Back without a vengeance

Hulk smash. Hulk sad.

Hulk smash. Hulk sad.

Rated 2.0

When the latest Marvel movie wrapped, I realized a terrible thing for a fanboy like me: I had just watched 2 and a half hours of stuff that did relatively nothing for me. It was all just a big blur intermittently interrupted by half-interesting moments.

It was boring.

You can’t accuse director Joss Whedon of “second verse, same as the first” with Avengers: Age of Ultron. He and his team definitely go for something different with this sequel to one of the greatest blockbusters ever made. As things turn out, perhaps it would’ve been OK to retain more of the good humor, camp and non-cluttered thrills that made the original Avengers such a gas.

It’s flat. Nothing of any real consequence happens here other than a bunch of scenes teasing future Marvel movies and some action sequences that lack clarity. With the exception of an interesting smackdown between Iron Man and the Hulk, the action sequences feel repetitive.

The Ultron of the movie’s title is a series of robots inhabited by an A.I. program initiated by Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.). Stark, thinking he can create a security force that can save the world and attain peace, gets a little ahead of himself, forgoes the approval of his fellow Avengers with the exception of Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), and starts the program, only to discover that A.I. can sometimes mean Absolute Insanity. The program goes AWOL and produces the anti-human Ultron.

Voiced by James Spader, Ultron is a one-note villain who lacks the personality of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki and other recent comic book villains.

He’s not a formidable bad guy, probably in part because he’s just a CGI creation voiced by an actor. All of the great Marvel and D.C. villains are usually a little more on the human side. Ultron comes off as a third-rate Transformers Decepticon. Yes, Spader has a menacing voice, but he’s no James Earl Jones.

On the other hand, the Vision—a sort of good guy offshoot of the same program that produces Ultron—is a far more interesting character. Derived from Jarvis, the program that propelled the Iron Man suits and played by Paul Bettany, the Vision is a welcomed member to the roster. Bettany’s likeness is actually used in the Vision, and he looks cool.

Also new to the roster is Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Scarlet Witch does the mind control thing, which Whedon chooses to illustrate with a visual that looks like red mist surrounding her victim’s head. This reminded me of Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy and her red mist mind-controlling pheromones in Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin. When it comes to comic book movies, it is never a good thing when anything reminds you of Batman & Robin.

Quicksilver is a potentially fun character, but Johnson’s incarnation isn’t half as interesting as Evan Peters playing the part in last year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past. Nothing the Quicksilver character does in this films rivals the visual greatness of the Magneto rescue scene in X-Men.

The film plays around with the notion of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and the Hulk having an affair. We get a couple of scenes with Black Widow managing to get the Hulk to calm down, and a little bit of Ruffalo and Johansson sort of flirting, but the subplot doesn’t really go anywhere. While the original Avengers was a terrific showcase for the Hulk, the latest mostly loses the big green guy in the shuffle. Also, they give Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) a wife in a failed effort to raise his character above least-interesting Avenger.

If you are an Avengers fan, I guess you have to see Age of Ultron simply because it sets up a series of other films and you might find yourself lost when watching future movies like Captain America: Civil War, Thor: Ragnarok or Black Widow: She Will Never Have her Own Movie … What Gives?

As for Whedon, perhaps he was the wrong man for the gig. The sequel searches for a darker tonal shift, a sort of Empire Strikes Back for the Avengers. The result is one of the year’s most crushing cinematic letdowns.