Is it better than the first one? Kind of, sort of, but not really. Warning: Spoilers ahead.
Avengers: Age of Ultron scored the second highest domestic box office opening ever, raking in an estimated $187.7 million. The top spot goes to the first Avengers film which grossed $207.4 million back in 2012. Those numbers are a fair gauge in overall awesomeness levels between the two. While both movies are incredible, the first one had a lot more memorable (i.e. quotable) moments that make it ripe for quality re-watching: “Puny god.”; Thor-punching; “Hulk… smash.”; “I’m always angry.”; “I understood that reference!”; Shawarma, to name a few. Age of Ultron replaces the chatchphrasey fandom fodder for noisy action scenes that border on overstaying their welcome and try-hard characterization that is sure to polarize fans of the Cinematic Universe and comic books alike.
If you graphed both films out on a chart, The Avengers would be a constantly-rising spike with jumping high peaks from time to time; Age of Ultron is more of a balanced zig-zagging chart of peaks and valleys that never quite surpass the highest peaks of its predecessor. Age of Ultron isn’t without it’s fair share of high points, but most of them don’t occur until Vision shows up in the third act.
I could compare the two films side-by-side for a gazillion more paragraphs, but to be fair, let’s break down the film on its own merits with a good ol’ fashioned list of pros and cons.
- Elizabeth Olsen’s terrible fake Russian accent. There is seriously a moment where it slips into a weird British accent and other moment where she sounds straight-up Irish. Sheesh, Marvel, with a movie this big you’d think you guys would have some better standards. Maybe I’m just bummed because deep in my heart I always wanted Alison Brie to play the role.
- Plot holes like whoa. Ultron can move his consciousness through the Internet, but he never once thought of hacking into Tony Stark’s suit — or better yet, controlling the Hulkbuster armor? Wanda and Pietro were born in a foreign country that speaks a foreign language, but they only speak to each other in English throughout the whole movie. And what the heck was Thor doing right before he lit up the core spiky thing while everyone else was saving people? These are fairly minor, but still make you scratch your head. Then there’s the part where Falcon says he’s happy being out of the field, but then he shows up at the end for training to be an Avenger! Maybe he changed his mind and we’ll get an explanation in the next Captain America flick. And goddammit where the hell was Nick Fury this whole time since Winter Soldier!?
- Forced set-up. There’s a scene where Thor tracks down Erik Selvig to help him find a magical pool of water where you can re-enter dreams because apparently Selvig an expert at finding magical pools of water? Or maybe Thor just wanted an old friend to watch him get wet and shirtless. Something about this scene made it feel like there was more to it that was left on the editing floor, but the gist of it was left in to reminded viewers that the Infinity Gauntlet is a thing and give Thor a reason to bring Vision to life using the Mind Gem. There’s also scene that very obviously (for hardcore Marvel fans, anyway) sets up the Black Panther movie. The problem with these scenes isn’t that they exist, but that they actually feel forced and make the pacing of the movie feel clunky.
- Wonky characterization. First up, making Hawkeye a family man will split fans down the middle. Fans hoping to see a movie version of Clint that draws inspiration from the phenomenal Matt Fraction run in the comics are sure to be disappointed. He almost becomes the Coulson of this film in the sense that he grounds the team when they’re at their lowest, it’s just a shame that what most fans love about the character had to be sacrificed for Whedon to make that work. It’s almost as if Whedon was trying so hard to make this film the exact opposite of the first one that some of the magic was lost in the process.We also get the BruTasha relationship between Black Widow and Bruce Banner. It’s all coy and flirty at first, but then the concept gets shoved in your face. It seems like one of those things suggested by a committee: “Okay, Joss, we’ll let you do the sequel, but this time it needs some romance.”
- The one joke. Okay, it’s not the only joke in the movie, but it sure feels like it at times. Cap yelling “Language!” when Tony swears was mildly funny, but then it gets referenced to death by the time the credits roll. Instead of calling back to the same joke from the beginning of the film, it would have been way more entertaining to, you know, just have other jokes.
- Vision. Vision is to Age of Ultron what Hulk is to the first Avengers. Watching him fly around and blow stuff up is so fun and he had the absolute best “oh shit!” moment of the entire movie. Speaking of…
- “Oh shit!” moments. While the first movie had more fun popcorn moments, this time around we get some absolute bananas stuff happening. Oh shit, Ultron’s subconscious just killed Jarvis! Oh shit now he’s making copies of himself. Oh shit, Natasha’s backstory is really effing dark! Oh shit, Tony just shot Steve right in the chest with a proton blast! Oh shit Thor was against turning Vision into a living thing, but now he’s using lightning to help bring him to life! Oh shit Vision just picked up Thor’s hammer! The fact that the highest points of the film were these “Oh shit!” moments that actually carry weight and add to the overall plot rather than having the highest moments be quotable jokes and one-liners like the first film is certainly an achievement on Whedon’s part.
- Heroes being heroic. Everyone of the Avengers feels responsible or guilty for something – Thor feels guilty for leaving the scepter on earth. Tony feels responsible for saving everyone through the use of his science experiments. Natasha feels guilty about her past and being an Avenger is her chance to make up for that. Hawkeye has a huge sense of loyalty to his team. Bruce carries the weight of of what happens when he loses control. Steve Rogers just wants to do the right thing at any cost. Even Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch have this moment where they go from hating the Avengers because they don’t think they care about the little guys, to witnessing the lengths they go to to save people and joining their cause. The most heroic moment in the entire film is when Scarlet Witch is paralyzed with fear and Hawkeye gives her an incredible pep talk before going balls-to-the-wall and heading straight into the fire a blazillion Ultron-bots — not because he wants to, but because it’s the right thing to do and it has to be done. Hawkeye’s heroism is echoed when he turns his back to shield a little boy from the oncoming fire of a gatling gun — knowing that he’ll be leaving his pregnant wife and children behind — only to have Quicksilver sacrifice himself to save both Hawkeye and the child.
- James effing Spader. This really needs no explanation. Spader was brilliant as Ultron and his portrayal will go down is history as one of the greatest on-screen Marvel villains of all time.
- Marvel has truly mastered the art of the cinematic splash page. Splash pages are the iconic two-page spreads in comic books where the heroes are all depicted together doing something badass. The first scene of the movie drops us straight into the action in an expertly choreographed skirmish where the heroes are scattered all over the place doing their own things, but then it culminates into the grandiose slow-mo profile shot the team leaping into action that is shown in the trailers. Other splash page moments can be seen throughout the film, but that first one is without a doubt the money shot of them all.
- The ending. “Avengers, a–!” are all we get from Cap as he addresses War Machine, Falcon, Scarlet Witch, and Vision before the screen cuts to the credits. There is so much to hypothesize and look forward to with this next batch of Marvel flicks and fans will no doubt lose their minds the first time they hear the teams famous battle cry from the comics spoken onscreen: Avengers, assemble!