Avengers: Age of Ultron is the first of summer's bona-fide comic book movies. As such, it surely will score with fans of the series, as well as with those who've awoken from winter's hibernation hungry for another helping of their cherished Marvel superheroes.
Here's a list for those keeping score: Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).
These are the same actors who helped turn director Joss Whedon's The Avengers (2012) into an entertaining megahit.
This time out, Whedon and company provide a demonstration of what happens when a culture begins replicating itself, doling out the latest version of the same-old-same-old. The movie plays like an echo of its predecessor -- albeit a very loud one.
Also directed by Whedon, this edition alternates dull exposition with slam-bang action, some of it spectacularly created by the movie's welter of CGI geniuses. For my money, these unseen artists qualify as the movie's real stars, although they probably have been called upon to create more battles than any single movie needs.
The movie opens with an action-packed prologue set in the fictional eastern European country of Sokovia. The commotion has something do with invading the headquarters of Hydra. If you're an aficionado, you need no further explanation. If you're not, you probably don't care anyway.
The story's stakes, of course, are both high and par for the comic-book course: Our superheroes square off against Ultron (voice by James Spader), a super-intelligent robot (or at least some sort of metalic creature) created by Tony Stark, who's also Iron Man.
Uninspired by what he sees of humankind, Ultron decides that he wants to wipe out all of humanity.
Although it has been engineered to give each superhero time in the spotlight, the movie ultimately delivers a message about the importance of team work. The superheroes must use their unique individual skills to accomplish a joint task; i.e., rid the world of Ultron -- while delivering one-liners, of course.
The movie introduces several new characters, two of them twins played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen. Taylor-Johnson's Quicksilver is lightning fast; Olsen's Scarlet Witch has some kind of out-sized mental powers.
A few subplots also peek through the action, notably a digression into Hawkeye's civilian life and suggestions of romance between Hulk and Black Widow.
Paul Bettany shows up late the movie as a character named Vision: He reassures us that an invention with artificial intelligence can appreciate humans, despite not being one of them.
All of this tumult results in a somewhat confusing entertainment that still manages to wring a bit of sentiment out its finale.
Before the screening, I was mentioning to a companion that I'm starting to wear out on Robert Downey Jr.'s smart-and-smug act. Ultron did nothing to change my mind.
I enjoyed some of the big set pieces, but at 2 1/2 hours, my biggest reaction upon conclusion of Ultron was relief.
I also wondered whether Whedon and some the principal cast members might not feel the same way. These mega-productions definitely can wear you out.