Part of this may have been due to the character interaction, which, while actually realistic, isn’t quite as much fun. In the time since the end of the last film, the Avengers have shaken down into more or less of a team, with Captain America (Chris Evans) as defacto team leader. Things are on more of a businesslike footing, with both less banter and less arguing between the team members. What character interaction we do get is good, with a poignant relationship developing between Black Widow (Scarlett Johannsen) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), and our view into the abnormally (for superheroes) normal home life of Hawkeye/Clint Barton(Jeremy Renner).
The plot picks up shortly after the end of the last film. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) intends to take the “Scepter of Loki” back to Asgard, but yields to Tony Stark’s desire to examine it before it leaves Earth. Stark discovers that the device harbors an intricate matrix capable of supporting an artificial intelligence more complex than his “Jarvis” program, and decides to investigate its usefulness for his “Ultron” program—a projected automated defense network capable of defending the Earth from alien invasions.
Of course, things go wrong. In classic “Frankenstein” fashion, “Ultron” (voice of James Spader) achieves consciousness while Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is away, and freely interprets its mission as being to defend the planet Earth against all dangers—including humans, and especially the particularly dangerous Avengers. Ultron, as interpreted in this script, is a fascinating creation, partaking not only of Frankenstein’s creature, but also other classics of science-fiction, such as the destructively over-protective robots of Jack Williamson’s “With Folded Hands,” and the Terminator movies’ “Skynet.”(Evidently, the Terminator films didn’t exist in the Marvel Universe--.) Ultron’s sometimes existential musings also reminded me of Heath Ledger’s “Joker”—thus proving that Stark has created perhaps the worst monster ever—a nigh-indestructible killer robot with Tony Stark’s sense of humor.
Quickly making himself multi-bodied, Ultron multi-tasks—trying to access nuclear launch codes, destroying the Avengers, building himself an upgraded “synthezoid” body, and coming up with a grandiose plan to render humanity extinct when he’s denied access to the nukes. Ultron recruits Hydra’s modified humans, Pietro and Wanda Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen), who have good reason to hate Tony Stark and want revenge on him and his.
While it’s a generally entertaining plot, there are some pointless diversions. The long battle between Hulk and the optimistically named “Hulk-Buster” Iron Man is needless, except insofar as it allows the script to hint that Stark’s judgment is bad and perhaps getting worse, and allowed the special-effects crew an extended exercise. When Hulk goes on a rampage due to Scarlet Witch’s mind-control, instead of leading him out of town, which could have been easily done at the expense of a few tossed cars, Stark activates “Veronica,” his Hulk-emergency system, and proceeds to engage in a battle that destroys approximately half of downtown Cape Town (or whatever African city that was supposed to have been). This misjudgment is scarcely commented upon, and I sorely missed having Rodgers give Stark a little after-action review.
The overarching plot will continue, with Thor having tumbled that something is going on with the Infinity Gems (as we loyal viewers have known),and Thanos (Josh Brolin) making another cameo appearance at the end.
Among other positive points, I really liked the characterizations and visualizations of new characters Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, and Vision (Paul Bettany, heretofore the voice of “Jarvis”, in the synthetic flesh). We both particularly liked the Witch’s new costume, briefly glimpsed at the end, which is much better looking than any of her comic-book versions.
I guess the best way to take this series is as we took the comic books it is born from—they can’t all be great, but each one builds upon the next with good writers. In a lot of ways, this installment of Avengers is a “middle book” of trilogy, one in which complications are added, but few things ultimately resolved. I do look forward to further installments.
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