*POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.*
After months of coverage and years of hype, the Marvel Cinematic Universe – the crazy go for broke continuity experiment that Marvel Comics built an entire production company on about a decade ago – has come full circle once again. Avengers: Age Of Ultron is the official close to the second phase of this experiment, and the expectations couldn’t be higher; Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, and Hawkeye made a huge critical and commercial impression on the world back in 2012, smashing worldwide box office records and all but confirming the cinematic ubiquity of not just superheroes, but inter-connected universes as well. So Age Of Ultron was always going to be under some intensely watchful eyes regardless of how it turned out, but the House of Ideas has no reason to fear; aside from having an overstuffed plot, Age Of Ultron is as expansive, action-packed, and genuinely fun as we’d hoped and proves that the superhero movie race is still Marvel’s to lose.
It’s also a hell of a lot darker than before, considering that in the three years since The Avengers fought off the Chitauri invasion of New York, the world has begun to adjust to the existence of so-called “enhanced” individuals. If you remember from Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the peacekeeping organization S.H.I.E.L.D. was completely dismantled after it was revealed that the terrorist group Hydra had commandeered it decades ago. In light of this, the Avengers now work as freelance saviors, with Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) leading missions and Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) providing the financial backing for it all. Stark has also been secretly working on an automated peacekeeping system called Ultron (James Spader), which gains consciousness and deems that the only way to protect humanity is to destroy it. Ultron enlists the help of the Maximoff twins, the telepathic Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and speedy Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), to tear the team apart from the inside while it attempts to wipe humanity off the face of the Earth.
All things considered, Age Of Ultron has a much denser plot than the first Avengers did, and that deceptive simplicity worked in the movie’s favor. As much as I love the MCU, these movies and plot points run the risk of becoming impenetrable to the new fan; the reason that the first Avengers and last summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy had so much crossover appeal was because they could be enjoyed by casual moviegoers and Marvel aficionados alike, while Age Of Ultron may be a tougher sell on newcomers. It’s fantastic as a blockbuster spectacle, but you’d better bone up on your knowledge beforehand or you’ll be left scratching your head most of the time.