Combustible Celluloid
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With: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Cheadle, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Anthony Mackie, Hayley Atwell, Idris Elba, Stellan Skarsgård, Claudia Kim,
Written by: Joss Whedon, based on comic books by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Directed by: Joss Whedon
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction, and for some suggestive comments
Running Time: 141
Date: 04/30/2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Golden 'Age'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Joss Whedon's Avengers: Age of Ultron, boasting perhaps the biggest bunch of superheroes yet, is here.

Superheroes may be popular for any number of reasons, but perhaps the best one is that they imagine human beings as our best possible selves.

In everyday life, we're awkward and uncertain, but each of us just might have some kind of secret power that helps us to feel stronger.

The drama of the best superhero stories comes from the notion that these two sides are always in conflict.

Whedon is highly skilled at showing this conundrum. He's also highly skilled at creating ensemble pieces, and giving each character weight. And he's skilled at writing dialogue and creating smart, striking action scenes and keeping up the pace.

In short, he's a super-juggler. But he's also a person, and he seems to have lost control of some of the balls. The new movie succeeds, but it falls short of his incredible achievement on The Avengers (2012).

Avengers: Age of Ultron begins with our team — Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) — retrieving part of Loki's scepter and battling super-powered twins Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen).

Tony Stark (a.k.a. Iron Man) and Bruce Banner (a.k.a. Hulk) decide to use the scepter to build an artificial intelligence that can help protect the earth, but what comes out is Ultron (James Spader), a megalomaniacal robot that wants to save the world by destroying it.

The movie includes several huge, slam-bang battles in which cars, bridges, and buildings are destroyed, and chunks of rock and metal are flung far and wide, but the best parts come when the characters face their own emotional foibles.

For example, Scarlet Witch has the power to make people experience their own worst fears like a nightmare, and for a while, our heroes are pretty shaken up.

The movie plays with themes of connections and bonds; we get twin siblings, a secret family, and even the sweet beginnings of a crush between two heroes.

Whedon is very good at this kind of thing, at the interacting, flirting, messing around. (Running jokes about bad language and lifting Thor's hammer are delightful.)

But no mortal man can be in charge of this many superheroes and not lose focus. Interactions sometimes feel timed rather than natural, and battles fall minutely out of rhythm.

Yet because Whedon brings his own personality to Avengers: Age of Ultron and because he cares, he has at least created something worth seeing.

Part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise.

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