Avengers: Age of Ultron is a complicated, ticking machine -- a cuckoo clock under attack. Returning helmer Joss Whedon is earnestly trying to make a movie out of a bag of bolts: six stars, nine cameos, three enemies, and at least ten films to go before the climactic Avengers: Infinity War: Part II opens in May 2019. In Age of Ultron's opening tracking shot through a forest battlefield, you sense Whedon racing to cram it all in before the bell tolls.
Age of Ultron doesn't bother with surprises. It simply is — a movie monolith for the devout. A Zen calm has overtaken the characters, who fight and flip without ever being short of breath. Laser bolts can miss them by inches, and they'll nonchalantly crack a joke about home remodeling, as though that seconds-ago near-death never happened. Though the whole planet is in peril -- as ever -- their attitude is so low-stakes that we forget, too. In the Age of Under-Slept Animators, blockbuster warfare is just a digital blur.
Whedon, who also wrote the script, recognizes that fans come for the kicks but remember the quips. He wants to give us everything, and that he fits it all in is its own kind of feat. Age of Ultron is a middling film, yet it's so heavy with his sweat that it never feels like a lazy cash-in -- which for a preordained summer megahit is an accomplishment. Whedon is a people-pleaser, the kind of old-school director who can confidently pivot between genres, even within the same film. I sometimes think Hollywood would better off with more master craftsmen like him, and fewer tortured geniuses aping Christopher Nolan. (Our film schools would certainly be emptier.)