Directed and written by Joss Whedon. Produced by Kevin Feige. Release date: May 1, 2015.
Avengers: Age of Ultron opens with an eye-popping scene that makes you appreciate the craft of filmmaking, and the film's director, Joss Whedon. How the filmmakers managed to pull off such a wonderful scene - in which the primary Avengers storm a castle, so to speak - is beyond me, although I imagine magic was probably involved. To say that it's all downhill from there would be true, but also would imply more negativity than I wish. Sure, nothing later on in the film tops the way it opens, but that's like saying the sprinkles-covered ice cream you're currently eating just can't measure up to the sprinkles-and-fudge-covered ice cream you had earlier. It's still really, really good, but it's technically worse. Actually, that's kind of an apt description when comparing Age of Ultron to the first Avengers, too.
Also, I now want ice cream.
I feel it would be pointless to even try to give a background to each of the previous Avengers characters. You've seen them in nine previous movies - since Guardians of the Galaxy hasn't yet factored into the story happening on Earth - or you should have, given that this is how the franchise operates. You see individual stories, sometimes with cameos or smaller roles for the heroes not in the title, and then they all team up to beat on a bigger villain in the gigantic Avengers movies.
The Big Bad this time around is Ultron (James Spader), a sentient A.I. created by Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) to preserve world peace, but upon awakening decides instead that he'd rather build a robot army and exterminate the Avengers - and maybe the rest of the humans on the planet, too. He recruits Wanda and Pietro Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson), twin orphans who were Hydra experiments and now have superpowers, to help him accomplish his goal.
You know how things go from here. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movies more or less have a formula that works for them at this point. At least one other new character joins the fray, too, which means that the film has approximately 10 primary characters. The filmmakers' challenge, at this point, is to figure out what to do with each of them at any given time. Age of Ultron's answer, at least for two of them, is to deliver us an obligatory love story. Yes, the film puts Bruce Banner and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) together in order to give them something to do. Does it feel forced and unnecessary? Of course it does. But it gives us a bit more depth to the two characters, and it occupies their time. What else are they going to do? Sit around and talk?