting on the scenes I just witnessed. Focusing on world building to some degree certainly isn't a bad thing, but when all is said and done, it made Ultron seem less important.

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I don't mind Ultron being more humorous as times -- James Spader sure can make me laugh -- but the villain's story takes quite a few familiar steps and unfortunately, he never felt as imposing or intimidating as he could have been. I get that's part of the character's personality and he definitely was entertaining, but if you're bringing this iconic villain to the big screen, you can't help but expect something that'll occasionally strike fear into you -- a quality I know Spader is perfectly capable of handling. As for Vision, his introduction did feel a little awkward, but despite that, he becomes a standout addition to the cast.

There's quite a bit of destruction and you can tell Whedon took plenty of steps to make sure it isn't controversial. At some points, this is a fitting reminder of why these characters are called "heroes." No matter how impossible the odds may be and no matter how foolish the decision may seem, they'll do what they can to protect others. There's a few times this is handled well and it's a little inspiring. For someone like Captain America, it just feels right. For someone like Hawkeye, you can't help but root for him as he goes against the odds. However, I was sometimes left feeling like the approach was a little too heavy-handed. It's a small criticism, but showing rather than telling would have helped the movie in a few cases.

There's a plentiful amount of amusing action, but some of it just didn't impress. Iron Man's first encounter with Ultron was full of hectic close-up shots and Thor's battle with the big bad was pretty disappointing. While close-ups of Hulk look great and Ultron usually looks solid, there were scattered bits of lackluster special effects. That's pretty surprising since this is such a huge blockbuster, but it's not that big of a deal.

I can understand how some may not be a fan of the Black Widow and Hulk relationship (it pretty much came out of nowhere), but I didn't mind it. Captain America: The Winter Soldier made Black Widow more interesting and it's great to see she continues to open up instead of always seeming somewhat distant and calculating. Besides, I think the reasoning behind their closer relationship is understandable enough. It may never have me emotionally invested, but it was an effective way to give us a better look at both characters. It enhances Banner's dilemma about being the Hulk while also giving us a better understanding of Black Widow's history and who she currently is. So, I'd say that's a win-win.

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As for the two new mutants enhanced characters, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, neither of them really stole the spotlight. Super speed is used entertainingly (although, it honestly never offers anything as cheerworthy as what Fox did with this character -- sorry, had to say it) and this feels like it's just the very beginning of Scarlet Witch's tale. The narrative tries to give you an emotional connection to the siblings, but with all of the craziness going on, it's tough to truly feel for them as they're part of a much, much bigger stage that keeps changing. Besides, it's not like any comic fan didn't know they'd eventually side with the Avengers, right? I mean, even the trailers give that away.

Yes, there is obviously a credits scene. We may know what the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has in store for us, but that doesn't make the teaser any less exciting. There's been a lot of buildup, so seeing this arc take even just a small step forward made me a little giddy. And no, there sadly wasn't one at the end of credits.

Avengers: Age of Ultron may not deliver the same kind of awe you felt while watching the first one and it is a little disappointing that it feels so focused on building the future instead of creating a worthwhile villain, but overall, it really does bring the kind of popcorn entertainment you'd expect from it. There's plenty of quips that'll make you burst into laughter, more than enough spectacle for your eyes to enjoy, and it does a solid job fleshing out some of its heroes just a little more. Go in expecting to have a whole lot of fun and odds are you'll end up having a pretty good time with this one.