The bottom line: I'd put it a safe third in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films (behind Guardians of the Galaxy and the first Avengers, but definitely ahead of Captain America: Winter Soldier and Iron Man 3). There's a lot in this film, you'll want to be paying attention, and you'll definitely want to see this movie with a nice big crowd cheering on your protagonists.
Joss Whedon isn't at the top of his game here, but he is pretty close, and it's a good time.
Don't worry, the spoilery parts are all safely below the jump.
We start with the Avengers doing what they do best: working together to tie up some loose ends from Captain America's (Chris Evans) last outing with HYDRA. Everyone's back, of course: Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Dr. Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and his big green alter-ego, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and they bring the fight beautifully in the opening sequences.
What they discover is a certain Asgardian artifact that played a large role in the first Avengers film, and how it was used to create some impressive technology, including human experimentation on twins Pietro and Wanda Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olson). With the artifact safely in hand, the team kicks back and enjoys some time off while Stark and Banner go into Full Science Bros Mode in order to try to create the ultimate peacekeeping force against the kind of cosmic-level bad guys that have come knocking on Earth's door lately, a project they dub "Ultron" (the outstanding James Spader, who is as perfect a casting choice as Downey is for Stark).
Only with the technology they now have, Project Ultron turns out to be too successful. And boy, does he have daddy issues. What follows is a whirlwind, globe-hopping adventure that will test the Avengers friendships, teamwork, and strength to the maximum, and it's a great time.
Again, I highly recommend the film, as Marvel has done it again.
Now, about those spoiler below the jump...and you have been warned...
First and foremost, we get confirmation as to what the entire Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been building up to: Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet. The most powerful bad guy in the galaxy has been pulling strings to uncover the Infinity Gems and we now know about four of the six:
- The Tesseract (the cube that Loki stole in the first Thor film, what Thor took back to Asgard after the first Avengers film) is the Space Gem. It's in Asgard...and so is Loki, who has killed and replaced Odin.
- Loki's scepter is indeed powered by the Mind Gem, and it ends up in care of The Vision at the end of this movie.
- The Aether, the cosmic power source from Thor: The Dark World, is the Power Gem. It was last seen in the hands of Tanaleer Tivan, The Collector (from Guardians of the Galaxy), at the end of T:DW. Whether or not he still has it...
- Finally, the Reality Gem, rescued from Ronan the Accuser by the Guardians of the Galaxy, is in the hands of Nova Prime on planet Xandar for safekeeping.
Second, by the end of this film, the Avengers lineup has changed almost completely. Four of the six Avengers are out, and replaced by two old friends and two new ones. I won't blow it here as why this happens is basically the central plot of the entire film, but good for Whedon to go down this path.
Third, somebody on the team dies. Be ready. Of course, Phil Coulson died too...
Finally, be on the lookout for all the references to Joss Whedon's other films...
Seriously, go see this and have a great time. I did.
We'll see you in July for Ant-Man, and this time next year for Captain America: Civil War.