With Avengers: Age of Ultron, the number of movies produced by Marvel Studios in the ongoing bid for world domination now numbers 11. That includes three Iron Mans, two Thors, two Captain Americas and a Hulk film that didn’t even star the current actor playing the big green guy.
That’s a lot to sort through for even the most ardent of fans. If you’re not among the hardcore Marvel groupies, the most you can hope for from each new film are solid action sequences backed up by a story that pays more than just lip service to those of us who haven’t kept up on every detail of the previous films.
Thankfully, this Avengers does a much better job of accomplishing that goal than the first one did. The whole plot is much too complex to synopsize briefly, but it basically boils down to this: Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) tries to create an artificial intelligence being that will protect the world from alien invaders. Instead he accidentally makes a virtually unstoppable entity named Ultron (voiced by James Spader) bent on taking out the human race.
Stark and the rest of the Avengers — Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) — must band together to once again save the Earth from destruction. Ultron, meanwhile, recruits two mutants, Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), to help him stave off attacks from the Avengers.
Again, it’s a lot to take in, and writer/director Joss Whedon initially doesn’t make comprehension any easier, starting off with an out-of-nowhere battle that only Marvel groupies will fully understand. But as the film goes along, Whedon and his crew do something surprising: They actually take the time to flesh out both the story and the characters in it.
Instead of just being seemingly indestructible heroes who only care about saving the world, it turns out that they have families and workplace romances and, in one scene that could be the best of the film, friendly competitions among co-workers. In showing these personal details, Whedon makes the subsequent action sequences more interesting, because there’s more at stake than just abstract threats.
Speaking of the action, Whedon has also taken to heart criticism of recent superhero movies that wantonly destroy city landscapes with seemingly no regard for human life. The Avengers repeatedly talk about trying to keep innocent victims out of harm’s way, especially in the film’s final section, lending the proceedings at least a modicum of realism among the otherwise over-the-top mayhem.
With tons of humor, a lot of heart and action that for the most part doesn’t overwhelm the story, Avengers: Age of Ultron may have finally figured out the magic formula to appeal to everybody. Now let’s see how Marvel gets us to buy into Ant-Man.