Nothing lasts forever. When Iron Man kicked off the Marvel cinematic universe in 2008, audiences had no idea how much of a phenomenon these movies would become. But 2012’s The Avengers was a massive hit, becoming one of the highest grossing films of all time and earning rave reviews from both critics and fans alike. Since then, many have been wondering how long this superhero craze will be able to sustain itself. If Avengers: Age of Ultron is any indication, it won’t be able to last much longer. Writer/director Joss Whedon’s second entry into the Marvel cinematic universe is completely serviceable, but lacks the pure joy and excitement that the original Avengers was able to muster. There’s just too much going on and watching it feels like an endurance test rather than an exhilarating summer spectacle.

The film opens with our favorite group of Marvel superheroes raiding a snowy Hydra military base. Inside are Loki’s scepter and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), a brother and sister who each have superpowers of their own. The Avengers successfully take back the scepter, but the two siblings escape. Returning to their base headquarters, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) enlists the help of Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) in creating an artificial intelligence that can protect Earth from any more otherworldly threats. But the experiments go horribly wrong and an evil, sentient android named Ultron (James Spader) is created. Ultron says that he wants to bring peace to the world, but he plans on doing so by wiping out the entire human race.

Three years ago, I was surprised that Whedon was able to successfully juggle so many different characters and plotlines in The Avengers. If Whedon made that film look effortless, this time around he’s juggling way too many balls. Age of Ultron has too many characters trying to do too many different things and it never feels like it builds to a cohesive whole. The idea to include so many different characters was likely a decision made by the executives at Marvel and only some of them feel like they deserve to be here. Scarlet Witch is an intriguing new character and it’s always a joy to see Elizabeth Olsen onscreen, but it’s the film’s primary antagonist who is the most interesting new character. Ultron is played superbly by James Spader, whose distinct voice perfectly fits the charismatic and menacing villain. He’s a force to be reckoned with and the reasons that he gives for his evil plan actually make some semblance of sense. Quicksilver is a pretty underwhelming new character, mostly due to the fact that he was portrayed much more interestingly in X-Men: Days of Future Past. But the character that feels really shoehorned into the film is Vision, who only shows up in the last half hour and then doesn’t do anything interesting or memorable with the time he’s given. There’s way too much going on in this film, but his character is the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

The film starts on a strong enough note, but the pacing hits a brick wall in the second act. After a mission goes wrong, The Avengers take refuge in a safe house and then nothing interesting happens for a solid 30-45 minutes. It also doesn’t help that several of the characters choose to split up and do their own thing. These departures feel rushed and it feels like nothing important develops out of them. These films work best when the entire team is working together, so it’s a strange decision to split them up. This also feels like the longest portion of the film, dragging on for such a long period of time that when the final battle began to occur, I was already wondering when the film would be over. Contrast that with the nice buildup and incredible third act of the original Avengers and you can see that this entry is really lacking the special something that made the first film such an event. The first film was filled with tons of standout moments and this film only has a few moments that are able to come close to how incredible those original moments felt.

But even if there are not a lot of memorable moments, the few moments that are worth talking about are pretty cool. When The Hulk is wreaking havoc on a populated African city, Iron Man enlists the help of a new Hulk-sized suit to calm the big green guy down. The battle that rages between them is very exciting and unlike pretty much anything this series has offered before. The final climactic battle also offers some fun action, particularly in a shot that showcases all of The Avengers battling Ultron’s army side –by-side. The humor may not be as memorable as the first time around, but Whedon still has a knack for writing fun, clever dialogue. Surprisingly, one of the best moments in the film isn’t even an action sequence, but a fun scene involving every Avenger attempting to pick up Thor’s hammer.

It’s impossible to deny that Avengers: Age of Ultron is a disappointment, but that’s only because the first film was such a surprising moviegoing event. I didn’t expect the sequel to match the heights of the original, but I would have hoped for it to be more coherent and cohesive than it ended up being. Still, this is a decent entry into the Marvel cinematic universe, albeit a totally uninspired one. The film may be a mess, but I shudder to think of how much bigger the mess could have been if Joss Whedon wasn’t behind the camera. The first Avengers film showed you how to feel like a kid again. This one just makes you feel like a cynical adult.

Avengers: Age of Ultron receives 2.5/4

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