Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) need to find a way to defend the Earth leads to the creation of Ultron (James Spader), an artificial intelligence more attuned to destroying the planet. Iron Man, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) team up to face Ultron, as well as the threat caused by two Hydra-created meta-humans, Wanda & Pietro Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Things become more complicated with the creation of the artificial entity, Vision (Paul Bettany) who may save or destroy them all. With the world at stake, the Avengers need assistance from the remains of SHIELD, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), along with James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie).
Joss Whedon does it again, brilliantly crafting an extravaganza that’s really a character piece. No one can work with ensembles like he can, making each line count, slipping levels of meaning into every interaction so that it feels like all of the characters have had complete and compelling arcs, even though most only have a few minutes of screen time.
Sure, this second Avengers outing doesn’t rival the first, but then that’s a high bar. The action is a bit much (quite a bit—I’d have exchanged fifteen minutes of crowd saving and building breaking for a couple more group discussions) and a few of the characters are slipping into their clichés (Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, I’m looking at you). No problem. There’s lots of heart, lots of wit, and fabulous new characters to take up the slack. Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Vision are exactly what the franchise needed, and I’d be content with an entirely new Avengers team as long as several of these new characters are a part of it.
Ultron may not be Loki, but he’s an excellent villain, avoiding the dull, emotionless-but-with-a-tinge-of-anger AI stereotype and instead giving us a robot that’s off his rocker. He has issues.
I’m sorry to see Whedon leaving the Avengers’ directing chair. In lesser hands, this could have collapsed into a Transformers movie.