Like last summer's The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Joss Whedon's Avengers: Age of Ultron is an accurate big-screen simulation of randomly dipping into Marvel's pre-Image output. Although a complete villain originates and disintegrates over the course of the film, you're left with an overwhelming sense that you've just had a brief insight into a larger, never-ending epic. Age of Ultron is reminiscent of an incomplete run fished out of a ballast bin or an 80-page Summer Special jammed with luridly coloured crossovers.
The first Avengers was notable for its smoothness. Whedon juggled umpteen leads, a get-the-gang-together plot, and a few decent car crashes with such ease that it was actually jarring. Whedon was too efficient, nothing stuck in your throat. Avengers was entertaining with well-structured character interactions but it didn't feel particularly personal. It was more like billion dollar problem solving. Momentarily exciting then quickly forgotten, like the red plastic lump Robert Duvall obliterates in THX 1138. In comparison, Avengers 2 is messy and overloaded. A rampaging mutant that offers zero resolution.
This cinema release (home video hype suggests an utterly superfluous hour is to be added for the BD/DVD release) is so laser focused on hitting beats that there's nothing else. The story's all in place but the communication is rarely verbal, it's geography or image or sometimes even a sound. The film is also littered with sequel embeds. Spotted around the action are elliptical, slashed to the bone interludes that promises further, catastrophic product. As far as the blockbuster sphere goes, this is world-building straight out of David Yates' Harry Potter playbook. Make it vague, keep them wanting more.
Doom is treated like a destination or a feeling, a word on the tip of your tongue. You can't quite get it out. A hypnotised Tony Stark sees Hulk pinned to an asteroid with barbed, alien spears. Thor takes a dip in a holy well and dreams of Ragnarok. Avengers 2 is the tipping point, permanence creeping in around the edges, putting the team off their stride for a two-part finale written and directed by someone else. Whedon's sequel is breathless, a smarmy setpiece generator that doesn't stop building momentum. The writer / director's parting gift to the Marvel Universe is an action collage that has learnt a valuable lesson from apex franchise entry Fast & Furious 6. Stay in your seats. There's a great big bruiser on the way.