Finally got around to seeing Avengers 2 (Finally..? It’s only been open a week!) last night with the wife. I have to admit, I’d seen a few of the trailers and something about them made me think I was going to be disappointed by this one. I’d watched Avengers a few times after the theater experience and the one thing that kept bothering me — other than the “I got captured as part of my master plan thing”, and really Hollywood…stop it — was the need for better editing. The final battle in New York is almost 40 minutes long! That’s waaaay too long for a final action sequence; there is a point where the audience has been amped up for so long that they actually get bored in very long action sequences.

So when the film finally started, I was actively trying to keep an open mind. The pacing this time was much better than Avengers — Whedon gave the audience down time for character development, the most of which was aimed at Hawkeye, Banner, and Black Widow. We learn some things about Hawkeye that make him the most human of the bunch, and even he is having troubles fitting himself into a team of “gods.” There’s the Banner/Romanov romance subplot that is pissing off the crazy wing of the interwebz, and I found I didn’t mind it…I just didn’t think it added anything to the film. The wife thought it was lazy — “Why can’t  movie have a woman develop in a way that doesn’t involve romance or a baby?” Fair enough…but I didn’t find some of the criticism to be valid.

The first action scene is well done, have the Whedon humor to it, and has a nice Captain America: The Winter Soldier tie-in and carries that spy meets sci-fi tone that Cap 2 and the first movie hit. It seems the Avengers have been hitting Hydra since the events of Cap 2. We meet the new bad guys soon to turn good, Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). The former I found annoying, but thought the performance was quite good…especially since I started to like the character by the end. And this is a Whedon movie, so you know what happens to the second string character you start to like… Olsen’s accent is atrocious and fades in and out throughout the show, otherwise she’s passable. As for the rest of the cast, they’ve been living these characters (save Ruffalo) for a half dozen movies each — they’ve got the characters down. They also let War Machine, Don Cheadle’s character, in on the action, and there’s a cameo of Falcon.

The bad guy is not an AI created by Stark, but rather some kind of AI that was living in one of the Infinity Stones in Loki’s scepter (it’s a “mind stone”, we are told later.) It’s released, doesn’t adapt too well to the program they try to impose on it, and you get James Spader voicing Ultron, an angry, genocidal machine that wants to evolve. This apparently involves destroying Mankind. Ultron is both interesting for not being the stereotypical megalomaniacal baddie — he’s got a great “Oh, I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you my master plan” moment…where he doesn’t. But he’s also not truly menacing, as he was in the trailers; if anything, he comes off as a petulant, confused child. It makes him interesting, but not frightening.

There’s some very nice spy movie action in this one — there’s the raid on a Hydra base in the start of the movie, some investigation stuff that leads to a South African arms dealer in beached ships (very cool) and rampaging through an unnamed town that looked like Johannesburg. (Just checked it…yup!) There’s more trying to stop Ultron’s master plan in Seoul, including some very cool vehicle chase sequences that feature the new Harley-Davidson electric motorcycle. It’s good stuff.

The final battle returns to the Hydra base of the beginning of the film and the heroes must battle hundreds of instantiations of Ultron, save the population of a ton, and ultimately stop Ultron from destroying all life on Earth. The battle sequence is most likely very close to half an hour long, but I didn’t think it lagged as much as the New York denouement. It might on later viewings. Notable was that while Thor got to kick a lot of ass, and got some of the good lines, he felt very flat and there was little real development for him, I thought.

The end has the team reforming with Scarlet Witch, Falcon, and War Machine as part of the team, and a few of the old guys bowing out…the end credits show Thanos busting out the Infinity Glove with a “Fine. I’ll do it myself…” So now we have the villain for Infinity War, I suspect.

Overall, it’s a good follow up to Avengers and in some ways it’s a superior film. It’s well paced and balanced, it has a solid tone, the characters all get time in the spotlight — even the B team — and the dialogue is up to Whedon standards. It’s definitely a “See it in the theater movie” and I didn’t feel gipped at full price with no 3D.