The Marvel Universe is back, baby, and it is awesome. Ignore all those reviews -- the one that says "oh, this character is mopey" or "WWWAAAHHH SUMMER MOVIE!!!! CORPORATE FIAT!!!!" (looking at you, NY Times).
This was just plain fun. And we've had a dearth of fun at the theaters lately.
Let's start someplace simple: If you have been following Agents of SHIELD, you saw Coulson and Co find a mad scientist named Baron von Strucker, who is in possession of Loki's scepter from Avengers one -- but then, you knew that if you hung around at the end of The Winter Soldier, so same difference. We open in the middle of a full-on Avengers attack on the final Hydra base standing.
Unfortunately, before Thor just takes the scepter away, the resident mad scientists get to play with it, and that's when things go crazy. Due to mad science and Heinlein's law of technology, Tony Stark finds that the scepter, and the jewel within it, are the key to his ultimate goal, an AI to protect the entire world in a post-SHIELD universe.
Unfortunately for Tony, the scepter has its own ideas. The result is Ultron, a killer robot who runs on snark and hatred. First, he will destroy the Avengers, and next, THE WORLD. BWAHAHAHAHAHA
And the execution? Flawless. In terms of the overall narrative of the MCU, it fits wonderfully. At the end of Iron Man 3, Whedon said "NOW what am I going to do with Avengers 2?" He then picked up the ball and ran with it, since Iron Man 3 also gave him his solution (not the Mandarin, the "House Party" protocol from the film.... you'll see in the opening how Tony uses it to supplant SHIELD to some extent).
Whedon also weaves in everything from the previous movies. The House Party from Iron Man 3. Thor is still on Earth after the events of The Dark World. Falcon swoops in to discuss "our missing persons project" with Captain America from The Winter Soldier. And, of course, we have a further discussion of the infinity gems, from Guardians of the Galaxy. It ties up and ties off everything from the rest of phase two, and starts leading into phase 3 nicely -- probably a direct lead to the next Thor film. Whedon is also going in for world building. Because the world is being built, and Captain America has the nails. It's the end of the movie, and you're going to like it. You really are.
Now, some of character bits of business. Along the way, the Scarlet Witch will be playing with the heads of our heroes, and she really causes the entire movie to happen, just by playing on the fear of "What if I can't save everyone?" and we go from there. The mind-screwing isn't harped on too much, just enough to slow everyone down at the appropriate moments -- but, it doesn't slow down the film. In fact, messing with Bruce Banner's head leads into, well, smashing stuff.
The continuing development of the characters is interesting. There is a party involved -- it's opened several of the commercials. The scene with "everyone, try Thor's hammer"? It's plot related. You will not see it coming. You really won't. But it brings in the sidekicks -- Falcon, War Machine, Mariah Hill -- and sets them up nicely for the rest of the film, as well as other relationship issues.
Such as Black Widow and Bruce Banner. I know. That reaction you just had? That was mine. It leads more into the character development for Black Widow than we've seen thus far, and shows us why Joss Whedon hasn't pushed for a Black Widow movie; it's going to be daaarrrkkkk. In fact, the more we go into Black Widow's backstory, the darker it gets. But you know what? ScarJo is such an amazing actress, she could sell me on Black Widow and Bruce Banner, so you know what, I can buy a Black Widow film that is as dark as f^*(, and I wouldn't mind. I also want ScarJo to be Manana Shushurin -- she wouldn't even have to step out of character.
Thor was interesting. When his mind is messed with, he doesn't see his fears so much as he sees the future. It affects both this film, and Thor's next ... and it's called Ragnarok, so brace for impact. It also brings in his mad scientist sidekick. Yes, this was a movie where Whedon said "We've got sidekicks. Let's use 'em." And we're really going to.
Then there's Hawkeye. I know that the novel ninja opposed to heroes that use bow and arrows, but Whedon takes that, and makes fun of it in what is possibly the best, most inspirational moments in the entire movie. Let's just say that someone has read West Coast Avengers, where Hawkeye was running the show. In this film, I can see it. It works surprisingly well.
Then there's the Maximof twins, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. They have some interesting moments. Quicksilver is a smartass, but some idiot reviewer wrote him off as sulky, because he grew up in the Balkans (where, let's face it, if you grew up there, your childhood probably sucked). They've gotten around mutants with experimentation and other forces. There is no magic, only Heinlein's law (any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic). Though in the future, they should spell out the Scarlet Witch a little more for people who haven't read the comic books.
James Spader as Ultron was inspired. Instead of killer robot with all the personality of a Dalek, Spder shows up and is ... evil James Spader. If you follow The Blacklist, you're going to think that they plugged his character into a robot body, and why did someone think that was a good idea? But it works very, very well. And he has some of the funniest lines in the movie, and ones that aren't about Pinocchio. He didn't steal the film, but he tried.
You will see people occasionally bitch in reviews that Nick Fury's return wasn't a surprise ... but Black Widow, captain America, and Hawkeye already knew he was alive in The Winter Soldier, so, for everyone who whined about that ... just shut up.
In regard to the obligatory Stan Lee reference, let's just say that Captain America had some friends over at his party ... from World War II.
The ending on this one feels like The End, almost as though Joss considered taking the Avengers team, as assembled, with him as Joss himself hit the road.
The only problem that people might have with it is spelled out by John Ringo himself: "some of the action sequences were so fast and so tightly shot that they more or less blurred and were pretty much impossible to follow." I could follow most of them, but I take absurd amounts of fight training, as well as blocking these for a living.
I think I'll have Ringo have the last word, too: "Totally worth as much money as you spend. I'm ready to go back to see it again in 3-D IMAX."