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"Avengers: Age of Ultron" takes our beloved Marvel heroes to dark places

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

(Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Three years ago, when the Avengers assembled on screen for the first time, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was in a very different place. The film tied a bow neatly on the studio’s "Phase 1" films and concluded each of the major character’s story lines.

The same can't be said about Marvel’s latest, “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

While incredibly enjoyable, the follow-up to what some consider to be the biggest superhero film of all time serves more as a launching point for Marvel’s upcoming Phase 3. This is the film’s biggest problem.

Age of Ultron hits the ground running with the group attempting to obtain Loki’s staff from Hydra agent Baron von Strucker. From the get-go, it’s clear that the group has grown close, working harmoniously as a team fighting hordes of enemies in order to brake into Strucker’s facility.

Once the staff is achieved and brought back to Avengers tower (formerly Stark tower) in New York, Stark (once again played exceptionally by Robert Downey Jr.) takes it upon himself to create a piece of artificial intelligence that will protect the entire world. But, things go horribly awry, and Ultron is born: a twisted piece of AI who essentially views the human race as a mistake and plans to exterminate them in order to create a better world.

Also returning are Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner and of course, Mark Ruffalo. New this time around are Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen who play Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, perhaps better known to comic readers as Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. Also joining the ever-expanding cast are James Spader as Ultron and Paul Bettany as The Vision. Both are fantastic, especially Spader, whose facial expressions really shine via the film’s outstanding motion capture effects.

Writer and director Joss Whedon does his best to ensure the film doesn’t suffer because of this amount of characters, but ultimately, it does. Where the first film managed to find a balance between action and banter, “Age of Ultron” is a matter of all work and no play. The film (which clocks in at over two hours and 20 minutes) becomes exhausting rather quickly, even for die-hard fans.

However, the rare moments when the film does slow down rank amongst its best, allowing Whedon’s knack for snappy, witty dialogue to really shine through. One scene early on features all of the characters drinking cold ones, seeing if Thor is truly the only one who can lift his mighty hammer. Though incredibly out of sync with the rest of the film, the scene serves as the perfect opportunity for the audience to take a breather before the film really gets going.

More so than the first film, Age of Ultron aims to take big characters in an even bigger universe and humanize them. It is here where the film succeeds the most. Bruce Banner (Ruffalo) struggles with the monster inside of him, and Whedon makes it clear that though they are different people, The Hulk needs Banner as much as Banner needs him.

Stark find himself struggling to deal with the magnitude of this new situation, realizing that his mistake is the direct cause of the peril the characters face. Perhaps the best example of this comes when audiences meet Hawkeye’s (Renner) wife and kids. Though he took a back seat in the first film, Renner shines here, and there’s no doubt that his character will become a crowd favorite over time.

For the first time, Marvel seems to have made a movie that won’t stand on its own. With its previous films, the studio has ensured that audiences can enjoy them regardless of whether or not they have seen the movies that came before. Age of Ultron requires audiences to be up to date and in the loop.

The movie’s story is buildup for events to come, and as a result, the film suffers. Sure, secretive villain Thanos collecting the Infinity Gems is a major upcoming storyline, but numerous references to that are shoehorned into the movie.

Though it may not be as magical as the first one, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is still a wildly satisfying film, even if it does have it’s flaws. An action-packed thrill fest for Marvel fans and non-fans alike, the movie is bursting with absolutely riveting action sequences that will take your breath away. The movie of course will have an effect on the future of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. Let’s just say that it’s an absolute game changer.

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