WARNING: SPOILERS FOR ALL PREVIOUS MARVEL MOVIES BELOW
It has been two years since the Chitauri invasion of New York. S.H.I.E.L.D. has been all but obliterated, and the sinister Hydra has risen from their ashes. In their hands: Loki’s scepter, the key to Baron von Strucker’s so-called “age of miracles.” With the Avengers so tied up, Tony Stark decides to put his “Ultron” initiative into motion, amplifying the effects of his robotic Iron Brigade with a more comprehensive artificial intelligence.
If that last paragraph didn’t make any sense to you, you are not ready to see “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” It’s a fine film, but it’s wrapped in a universe that’s becoming more and more unwieldy for those who aren’t caught up, and that’s slowly starting to become a pretty big issue in Marvel’s cinematic saga.
Of course, under Joss Whedon’s direction, the characters are very well fleshed out. The heroes still have that trademark chemistry that makes them so incredibly likable. And the villain, Ultron (James Spader, “The Blacklist”), is surely one of the Marvel cinematic universe’s best yet, with a cocky and charismatic personality to eerily reflect his creator’s.
However, “Ultron” is loaded with extra plotlines that seem to make it a needlessly heavy film. Whedon felt the need to stuff the movie with cameo after cameo and plot thread after plot thread, and the result often feels like a mess. A very well-written mess, but still a mess.
For example, Thor has a nightmare early on, and he temporarily leaves the group to investigate it. However, since the film’s running time couldn’t exceed two and a half hours, this thread is quickly tied up with all the grace of a piece of toast smashed into your mouth when you’re late for work. A new character is introduced almost two-thirds into the movie, and the film rolls with it and hastily throws him in with the rest of the group as if he’s had his own movie as well. Yet another character, played quite well by Andy Serkis, is built up, and then quickly dispatched as if to say, “Oh, you’ll have to wait until one of our next movies to see this guy!”
This is an ever-growing problem with Marvel’s movies, and I’ve blown it off as a non-issue until now. As great, well-written, and epic as their movies are, they’re starting to become as impenetrable to non-fans as the “Metal Gear Solid” series infamously is. A person who’s not into Marvel could have easily walked into the first “Avengers” film and still have a pretty good grasp on the story at any given moment. But now, with so many plot threads from so many other movies, they’ll need to spend more than 21 hours of film-watching to get a firm grasp on “Ultron’s” story.
But with that all said, it’s a great story if you’re caught up. The old heroes are still great, the new heroes are quite interesting, the villain is superb, and the action scenes that tie the story together are breathtaking as usual. But if you’re not already invested in Marvel’s universe, “Ultron” is a very hard sell.