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IN SHORT: Review proof, and that's just fine. [Rated PG-13. 142 minutes]
For those that are comic book fanboys (current, or ex- like yours Cranky) The Avengers: Age of Ultron is not anything close to the "Age of Ultron" mega-crossover story that just concluded in issues of "The Avengers," "The New Avengers" and "The Secret Avengers" comics in April.
As we have written for the last 20 years, you shouldn't have to know the Source Material to understand the film you are watching. That's almost a pointless demand when facing the Marvel Comics Universe (MCU). Marvel assumes you have seen most if not all of the films preceding The Avengers: Age of Ultron. If you haven't, bring a friend to explain it all to you, or rent copies of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Avengers to bring you up to speed. We'll knock off a buck from our overall rating because we have to enforce the Rules of Our Ratings <g> That, plus the unfortunate fact that writer/ director Joss Whedon has saddled this film with so many teases at what is being called Marvel Phase Three that this story works well only when Our Heroes are pounding the snot out of the bad guys. Beginning in the middle of a fight scene that looks like it is left over from Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Avengers: Age of Ultron begins by wrapping up the remnants of HYDRA in a battle at Baron Wolfgang von Strucker's (Thomas Kretschmann) castle in some small European country that isn't named Latveria. Said battle messes up archer Clint Barton/ Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) real good; puts Loki's scepter into Avengers hands, and re-introduces the audience to twins Pietro and Wanda Maximoff (Aaron-Taylor Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen). Pietro has the ability to run really fast. Wanda's fingers spout a red light that induces a dream-like state (or nightmare-ish reality) upon her victims. If this sounds like something you've seen in an earlier X-Men film, you have. These two characters are being shared between franchises and saying any more will just confuse matters.
We take that back. The twins are orphans. Their parents were killed by Stark weaponry and so, when the evil Ultron of this film's title emerges, it isn't hard to understand which side these super-beings take. But that doesn't happen for another half hour or so.
First, we meet the "Iron Legion," Stark's army of Iron Man robots in development. The 'bots have firepower. Stark's JARVIS program has intelligence but no dependable self-awareness and Stark hopes that, with Banner's design genius, some kind of android soldier can be designed for the coming day when Earth needs to be defended and the Avengers aren't available to do the job. So, while The Avengers party to celebrate the end of HYDRA -- here Stan Lee gets his cameo appearance -- the JARVIS program is let loose to analyze scans previously taken of the scepter
Y'know how you pay extra money to buy anti-virus programs to protect your personal computers? Tony Stark didn't think that far ahead with JARVIS, which is infected by something in the scepter That combined intelligence takes control of a wrecked Iron Legion 'bot, introduces itself as "Ultron" (voiced by James Spader) to Our Heroes and gives 'em a good whuppin' before vamoosing into the planet-wide escape corridor called The Internet. What follows is the introduction of numerous characters and concepts so numerous that we'd have to watch the film a second time to report it with any kind of coherence. In short, meet Dr. Helen Cho (Claudia Kim), a molecular biologist who will patch up Hawkeye after the HYDRA battle and a bad guy named Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) who has managed to smuggle a fresh supply of vibranium out of the African Kingdom of Wakanda. Ultron removes Klaue from this story quickly -- expect that he'll be back in a Black Panther movie renamed "Klaw" -- and recruits (sic) Cho to build for him a better body with which to eliminate the blight that is humanity.
It is about this point in the proceedings that yours Cranky started thinking "this doesn't make any sense at all." In retrospect it is the aforementioned Phase Three problem rearing its ugly head. Don't worry about it. Once the butt whuppin' begins in earnest, several subplots that have been simmering rise up and keep the last 60 per cent of The Avengers: Age of Ultron more interesting than a mere eighty minutes of CGI enhanced battle effects. Of note is yet another relationship for the Black Widow and the return of characters and equipment long missing from the MCU film and television franchises. You can't miss it when it happens -- just keep one eye ball open (hint hint). Almost finally there is a pause in the action to give Hawkeye a backstory that manages to humanize both him and the rest of the Avengers team. That the setting for this sequence more than resembles a small town in the Kansas of a different universe will be fodder for Internet chat rooms for months.
Even better fodder for those chat rooms. . . Behold the Vision (Paul Bettany), (which is Dr. Cho's creation for Ultron. This fanboy apologizes for stealing that line from the copy of "Avengers #57" that Cranky's mom tossed away years and years ago). The Avengers: Age of Ultron leaves us with a new Avengers line-up and continues the MCU transition from the original characters created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to the cosmic enhancements brought about by Jim Starlin. We meant it when we wrote that you should bring a fanboy to explain things, like the Infinity Gems, to you. We can't do all the work <vbg> Or you can just wait for the Infinity War.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Avengers: Age of Ultron, he would have paid . . .
When push comes to shove it matters not what any critic says about this film. Y'all are going to see it. I've already seen it and will go to see it a second time because Joss Whedon has packed so much stuff into an hour and a half (plus credits) that there are no doubt dozens of Easter Eggs and such that I missed the first time through.
Buy the biggest tub of popcorn you can afford. This is a whopper of a movie and, even if you are at a theater which offers free refills, once you get past the transition of Klaue to Klaw, you won't want to get out of your seat.
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