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Avengers: Age of Ultron ***

High on action, effects and excitement, "The Avengers" sequel delivers for movie lovers everywhere

Is it worth $10? Yes

How do you improve on the third highest-grossing movie of all time? Writer/director Joss Whedon made it perfectly clear: “Avengers: Age of Ultron” had to take the best moments of “The Avengers” (2012), which grossed $1.5 billion worldwide, and do something else with them. It’s as simple as that.

Yeah, real simple.

With an estimated $250 million budget, “Ultron” has more than 3,000 visual effects shots (the most ever for a Marvel Studios film, trumping the 2,750 of “Guardians of the Galaxy”), a layered story geared toward comic book geeks, and some splendid interplay between the characters. It is a worthy addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which will not end until at least May 2019 when the Avengers reunite in “Avengers: Infinity War – Part II” (part one of “Infinity War” is set for a May 2018 release).

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Whedon knows what we want – Hulk smash action excitement! – and doesn’t hesitate to give it to us. The opening sequence set in snowy mountains is a barrage of high impact kills and death-defying risk, all so Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) can retrieve Loki’s scepter, which was stolen by Baron Von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann), Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) at the end of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014). The mission is a success, but Tony is tiring of peril. With the help of Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), he plans to use the Baron’s advanced robotics equipment to create an “Ultron” device that would effectively “put a suit of armor around the world.” 

Nice try, Tony. The evil of Loki’s scepter and the Baron’s experiments taint Ultron (menacingly voiced by James Spader), meaning Tony has created an extraordinarily powerful artificial intelligence that wants to wipe out the Avengers. Ultron, who has the fast-moving Quicksilver and telekinetic Scarlet Witch by his side, believes he can save the world by destroying it. Naturally, Iron Man, Hulk, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Captain America (Chris Evans) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) don’t take kindly to the thought of their extinction.



Amidst the grand action smaller moments delight: Iron Man and Captain America bicker about foul language, we peek into Hawkeye’s personal life, Iron Man and Thor discuss their girlfriends (neither Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts) nor Natalie Portman (Jane Foster) appear, respectively), and Black Widow develops a crush on Bruce Banner. When they’re all together it’s even better: Each Avenger takes a turn at trying to lift Thor’s hammer and fails miserably in one of the film’s best scenes.

It’s the spectacle of it all that counts, though, and “Age of Ultron” puts on a grand show. Captain America’s shield is whipped around like a Frisbee, sometimes batted by Thor’s hammer and often used to slice off the heads of villainous robots. And when slow-motion is used to show all the Avengers in action at the same time, and when Iron Man dons the “Hulkbuster” suit when the Hulk is out of control, and best of all when the team works together in unison to achieve its goals, the film is an absolute treat. There’s action on the ground, in the air, on a train and all over the world. In other words, your eyes will be smiling.

Is it as good as “The Avengers”? No. It lacks the novelty that made its predecessor special. Still, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is well thought-out, dynamic and engaging, which is exactly what it needs to be. The summer movie season is officially off to a fine start.

Did you know?
1)    In the Marvel Comics Ultron is created by Dr. Hank Pym, not Tony Stark. Pym (played by Michael Douglas) will appear as the creator of Ant-Man opposite Paul Rudd’s title character in “Ant-Man,” due July 17, 2015.
2)    In “Age of Ultron” Idris Elba, Hayley Atwell, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgard, Paul Bettany, Andy Serkis and Stan Lee appear in small roles. The names should be familiar to those who know the Marvel Cinematic Universe!

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