With Avengers: Age of Ultron, Marvel Studios, as ever, has a lot to live up to. Their previous two outings—last year’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier andGuardians of the Galaxy—were critical and commercial mega-successes. And if the studio occasionally puts out films that don’t hit that superhero sweet spot—Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 2, for example—they never deliver anything awful, and they always manage to course-correct and end up back at their normally very reliable level of quality.
Age of Ultron isn’t an Iron Man 2, but it’s not a Winter Soldier, either. The sequel to 2012’s The Avengers, it has everything that audiences have come to expect from Marvel Studios movies in general and writer-director Joss Whedon in particular: engaging, three dimensional heroes; exciting action sequences; and the natural, clever banter that is one of Whedon’s trademarks. The man has a gift for imbuing even the smallest interactions—the exchange of a line or two, a quick cutaway to a facial expression—with deeper meaning, which is a good trick to have in a movie that’s so packed to the gills full of characters that, even at two hours and 21 minutes long, screen time for any one person is a precious commodity.