It's hard to know what to say about a movie like Avengers: Age of Ultron. At this point, Marvel Studios has perfected a formula for the kind of movie that will give anyone who has any desire to see this exactly what they're looking for and what they think they want. Nothing more, nothing less, and they'll probably leave the theater thinking they got the appropriate amount of bang for their buck, with a couple of humorous moments along the way- but the best of these kinds of action movies usually end up giving you something you didn't even know you wanted.
Which is not to say that this is a bad film. It's not- it's put together well, action scenes kick in at the right moments, the actors all showed up in the right costumes and are on hand to deliver their designated wisecracks at the allotted time, but there's nothing especially memorable at hand here, nothing that feels of a creative vision or specific point of view. This is fine for people who just want to see their heroes on screen, but I require a little something extra for my own personal satisfaction. This is exactly on par with the first Avengers, so much so that it could well be the same movie. There are some new characters (too many), some new villains, a new battle to save the world, and a romance sprung from nothing which also adds nothing, and yet it flies by in a mostly entertaining fashion, and is seamless enough that it can't really be called a misfire in any way. It's a pile of big studio product professionally molded within an inch of its life, so much so that it can't fail as basic entertainment, but it also can't really inspire as anything artful either.
The story this time around is of course a new supervillain for the Avengers to face, this one intent on world domination like all the rest of them, but played by James Spader in a motion capture performance that makes use of his signature fantastically slimy voice. He's Ultron, the ultimate artificial intelligence robot, a creation sprung from the mind of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) who wants to use him as a force for good, with the idea of a world peacekeeping mission in mind. But things get out of hand and Ultron quickly turns evil- I'm not sure exactly how that happened, except that all robots in movies must eventually become smarter than their inventors and desire to take control- this one wastes no time in getting to that point (it takes about ten seconds actually). So after an opening sequence that sets the Avengers on some kind of avenging mission that makes them look like video game characters bouncing around a forest, they celebrate their victory at an after party where various heroes mingle and wisecrack and flirt (this is where we find out that Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow apparently has a thing for Mark Ruffalo's Hulk- not sure why or when that started, but it's bound to never be important or brought up again, so don't bother to invest in it too hard). Scenes like this are always the best part of these ensemble movies, simply because watching the guys hang out is kind of a basic pleasure we don't get enough of, due to the constant barrage of action slated to occur after no less than 12 minutes of lagtime has passed (chalk that up to studio notes I'm sure- me, I'd prefer an entire movie of the Avengers hanging out and partying).
Ultron crashes the festivities soon enough though and goes about his quest to take over the world, bringing in a couple of new guys, Russian twins Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch to assist him in his dastardly deeds. The twins (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen) aren't inherently uninteresting, but the movie is so crowded with characters that their backstory is glossed over, and just as soon as they're set to bring down the Avengers, they've suddenly changed their minds and are teaming up with them instead. No sooner does that happen than the movie introduces yet another hero, the Vision, who's the enhanced version of Paul Bettany's Jarvis, and by that point the movie becomes overstuffed with the sheer amount of costumed heroes on the screen and it's overwhelming to keep up with all of them. Yet Joss Whedon does what he can, deftly balancing sequences that veer from chit-chat to action and back again, handling it all in as swift a manner as possible without ever getting too bogged down in the weeds with technical jargon or know how. The movie tosses out plenty of Easter eggs to comics fans about events coming in future films (at one point Thor simply disappears to go off and find the "infinity stones," which won't be in play until at least the next Avengers movie), but ultimately everything happens exactly how you're expecting it to- heroes save the world, bad guy is defeated, the gang splits up and we're on to the next thing. It's spectacle that many people love, and that I myself kind of passively enjoyed- I just can't bother to care very much.
On television, this genre has the enormous benefit of being able to provide action with genuine character development and relationship building that you can become invested in over time. The movies have to play to the effects and the spectacle above all else, but with comic lover Joss Whedon there to maintain just enough downtime and the absolute bare minimum of character interaction for it to qualify as a movie and not an amusement park ride. We'll see what happens when he's no longer at the helm of the franchise. As of now, Age of Ultron is what it is- a tolerable entry in the assembly line of Marvel Studios products, but not a whole lot more than that.
* * 1/2