Unflattering reviews would have about as much chance of slowing down the impending box-office juggernaut "Avengers: Age of Ultron" as a nameless henchman would trying to harm the Hulk.
Even so, it's somewhat reassuring that returning writer-director Joss Whedon's sequel is earning mostly favorable, if not effusive, appraisals from critics. The majority of reviewers agree that "Ultron" is a diverting superhero adventure with some welcome human moments, although it's also jumbled and weighed down by franchise obligations.
The Times' own Kenneth Turan writes, "It would be silly to pretend that 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' isn't good at what it does, that it's not proficient at delivering superhero thrills for those who crave them most." In part, that's thanks to a "skilled" Whedon and a "convincingly twisted villain" in James Spader's Ultron.
But, Turan continues, "although this movie is effective moment to moment, very little of it lingers in the mind afterward. The ideal vehicle for our age of immediate sensation and instant gratification, it disappears without a trace almost as soon as it's consumed."
The New York Times' Manohla Dargis says that Marvel's latest movie "isn't half-bad, largely because of its director. … For a Marvel agnostic like me, the single most interesting thing about 'Age of Ultron' is that you can sense that Mr. Whedon, having helped build a universal earnings machine with the first 'Avengers,' has now struggled mightily, touchingly, to invest this behemoth with some life. He has and he hasn't — in a movie that is by turns a diverting and dreary blur of babbling and fighting that translates into faces in close-ups or bodies in longer shots."
Dargis adds that the sequel "doesn't always pop the way that the first one sometimes did, partly because its villain isn't as memorable" and also because "most of the fights are interminable and fatiguing, though Mr. Whedon does fold in moments of beauty."
L.A. Weekly's Amy Nicholson agrees that "Ultron" finds Whedon working hard, "earnestly trying to make a movie out of a bag of bolts: six stars, nine cameos and three enemies, plus at least 10 films to go before the climactic 'Avengers: Infinity War — Part II' opens in May 2019."
Whedon, she continues, "recognizes that fans come for the kicks but remember the quips. He wants to give us everything, and that he fits it all in is its own kind of feat. 'Age of Ultron' is a middling film, yet it's so heavy with his sweat that it never feels like a lazy cash-in — which for a preordained summer megahit is an accomplishment."
The Wall Street Journal's John Anderson writes that in terms of "what 'The Avengers' movies do best — outsize spectacle and wry comedy — 'Age of Ultron' has to be declared a victory."
Not that Whedon should get all the credit. "The film is a work of craft," Anderson says, "from the actors like [Robert Downey Jr.], who can deliver a comic line with the timing of a mouse trap, to the editors, Jeffrey Ford and Lisa Lassek, upon whom so much of the movie's very elegant fluidity rests. …'Ultron' is the result of many people doing yeoman work, as in an Egyptian pyramid or a medieval cathedral."
The Boston Globe's Ty Burr writes that "'Age of Ultron' eventually convinces you it [matters] — but it takes most of the movie to get there." What the movie does "surpassingly well," Burr says, "is concentrate on the secondary stories. [Mark] Ruffalo and [Scarlett] Johansson are possibly the finest actors of the bunch, so it's nice that they share screen time …. And poor Jeremy Renner has been sitting on the sidelines of Marvel movies for so long that he must be ecstatic to get an entire subplot to himself, one in which he proves the most domestically grounded of this dysfunctional crew."
In the end, Burr says, "Ultron" pulls off an important feat: "It makes you want to see what happens next."
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