For me, as I'm sure it is for most other fans of this series, is the collection of superheroes we get to see. We see them interact and get a lot of "What if?" questions answered about what might happen if these heroes came together. Thor and Black Widow. Iron Man and Ultron. It's an endless avenue of discovery when it comes to this universe and writer-director Joss Whedon knows exactly how to handle it.
The story begins with Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr) attempting to tinker with a program that could possibly help maintain peace, but it doesn't go according to plan and an evil villain named Ultron (James Spader) is created. The Avengers once again assemble and attempt to help end this worldwide threat.
The film begins with a marvelous action sequence around a fortified compound. Suddenly the Avengers show up and step into the heavy crossfire. Immediately the viewer knows each member's skills and personality; each one has their place and methods, which gives you a perfect look inside the characters' minds. And I say that because it's rare you see such clever differences in superhero films.
Whedon truly knows these characters. Each one has a distinct voice and mindset that, especially when all of them are on screen together, is incredibly refreshing. The interactions between Natasha Romanov/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Banner were often the highlights for me in terms of chemistry between the leads. They bounced off each other with pure ease and comfort which really ground their developing friendship.
Not to mention, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) knocks charm and charisma out of the park. In the party sequence near the beginning, which is probably one of the best scenes of the entire film, is one of his crowning moments. He brings out plenty of laughs and joy from his godlike nature. Unfortunately, he often disappears for later parts of the story and I would find myself missing his presence in non-action scenes.
I think Ultron was a very cool choice for a villain. He's quite sarcastic and whimsical as well as violent and cruel. Spader's voice performance was a major plus because without the right actor it would have become a total miss of a great character. It really requires finesse to find a good line between comedic and evil and he nailed it. Occasionally his speeches would get a little tiring but those were few and far between.
With the addition of the twins, Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), the story became even more busy and overstuffed at times. There were just so many characters to handle that some lost their moment in the sun, although Whedon again handled it better than most would have. Since Taylor-Johnson's performance in "Godzilla," I have been pretty underwhelmed by his work, and this role was no different. He lacked charisma and did very little for me as that iconic character.
Along with the story itself, the action was always well done but towards the end I started to get some destruction fatigue as some sequences went on longer than I had hoped. But compared to the first film, the action feels much grittier, which was a nice change from the peppier tone that most Marvel entries have. And Whedon also did a nice job of making this feel different from the first mainly because of that darker tone. Even the lighting and cinematography is much more washed out, fitting the heaviness of the story perfectly.
Overall, I really did enjoy this sequel a lot. I'm still unsure if I like one more than the other but maybe after a few viewings I'll be able to decide. The tone and character development is definitely one its best qualities. Sometimes the narrative is too muddled to be consistently compelling and some scenes should (and could) have been lengthened. It's definitely up there with many of the stronger installments to this the universe but it's still got room to improve.