Avengers: Age of Ultron ★★★

so this is what it looks like when a bubble is just about to burst.

this is a huge hot plastic mess, sorely lacking the narrative grace that Whedon was able to afford the first installment. where once his action was a model of how to develop spatial relations in a computer-generated shitshow, the fight scenes here feel as grossly stitched together from coverage as they did in the Russo bros' WINTER SOLDIER. and the less said about the agonizing big finale, the better. (still, Whedon is remarkably competent at juggling an insane number of things at once, and Infinity War is likely fucked without him).

on the other hand, an argument could be made that this is the first Marvel movie that's actually *about* something. deepening THE AVENGERS' surface-level inquiry into american exceptionalism, Age of Ultron finally confronts the invincibility of its characters that has made the stakes sooooo low through more than 10 movies now, pitting their strength against how powerless they are to solve the impermanence of mortal life and the stasis required to sustain America's role in the world.

don't get me wrong, Ultron – for all of the interesting, perilously under-explained quirks regarding his intangibility – still winds up as an unholy disaster of a character, but there's a brief period of time in this movie where the villain is actually a meaningful foil for the heroes. in a Marvel movie! buuuutttt then a big fucking thing has to fall from the sky, like always. and man do i not give a shit about The Vision. (the Olsen can stay).

also, these are the most sexless movies ever made. how they manage that despite Scar Jo's presence is the franchise's most interesting mystery.