The first time I watched the second Avengers movie I couldn't believe how long it was. The second time I watched it I found myself nodding along, swept up by emotions of this sprawling, disorganized, and curiously powerful summer spectacle.
I would not recommend that you see Avengers 2 if you haven’t seen any of the other MCU movies. As a matter of fact I can't recommend it unless you have watched all of the other movies and are current with Agents of SHIELD, and have at least a passing knowledge of the Marvel comic universe.
That feels like a very strange sort of recommendation for any movie particularly a summer tentpole. Shouldn’t a blockbuster be sort of independent, force-of-nature spectacle capable of entertaining massive numbers of people regardless of their interest in the movie? Avengers 2 exists to say no.
Age of Ultron is not an entry point story. Joss Whedon deserves a lot of credit for what he did in the first movie, creating a compelling story with six widely divergent types of characters all while launching a new level of spectacle in MCU movies. You really could watch Avengers without having seen any of the other movies and probably understood 90% of what was going on.
I don’t have to imagine what watching this movie without the benefit of the other MCU tie-ins would be like. I only have to read other reviews of the movie or talk to my wife. For the record, she hated it. And you know what? I don't blame her.
She enjoyed the first Iron Man and sat through the sequels but Age of Ultron doesn't have a lot to offer to people like her. It is not a self-contained movie. It is like an enormous train station, the terminal through which pass the fully loaded freight of a half dozen concurrent plots. In no particular order, this movie continues Tony Stark’s struggle to contain his own ego, Bruce Banner’s fight to distance himself from his inner rage monster, and Captain America’s continued difficulties finding a home in a future that doesn’t always seem to need or understand him. Into this mix are two very angry young would-be terrorists, a vengeful robot, an arms dealer with connections to an upcoming movie project, and many, many more.
I’m going to go out on a limb and state that there’s never quite been anything like the MCU franchise in terms of cinema. What was created for sheer entertainment now requires a concordance to appreciate. This is like some sort of anti-pop culture statement.
Even so, I do think there is quite a bit to enjoy here for fans. First of all, all of the main characters receive a more or less equal treatment, and have their moment to shine. While I think there’s a bit too much going on to really appreciate any of this on the first watch, with the second it becomes clear how much artistry went into the simple idea that this sequel is meant to be an EVENT.
Joss Whedon is a sort of a take him or leave him director. I count myself as a fan and his quirks as a storyteller - self-referential witticisms and casual brutality, are well-served here. Whedon is steeped in the cliches and rhythms of pop-culture, enough that he can carefully construct an elaborate head-fake about a main character that hits harder than the surprise death in the first movie.
The special effects are of course extremely well done and achieve something I think previous MCU movies have approached but never quite achieved - the sheer mayhem of the Marvel splash page. There’s a scene in the final climatic battle that pretty much nails the feeling of amazing action happening simultaneously, a gorgeous slow-motion cascade of punches, blasts, kicks and heroic poses.
I’m not going to pretend any of this is necessary cinema. Considering you basically have to devote a part-time job's worth of time to keeping current cuts down on Whedon’s achievement here. From his interviews and various rumors circulating about the Marvel franchise it’s pretty clear where the weak spot of Marvel’s approach is going to be. The synergy of each Marvel project, the fact that movies, televisions series and Netflix features all inhabit the same universe, means that each story gets exponentially more complicated with each succeeding project. Ultimately, while the stories get better and the special effects more polished, the fun quotient reaches a place of diminishing returns. Long before the movies reach the end of the Infinity Wars the average reader will have reached the asymptote of exhaustion. But for the moment, I say keep it coming.