It’s almost hard to believe that Avengers: Age of Ultron hit theaters over a year ago. The buildup to this second major Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) crossover was enormous. Soda pop cans, cereal boxes, and Target aisles were stuffed with Hulk’s fist, Thor’s hammer, and Captain America’s shield. Since then our cereal’s been covered by Rey and Finn, then Batman and Superman and most recently Captain America and Iron Man again, this time from Civil War. Seven years into the experiment that is the MCU, Age of Ultron was the culmination of years worth of hard work by dozens of writers and represented the culmination of the second Phase of the series. That’s a lot to live up to and the film strains to support the weight of an ever growing franchise.
Realistically, the task that writer/director Joss Whedon takes on is nearly insurmountable. The film’s run-time balloons as Whedon props up future properties and ties up loose ends from old titles. What comes of all this external pressure is a film that feels stitched together and bursts at the seams. While Civil War would later give new characters a warm welcome to the MCU, Age of Ultron delves deeper into already revealed or hinted at characters. It never feels like Whedon is telling his own story but a story assigned to him by higher-ups. That’s where Age of Ultron suffers compared to other more critically successful MCU films like Guardians of the Galaxy, the last two Captain America movies, and even Ant-Man which was celebrated for its unique brand of humor in an already crowded genre.
With such a gargantuan task, the film delivers loads of payoffs with little setup. Vision appears and soon joins the lineup, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch quickly come on as villains and almost as quickly flip sides then promptly exit. The payoffs are largely unearned not by any fault of the writing but because of the film’s requirements. The entertainment value is there for the most part but in such an interconnected universe, the story can’t stand on its own. And as we’ve seen, each film needs to stand alone for the universe to succeed.