By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — As superhero six-packs go, The Avengers was a literally and figuratively Marvelous escapist extravaganza, breezily entertaining from beginning to end.
Its sequel, Avengers: Age of Ultron, reconvenes the convention of Marvel Comics marvels to save the world once again, this time from the titular enemy, whose goal is human extinction.
Another impressive achievement, even more technically dazzling and visually arresting but not quite as surehandedly diverting and winning as its predecessor.
Writer-director Joss Whedon (Serenity, Much Ado About Nothing), who performed the same duties on the 2012 original, keeps the action sequences so high-powered and kinetic and relentless, keeping his admittedly astounding special effects on gaudy display, that he basically underemploys his game and watchable cast, whose charm and wit (when they get the chance to display it in character moments) makes us wish that the movie would slow down and let itself breathe.
That said, this is still an eye-popping fantasy, just one that wants to keep flying at breakneck speed even when we want it to come down out of the sky, stay on the ground, and relax for a while.
Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) continues to administer, and struggles to hold together, the peacekeeping alliance known as S.H.I.E.L.D., which includes Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).
And James Spader comes aboard as the voice of the robot Ultron, a genocidal artificial intelligence originally designed by Tony Stark (Iron Man’s alter ego) as a peacekeeping force, to protect the very world that he now seems hellbent on destroying.
And he’s assisted by nefarious twins, magical Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and speedy Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson).
J.A.R.V.I.S,, another artificial-intelligence program created by Tony Stark, is voiced by Paul Bettany.
The answers to the question, “Who fits in where?,” are the stuff of spoilers –- and, frankly, remain a challenge to viewers not already steeped in the Marvel universe.
Moreover, the plot is so complicated that director Whedon must dispense exposition to a fault, taking time away from the exploration of the characters that the script hints at but doesn’t really follow through on.
This truly is more of an action flick than a comic-book fantasy.
However, there’s a playfulness and sense of humor to be enjoyed, just not as often as we’d like, given the emphasis on extended, full-throttle combat sequences.
Whedon’s themes this trip seem to be parenthood of all sorts and the kind of creation that the Frankenstein myth revolved around. But these concerns fly by as rapidly as everything else.
So we’ll protect 2½ stars out of 4 for this superheroes sequel, Avengers: Age of Ultron. As dramatic fantasy, it’s just too action- and speed-obsessed for its own good, but it’s nonetheless a first-rate if overstuffed spectacle.