There’s so much stuffed into this movie that Peter Jackson would probably have turned the same material into six or seven of them, but to the credit of Joss Whedon and company it’s reasonably coherent. I confess I kept figuring out bits and pieces of it long after watching it, and I’m still not clear on who everybody was. (It would help if I still read comics.) I’d probably like it more on a second viewing, as with Cloud Atlas.
Hawkeye, the bow-and-arrow guy, finally gets some actual screen time and character development. He turns out to have a secret life that among other things involves obsessively remodeling his house.
We also get more insight into Bruce Banner (the Hulk when he’s at home) and his complicated relationship with the Black Widow, who has some quite touching scenes that left me and doubtless a lot of other viewers wanting to comfort her, and not merely because she’s played by Scarlett Johansson.
In fact, Johansson wasn’t the only person playing the Black Widow. Since she was pregnant during filming, a number of stunt doubles were hired, and according to Chris Evans (Thor), they looked so much like her that he kept starting conversations with Johansson only to realize that he was talking to one of her doubles. Apparently LA has a considerable stock of Scarlett Johansson clones, which is one of the most thought-provoking bits of news I’ve ever heard this year.
The most interesting new characters are a super-powered brother and sister played by Elizabeth Olsen (younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley) and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (the high school student who turned himself into a superhero of sorts in 2010’s Kick-Ass). Olsen and Taylor-Johnson are good friends in real life, having played a married couple in the 2014 version of Godzilla.
James Spader plays Ultron, an artificial intelligence who occupies a series of robot bodies, most of them eight or nine feet tall. The bodies are computer-generated images, but Spader did more than just supply the voice. He acted on-set, and motion-capture was used to make that the basis for the computer imagery.
As an aid to the other actors interacting with him, he wore a rig resembling insect antennae with red balls at the top where his eyes would be in the final film. Elizabeth Olsen said that Spader’s performance was so good that she kept forgetting herself and looking at his actual face rather than where the character's face would be in the final film. Her friend Taylor-Johnson would helpfully remind her what she was supposed to be doing by yelling, “Red balls! Look at his balls, Lizzie!”
(My guess is that other actors had a roughly parallel problem in scenes involving the Black Widow.)
Ultron was originally meant to create world peace, but after five minutes on the Internet he decides that doing this requires getting rid of all humans.
Stan Lee’s cameo is as a World War II veteran. Lee actually did join the Army, but he never saw combat, instead spending some of his time writing training materials and films and even creating an anti-VD poster. A popular rumor has it that Lee wrote posters that were illustrated by Theodore Geisel (better known as Dr Seuss), but I can’t find confirmation of this, though Geisel was also employed by the Army as a writer and illustrator.
Speaking of trivia, skimming through IMDb’s trivia section on the film I ran across a somewhat cryptic item reading, “During the Iron Man/Hulk fight, the Hulk was originally going to turn grey,” which I initially misread as “turn gay.”
While I didn’t like the film quite as much as I did the first Avengers movie, I recommend it, and it reminded me why I find Marvel more appealing than DC. Near the end, the good guys are trying to save the inhabitants of an Eastern European city facing obliteration. When one of them says he’s not leaving until the civilians are safe, I believed him, and not because he’s a comic book hero but because I understood why his character would feel that way.
Contrast this with, say, Man of Steel, in which Superman does a lot of heroic things but the film and the characters treat the mass slaughter of unnamed residents of Metropolis as little more than passing collateral damage.