Watching “Serenity” director Joss Whedon’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is like riding on a runaway rollercoaster. As he did with the initial “Avengers” extravaganza, Whedon orchestrates several larger-than-life, gravity-defying, high-octane action scenes that escalate exponentially in scale. Not content to waste time, Whedon opens this PG-13 rated film with an exhilarating assault on a Hydra stronghold in Eastern Europe. Ultimately, Whedon never allows this outlandish, CGI-laden, 141 minute blockbuster with its non-stop shenanigans to wax anticlimactic.
Occasionally, “Avengers 2,” as I shall refer to it from here on, pauses only to let its heroes and villains deliver important expository dialogue that lets us know about their future strategy. Whedon relies frequently on brisk, Ginsu-knife style editing to depict simultaneous close-quarters combat scenes in different spots among our various super-heroes as they spar with their adversaries and recover from body blows no ordinary mortal could survive.
One of my favorites occurs when Thor slams his hammer named Mjölnir against Captain America’s shield and sends it hurtling like a giant Frisbee to topple more than a few baddies. Comparatively, not only for its number of narrative surprises, but also for its revelations about certain characters, “Avengers 2” surpasses its 2012 predecessor. Whedon discloses far more about Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow than previous Marvel movies, and we find out about Hawkeye’s secret family life. As it turns out, Hawkeye treats home renovation as a hobby and brings the subject up in the middle of an explosive firefight. During this helter-skelter cliffhanger, Whedon ushers in three fresh characters: the megalomaniacal, adamantium-armored, A.I. villain Ultron along with the brother and sister duo Pietro and Wanda Maximoff.
Actually, if you saw 20th Century Fox’s epic “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” you’ve seen the same character with a slightly different moniker. In the “X-Men” opus, Pietro was called Peter, and he shared the same ability to move so fast that he looked like a blur. Another new character crops up in this ambitious sequel, but I’ll leave you to learn about him on your own. Die-hard Marvel fans should enjoy this slam-bang saga as much if not more than the original “Avengers.” Of course, anybody who read the original comic book may cringe at the changes. Many of Marvel’s characters are owned by different film studios, so fidelity to the source material in this cinematic adaptation was impossible without lawsuits galore.
Inevitably, the charismatic new nemesis with its dreams of global Armageddon infuriates our heroes. “Blacklist” star James Spader furnishes the villain’s voice. Listening to Spader indulge in his penchant for loquacity is always a joy, and he savors every line of dialogue for maximum effect. Spader imparts a sneering menacing to the eponymous, sentient Ultron, and he takes Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye, Black Widow, and Nick Fury to the precipice of disaster.
Visually, Ultron amounts to an imposing dastard, and he displays no qualms about exterminating mankind on the grandest of scales. He mass-produces a vast army of robots to perform his perfidious deeds. Interestingly, he can teleport from one android to another without betraying his presence. Naturally, our heroes can never tell if Ultron is the actual robot that they are trying to smash to smithereens. Meanwhile, Pietro and Wanda emerge as challenging adversaries when they tangle with our resilient heroes. Indeed, as Ultron’s chief lieutenants, they could easily have vanquished the Avengers.
Unfortunately, drastic things happen about an hour into the action that compels them alter their allegiance. For the record, ABC-TV’s Marvel series “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” set the events in motion for “Avengers 2’s” opening scene. Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg of “Iron Man”) had infiltrated the impregnable Hydra headquarters of Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann of “Valkyrie”) and located Loki’s powerful scepter. S.H.I.E.L.D. dispatched the Avengers to retrieve that scepter. The ensuing battle resembles something from a John Wayne World War II spectacle.
Naturally, the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) demolishes bunkers, while Captain America careens around on his motorcycle. Thor wields Mjölnir with pugnacious abandon. Amid this chaos, Whedon trots out twins Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson of “Savages”) and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen of “Oldboy”) who have voluntarily participated in the Baron’s experiments. Pietro can scurry in a hurry like “The Flash,” while Wanda can alter minds and hurl blazing spheres of energy. Against Strucker’s orders, the twins take part in the mêlée, but they aren’t around long enough to turn the tide. Later, Ultron exploits them to the utmost. Wanda monkeys with the minds of our heroes, and the Avengers come close to splitting up because they don’t trust each other. The delusions that Wanda’s skullduggery forged in Tony Stark’s mind as well as Thor’s are frightening apocalyptic. At one point, Thor abandons the group to delve deeper into his Armageddon nightmare. None of the heroes have really been slighted, but Captain America, Iron Man, and Black Widow claim the lion’s share of the warfare. Nevertheless, Thor, Hawkeye, and Hulk get in their licks, too.
Several critics have complained that “Avengers 2” suffers from fatigue-inducing, marathon-length, combat encounters that last for an eternity. What else would you expect from an outrageous, sci-fi, super-heroic saga drawn from a comic book about a unit of costume-clad vigilantes? Keep in mind, “Avengers 2” is NOT “Downton Abbey.” Whedon slows down the hurtling, headlong pace just long enough for our heroes to reflect on their horrendous predicament and then they regroup to thwart the villains. All of this is achieved with the brand of humor characteristic of this Disney franchise. Compare 20th Century Fox’s Marvel movies, such as “X-Men,” “Daredevil,” and “The Fantastic Four,” that you’ll see that they are just a mite more serious about their mayhem than Disney. Having said such, you’ll be happy to know that Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, and Samuel L. Jackson all return for this revelry. “Avengers: Age of Ultron” qualifies as a spectacular movie, and it looks marvelous in 3-D.

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