Naughty Bits Optional

A brief review of Avengers: Age of Ultron:

That was nice.

I enjoyed the movie, meaning the Marvel Cinematic Universe is still batting a thousand for me. But while I saw the original Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy three times each, once is fine for Ultron.

I recall seeing an interview with director Joss Whedon about the original Avengers where he said that if he was going to do the fanboyish X vs. Y thing, he wanted it to be about something. He wanted Thor and Iron Man to have an earnest problem with each other, not just be squaring off because one of them was, say, mind-controlled.

This time out, when Hulkbuster Iron Man throws down against Hulk … well, guess what.

Mind, the Hulk vs. Iron Man sequence is a damned fine action setpiece. It’s first-rate spectacle. But the heart just isn’t there.

I found myself thinking of Iron Man 2 quite a bit — and given that it’s the weakest entry in the series thus far, that’s not a good thing. While it avoided the dull stretches that plagued IM2, it suffered from the same over-stuffed feeling of serving too many masters. Too many events and characters felt like checkboxes on the MCU’s to-do list.

Of course, IM2 had one of my favorite villains in the series, the perpetually underrated Ivan Vanko. Ultron was … fine. James Spader was clearly having fun with the role, and I liked how the character had inherited Tony Stark’s smartassery. But the character felt weirdly constrained, filled with half-formed ideas. As presented Ultron is basically Skynet, which is basically hand-waved away in favor of some energetic robot smashing.

It’s far from terrible. Both the character interactions and the action sequences crackle, with plenty of memorable moments. If you’ve been digging the MCU, you’ll probably enjoy it. But if Marvel’s superhero movies have been hit or miss for you, you can definitely afford to sit this one out.

(Though if you go, skip the credits. “The Avengers Will Return”. There. That’s the post-credits stinger in its entirety. Go home.)