Even if Joss Whedon hadn’t already been telling the press that he’s (probably) done directing Avengers films, it would’ve been clear to Whedon fans that Avengers: Age of Ultron is his finale. There’s the iconic tracking shot that opens the film, nodding to each of our superheroes as it checks in with them amid a snowy forest fight. And there’s the Hellmouth, a gaping hole in the earth where a small town once stood. There are a few other Whedon tropes, but those are the big ones, borrowed from closing statements in previous movies like Serenity, his send-off to the short-lived TV series Firefly.
If only there was a little more Whedon in the rest of the film. Age of Ultron picks up mid-battle for what’s left of Loki’s staff and its pretty gem, which proves vital to Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.)’s dream of creating a global peacekeeping robot army.
Nothing remotely dubious about that, right? Right.
When it all goes awry, the Avengers have to fight the resulting homicidal robot with daddy issues — as well as each other (a Hulk/Iron Man fight goes on endlessly) and, for a little while, their own demons. That’s thanks to the introduction of the telepathic/telekinetic Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) who, along with her speedy twin, Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Jones), is a super-powered human created by a bad guy’s experiments with that mystical gem. Olsen, even saddled with an awkward accent, might be the best thing about this movie; she ghosts around like a haunted child and then switches to full-on rage at the drop of a hat (or building).
Age of Ultron is full of introductions, explanations for where the other women are (Pepper Potts and Jane Foster are far too busy to help save the world) and shoehorned-in love interests, as well as heavily computer-generated fight sequences and, occasionally, a really good Whedon crack or nifty stunt for Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). She’s still making the rest of the Avengers look a little tired, which is why it’s extra frustrating when the plot sidelines Black Widow for part of the finale.
But there’s so much crammed into this film that everything feels a little sidelined: the hit-or-miss quips, the lackluster fight sequences, the vague locations, the cameo appearances, the fact that Ultron is in the internet but never does anything diabolical with it. Age of Ultron goes big — big cast, worldwide destruction, giant robot army — but in the end, it feels like very little happened.
Good job, kids; you saved the world. Status quo maintained. We’ll see you for the next round.