Before you run out to see “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” there are a few things you need to know: it's bigger than most of its Marvel Studios predecessors; it lays a lot of groundwork for the next phase in the Marvel Cinematic Universe; and it's darker than what we've seen in the past.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Captain America (Chris Evans) return to battle evil in 'Avengers: Age of Ultron.' (Photo is property of the Walt Disney Company/Marvel Studios)
“Ultron” picks up with our heroes Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) hot on the tail of Hydra, in search of Loki's scepter.
After encountering some complications – namely the Maximoff twins Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) – our heroes secure the scepter and return to Avengers headquarters to celebrate.
It's around this time they also realize that within the scepter is a powerful gem, which Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Bruce Banner (Hulk) use to bring Ultron (James Spader) – an artificial intelligence program created by Stark to life.
But rather than bringing peace and security to Earth as was intended, Ultron has other plans, which our heroes must work for the rest of the film to thwart.
There are a lot more twists and turns – some familiar faces, some new ones and some hints of things to come. But I don't want to spoil anything for you.
Believe it or not, this is the 11th film in the new Marvel Cinematic Universe – and that doesn't include anything prior to 2008's “Iron Man” or any of the Marvel properties under the Fox banner (Spider-Man, X-Men, Fantastic 4).
Ultron (James Spader) serves as the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe villain in 'Avengers: Age of Ultron.' (Photo is property of the Walt Disney Company/Marvel Studios)
As the universe itself has evolved to include more characters (last year's “Guardians of the Galaxy” and this summer's “Ant Man”), so too have the movies themselves. They've become less of the big budget, explosion-laden, popcorn movies of the summer movie season into actual films, complete with fully developed characters and stories.
Oh, and a lot of stuff still gets blown up. They are, after all, still based on comic books.
Where “Ultron” differs from some of its predecessors, however, is that it's considerably darker at times. It still has its running jokes and moments of levity, but it really seems to be setting the stage for a shift to darker times ahead for our band of heroes. If you look ahead to the future slate, this shouldn't be a big surprise – next year we get “Captain America: Civil War” and after that we'll see the two-part “Avengers: Infinity War.”
I think this slight shift is a good thing. Comic book characters have always had dark days and many live tormented lives – I'm happy to see that carry over from the printed page to the big screen.
The other thing I'm happy about is that while it would be easy at this point to sacrifice quality for the bottom line, the filmmakers aren't taking that route.
At the end of the day, “Ultron” is an excellent movie – regardless of genre – it's just not quite as good as some of its predecessors (I put it behind “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “The Avengers” and “Thor.” It might, however, just prove to be the most important one to date.
★★★★ of ★★★★★