Earth's Mightiest Heroes return in "Avengers: Age of Ultron", which, like the 1st "Avengers" movie, is epic in its scope, but so much to the point where a key player in the 1st film was left out of this one.
That would be Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who was left on the cutting room floor, though the sceptre he'd wielded would be central to the plot. The sceptre has fallen into the hands of Baron Strucker, who is engaging in experiments involving humans, particularly a pair of orphaned twins, Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen), whom comics fans know, of course, as Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. Due to the fact that the characters, whilst played by different actors, also appeared in "X-Men: Days of Future Past" last year, and the rights to the fraternal twins are shared by Marvel Studios & 20th Century Fox, they're only ID'd by their familiar code names in the credits at the end of the movie.
Meanwhile, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) & Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) are in the course of designing an artificial intelligence that is supposed to be of assistance to the Avengers. However, this particular AI, dubbed Ultron, has gained independent sentience, and sets about his mission as he sees fit. That is to say, to eradicate mankind in order to achieve peace. Roughly translated, Ultron (voiced by James Spader, The Blacklist) represents Stark's darker, baser instincts. Anyone that has been reading Superior Iron Man these days probably knows what I mean.
Banner also figures into an interesting subplot with the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), as they're finding an attraction between them, although it seems that the Widow's charms also work on the Hulk. On the other hand, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), who had a bit of an attraction to the Widow as well, has settled down to start a family since the last film. We're introduced to Laura (Linda Cardellini, "Scooby-Doo", ex-E. R.), with whom Clint has two kids, and a 3rd on the way. Talk about getting busy. You might say that Natasha might've been looking for love on the rebound with Banner. Now, if they could just get Bruce's canonical sweetie, Betty Ross, into the mix......!
We're also introduced to Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), an arms dealer who once did business with Stark back in the day. Ultron & the twins pay him a visit, which doesn't end well, although Klaue figures to return down the road, with a new look.
Wanda works her magic on the team, setting Hulk against Iron Man, for example. She uses illusions on the others as a distraction, but it isn't long before she & Pietro see the error of their ways upon realizing that Ultron's best laid plans are badly flawed.
Here's the obligatory trailer:
While I liked the movie as a whole, the comedy segments threatened to overshadow the proceedings. For example, Jim Rhodes (Don Cheadle, last seen doing intros for NFL Network/CBS' Thursday Night Football) tries to get Stark and the team to laugh at a funny story. He relays the tale to ordinary folks and gets laughs. Don't quit your day job, Rhodey. Yes, there were some moments where I was cracking up along with the rest of the paying customers, but I can't be sure what parts weren't meant to be funny. Without giving anything away, the team grows in numbers, setting the stage for not only the next "Avengers" movie, but also the next cycle of Marvel films in general. Speaking of which, that leads us to our trailer list.......
"Fantastic Four" (Aug. 7): From modern day maverick Josh Trank(quilizer)("Chronicle") comes a twisted take on the Ultimate Universe's FF. Jamie Bell (Turn: Washington's Spies) doesn't really look right as Ben, but Miles Teller gets the UU version of Reed Richards spot-on, right down to the geek look with the specs. NY Giants heiress Kate Mara is Sue Storm, with Michael B. Jordan ("Chronicle") as Johnny. Try figuring that one out, as the rationale is being kept under wraps.
"Ant-Man" (July 17): The reason Ultron's canonical creator, Henry Pym, isn't part of "Age" is because he's central to this film. As played by Michael Douglas, Pym has retired from the crimefighting game, passing his helmet & costume to ex-con Scott Lang (Paul Rudd). Has potential to be a sleeper hit, like "Guardians of the Galaxy" was 9 months ago.
Also on the way:
"Insidious 3" (Summer). If you've seen the first two films, you're ahead of me. Not my cup of horror tea.
"Pixels": Adam Sandler & Kevin James team up again. This time, they're being asked to save the world from alien-induced rogue models of 80's video game icons. As silly as it sounds.
"Southpaw": No, this is not the biography of the Tri-City Valleycats' mascot. A boxer (Jake Gyllenhall) tries to reclaim his daughter and his dignity.
"Jurassic World" (June 12): Chris Pratt ("Guardians of the Galaxy", ex-Parks & Recreation) toplines the 4th film based on Michael Crichton's novel.
"Tomorrowland" (May 22): One of Disneyland's famed attractions is adapted into a sci-fi thriller with George Clooney.
"The Man From U. N. C. L. E.": Guy Ritchie directs. Henry Cavill ("Man of Steel") stars as Napoleon Solo in a feature film adaptation of the 1964-8 spy series (currently on Me-TV). Armie Hammer ("The Lone Ranger") co-stars.
"Age of Ultron" gets an A-.