Marvel decided to bring Phase 2 to of their cinematic universe to a head with a fitting second Avengers movie that, possibly to its own detriment, lays out a pretty solid roadmap for much of what was to come our way in Phase 3. Avengers: Age of Ultron is an uneven movie that had the impossible task of living up to The Avengers. That said, taking in the good with the bad, a few years removed, there's a lot more good than bad going on in Joss Whedon's second contribution to the MCU.
So far while taking a journey back through the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Avengers: Infinity War approaches, we've looked at the entirety of Marvel Studios' groundbreaking Phase 1 and, save for what we're about to talk about and Ant-Man, all of the slightly uneven Phase 2. Given that Phase 2 includes the most divisive movie, Iron Man 3, and easily its most middling, Thor: The Dark World, alongside two of the MCU's unquestioned best efforts, (Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy), it seems fitting that the Avengers movie in this chapter of the MCU would be a little unbalanced as well.
The opening sequence in Avengers: Age of Ultron showcases Joss Whedon at his best and the best of what he has to offer Marvel fans with this movie. During the first Avengers, the team has to come together and they were largely unfamiliar with one another. Here, within minutes, we get to see excellent chemistry between every member of the team, all taking place during a rather entertaining raid on a Hydra base. We get that excellent shot of the team leaping forward heroically together in slow-mo. Plus, Whedon is able to sprinkle in a good deal of humor, which is something he's rather gifted at. This is where the ever-excellent, "language" joke comes into play. Still great.
Following the cold open, we get to the heart of the matter with this movie. Tony and Banner believe that the world needs a better form of protection following the events of Avengers. Understandably so. They've been dreaming up the concept of Ultron and, with Loki's scepter in hand, they have what they need to make it happen. Banner is hesitant, but Tony, ever confident, pursues this risky project anyway. After a wholly entertaining party at Avengers tower, the rest of the team finds out what Tony was up to, because Ultron tries to kill them. Naturally, nobody is happy with this decision, but now they're on a mission to stop this killer James Spader robot before he saves humanity from itself by, well, killing humanity.
Ultron seemed like a great villain for this movie and, unfortunately, it just doesn't pay off in the way we all hoped it would. James Spader, for his part, is great. It's just that there's too much going on in this already-long movie to fully flesh out Ultron as the great villain he could have been. It's an understandable reason for not loving this movie, given that the fact that the titular bad guy is mostly just a quippy doom bot that creates a lot of easily destructible canon fodder for the team to destroy in the third act.
That aside, I've found this movie to be more enjoyable upon repeat viewings. The introduction of Scarlet Witch certainly works to this movie's credit and, while he's there, Quicksilver is enjoyable. Unfortunately, he bites the bullet, somewhat literally, in order to save Hawkeye. But, it's an example of Marvel committing to a death, which, narratively speaking, is nice. What are doom and gloom situations like this without real stakes? Speaking of Hawkeye, he clearly got the shaft in The Avengers, but he really gets to shine here. This is, in my mind, easily his best showcase within the MCU so far, which is nice. Plus, this is where Paul Bettany becomes Vision. He's an excellent character from the start and one that fans were very happy to see brought to life. Again, very much a credit to Age of Ultron.
There are plenty of things in here beyond Ultron being not-so-satisfying that take away from this being an outright great MCU movie. It's cluttered, no doubt. There's stuff like the very weird Thor hot tub scene, all of the Scarlet Witch dream sequences and, depending on how you feel about it, the Bruce Banner and Black Widow romance thread, that feel out of place and bloat Age of Ultron. But it also helps set up much of Phase 3 in the process. There's Hulk smashing up a city and the disagreement between Tony and Cap, not to mention the Sokovia battle itself, that directly sets up Captain America: Civil War. We get our introduction (sort of) to Wakanda and Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), that helps lay some seeds for Black Panther. Last, but certainly not least, we have Hulk blasting off to space, which sets up Thor: Ragnarok.
Despite its shortcomings, there are also some great set pieces to enjoy here. The church scene during the third act is particularly memorable. And, come on. What Marvel fan didn't go nuts when that Hulkbuster armor showed up? That's the kind of thing the MCU does so well. At the end of the day, it's likely that Avengers: Age of Ultron is nobody's favorite MCU movie, but it's an ultimately enjoyable one that looks good, has a lot of fun, plants a lot of seeds that bare some very tasty fruit down the road and, at worst, is just a bit too long and cluttered. Marvel Studios can't be perfect every time, and they certainly aren't with Age of Ultron, but this is one I encourage fans to revisit with an open mind.