With the Marvel Cinematic Universe seven years into its run, we find ourselves in another “Avengers” year. Three years after assembly, the Avengers are back in “Age of Ultron,” which hit theaters over the weekend.


Avengers: Age of Ultron
Walt Disney Studios
Rave 20 and Quality 16

After the events of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” the team continues its mission of tracking down and eliminating H.Y.D.R.A. bases. One such mission in the fictional Eastern European country of Sokovia places the Avengers in possession of Loki’s staff and informs them of the existence of two new “enhanced” characters. Moreover, with resources found at the H.Y.D.R.A. base, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., “Chaplin”) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo, “The Normal Heart”) give life to a sentient peacekeeping program called Ultron (James Spader, “Lincoln”). When Ultron proves to be more bomb than shield, the Avengers must square off against a foe with virutally no weaknesses.

The structure of the MCU means this film needs little to no introduction before the audience gets what they paid for. Indeed, the very first scene of the film features a fight sequence comparable to that from the climax of the first “Avengers,” giving special attention to the flow of the battle by briefly latching onto each team member then following another, and so on. This scene sets the tone for a film that’s filled with top-of-the-line digital effects, though “Age of Ultron” is not set apart by being visually groundbreaking.

What “Ultron” does emphasize is the personal lives of some Avengers with whom we weren’t too familiar heading into this installment. Much about the lives of Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner, “The Hurt Locker”) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, “Lucy”) is revealed, which is fitting (and probably necessary) since the two are the only original Avengers members without their own solo films. Black Widow’s traumatic childhood as assassin-in-training makes her character deeper and more sympathetic, as does the revelation that Hawkeye has kept a major secret from the rest of the team.

Where “Ultron” thrives is quippy dialogue and a quick pace. Of course, Tony Stark is always king of the comeback, but Ultron, a brainchild of Stark, at several points matches him in wit and comedic timing. Running jokes among the Avengers subtly illustrate how much they’ve grown into a cooperative team rather than a collection of egos, and that chemistry persists throughout the film.

However, while it’s the film’s blockbuster status that affords actors such charisma, elaborate sets and remarkable special effects, for it is these factors that underline the film’s own commerciality. Product placement, be it Under Armour, Samsung or John Deere, plays a large role throughout the film.

One of the most fun elements of the film is the new characters: the twins, Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, “Kick-Ass”) and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen, “Godzilla”) — Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, respectively. Their introductions are surely the first of many the Avengers will receive to new and more powerful adversaries. Their portrayal is especially interesting considering the characters originate from the “X-Men” storylines. Marvel, of course, doesn’t own movie rights for “X-Men,” perhaps mercifully so because the MCU might overload and crash if it were to combine with the X-Men universe.

At the end of the day, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” won’t rock your socks off, but it will take you on an adventure in the fight against Ultron and in the struggle for these Avengers to balance their charged mission of global protection and their personal lives. Most importantly, the film launches the next phase of the MCU, a phase that promises a whole host of new heroes, villains and, most exciting of all, introduction to the amazing Spider-Man.

Well done, Marvel Studios. The bar may not have been raised, but it certainly wasn’t lowered, which is an achievement in its own right, considering the amount of scrutiny with which fans follow these stories.

Just, please, don’t ruin everything with “Ant-Man.”

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