-Sometimes it's in the greatest intent of people to save the world that they instead create the one thing that will inevitably destroy it.-
At times unique yet also familiar in its story approach, Avengers: Age of Ultron is a noticeably darker entry in the Avengers (and each solo character's) film series. This second Avengers-titled film is hard to label as a direct "sequel", given that there have been other films in between that have progressed much of the story to where this film winds up (most effectively Captain America: The Winter Soldier), yet enough is explained that makes going straight from film #1 to this a relatively easy go.
Off the bat, the only real complication about this film is that there is a LOT going on. For the uninitiated to the comic book lore on which it is based and the history of some of the characters, quite a few details will go over the heads of many audience members. But, to be honest, there is so much flair, bravado and energy with the film's action and humor that much of the slightly-convoluted plot can be forgiven.
Like many comic book movie sequels before it, new characters are introduced in the Avengers lore, including the brother & sister duo of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, but also characters from other films in the Marvel cannon (War Machine, Falcon, etc.). There is also another, known only as Vision, that must be left to witness rather than be described for the general sake that his appearance and spoken words describe much of the film's thematic purpose (as well as presenting the single funniest scene of the film involving and interaction between him and Thor). What director/writer Joss Whedon does right that many other sequel directors have done wrong is give ample time to each character, effectively giving them importance and specific "moments" in their battle against Ultron (an artificial intelligence designed by Tony Stark initially as a defense against other-wordly intruders to protect the human race, but like a free-thinking mind decides its own plans) and his seemingly endless army of robots.
The battles of the film are familiar in the sense that situations must arise for the team to do battle - that's a given. Though what's unique about this film in the age of Transformers and Man of Steel is that The Avengers team actually take moments in the battle to save human life. For that, I appreciate the effort the film makers put into addressing the collateral damage of the ungoldy amounts of damage these super heroes and super villains can cause.
Again, the real energy of Age of Ultron comes from the Whedon brand of humor. Even amidst the darkness and death, characters are often given those enlightened moments and lines that relieve some of the tension that builds amidst the chaos. Even Ultron himself, a robotic being consumed by human-like impulsive behaviors, has moments of humor and creepy wit (much to the awesome voice performance by James Spader). While this film doesn't quite have the grand moments that the first one did (the Hulk's appearance, the "assemble" scene, Hulk's smashing of Loki), there are still little touches that give a good laugh to the audience, and one that garnered a lot of applause given its build-up from a smaller scene earlier in the film, involving a quiet moment between the group and their challenge to move the "unmovable" Thor's hammer, Mjolnir. We also have a massive battle involving Stark's "Hulk Buster" armor, a battle that generates so much physical force that it levels buildings on a scale greater than Superman could generate.
Many hints are given in this film that further progress the inevitable battle between the Avengers and the universe-dominating Thanos (with previous films hinting at the Infinity Stones and the Infinity Gauntlet), but also builds tension that will undoubtedly lead to the "Civil War" that has been so highly publicized that will be the basis for next year's third Captain America film.
The appearance of Ultron is creepy, the new characters are welcome in the grand scheme of the story, and like any good second entry in a series, Age of Ultron is dark and doom-filled with many moments for the team to be heroic - and also catastrophic. Some critics have complained that the film doesn't raise the stakes this time around, but I argue that the film far outdoes the first. Where the danger in the first film was an interplanetary conflict, Ultron himself is a man-made danger, purposeful and mad in his intent on saving the earth the only possible way he knows - by rendering the human race extinct.
A lot of humor is made about Hawkeye's role in the team, addressing the jokes and jabs that many fanboys made about him in the first film (how can an archer be of any use when you have a magical hammer-wielding god and a giant green behemoth taking care of business?). What pleased me the most was how much more developed his character was, and for the first time, you actually truly care about him - at least I did. In fact, I wouldn't mind seeing a solo Hawkeye film that could be on a much smaller scale than the other solo films. Certain secrets about him are presented that lend a good tone to the more "human" heroes of the Avengers team.
And, of course, there is an initial first-post-credit scene, but for the first time there is no scene at the very END of the credits. No Shawarma.