"Avengers: Age Of Ultron" finally hits theaters on May 1 after years of anticipation... But MTV News was lucky enough to catch an advance screening of the film, and frankly, we couldn't have been more excited. The first "Avengers" movie is a classic, cresting in an hour of pop-culture majesty that won't ever be repeated on screen.
Or will it?
With the release fast approaching the rest of the world, here's all of our spoiler-free thoughts on the second gathering of Earth's Mightiest Heroes on screen:
It's Really GoodDisney/Marvel
That's kind of the main thing you wanted to know, right? Whether the movie is good or bad? Well good news, it's good. Isn't that good? Good.
Obviously I'll break down the ways it's good below -- and as for where it ranks in the span of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I'll leave up to you/our ranking of every MCU movie that will go up on MTV News soon -- but just know that Marvel's streak of quality movies hasn't been broken with "Age Of Ultron."
One of the strongest, most impressive aspects of the movie is how well writer/director Joss Whedon balances every member of the team evenly, including the new guys. And it's pretty much from the opening scene on: where the first movie was all about bringing the team together, "Ultron" is about what happens when they're working as a seamless whole... And whether anything can, in fact, break them apart.
Speaking of that first scene, without spoiling anything, you remember how the first "Avengers" ended in that glorious tracking shot of the whole team battling the Chitauri invasion of New York? The sequel starts with a shot like that, and only builds from there.
Bring On The New GuysDisney/Marvel
Speaking of those new guys, let's talk about them, shall we? Vision (Paul Bettany) we'll let you discover for yourself, but suffice to say he's pretty much true to the comic book character with some twists. Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is a nice addition too, and his power-set brings a nice bit of surprise to the action sequences.
The real stand-out, though, is Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), who drives a fair amount of the plot along. She's immensely powerful, incredibly emotional and a fantastic addition to the ensemble. In particular, I was a huge fan of the way Whedon shoots her powers early on in the movie, when she plays like a creepy AF Japanese horror movie, instead of a superhero.
Unlike Thor's (Chris Hemsworth) godhood, which is very much a running joke in the movie as no-one quite believes him, the Witch's "chaos magic" is pretty undeniable in its weirdness... So it's nice to see it played that way.
...And The Bad Guys, TooDisney/Marvel
More specifically, the bad guy, Ultron (James Spader). The villainous robot is terrifying in his power, able to go toe-to-toe with every member of the team physically, and mentally. But he's also the prissiest evil movie robot of all time. I don't know what else we could have expected from a Joss Whedon-scripted villain played by James Spader, but Ultron has some of the best jokes in the movie -- and they're made all the more funny by the fact he's usually joking about murdering the heroes at the same time.
The other bit of brilliance? Ultron perfectly expands and exacerbates the character conflicts that have been brewing since the first movie; and like any great villain, a good 75% of the reasons he's enacting his evil plans make total sense.
We'll only take a few points off because he has teeth and eyebrows. Why? He's not creepy enough that you had to put teeth in his mouth? Ew.
My Face Is Thor From LaughingDisney/Marvel
It's a really, deeply funny movie that demands to be seen with an audience full of hardcore fans. Ultron, as mentioned, gets a ton of laughs. And Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) probably gets the funniest line in the history of Marvel movies during the third act. But it's Thor who really shines here. Unburdened from his half-brother Loki's (Tom Hiddleston) glorious purpose, Thor is able to kick butts, move the over-arching plot forward, and most shockingly, become the comic relief. If there's a comedy set piece in the movie -- and there are a ton -- chances are Thor is at the center.
And in case you're worried he's treated like a buffon? He's not. We've all got our stans, and Thor is my personal number one Avenger. I left the movie very, very happy.
If you've seen the promos, you've probably seen that love is in the air for two surprisingly paired Avengers. It's as complicated a relationship as you might expect from Whedon; but the biggest surprise is how the female half of the relationship is treated, including a rather shocking revelation about halfway through the movie.
So you've got that, and then you have the Science Bros: their bromance is pretty much at the center of the movie, and sets a good portion of the plot in motion.
Oh, and there's one more relationship we're going to want to discuss after opening weekend...
It's A SequelDisney/Marvel
Yeah, you know, it's a sequel to the other 10 Marvel movies. Except more than that, "Age Of Ultron" directly picks up where the last "Avengers" movie left off. Gigantic, seismic shifts have happened in the universe in "Iron Man Three," "Thor: The Dark World" and "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" -- and all of those are picked up on -- but this is really, truly a sequel to Whedon's first movie, down to a ton of plot points and set pieces we won't ruin here.
...But It's Also The Second ActDisney/Marvel
"Avengers" was the climax of the first Phase of the MCU, and played out that way: the movie is pretty much nothing but climax, leading to that nirvana-esque final act. "Age of Ultron" is very much the second act of a larger story. In a way -- and bear with me for a second here -- it's a lot like "Iron Man 2," possibly the most (unfairly) maligned of the Marvel movies.
In "Iron Man 2," Marvel was first figuring out how to set up the overall universe, and you can feel it creaking. Parts are fun, but making sure to set the stage for the rest of the movies fought with the continuing story of Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.).
Eight movies later, Marvel has it all figured out. "Ultron" is picking up what the rest of the movies left off, and it's setting up not just Phase 3, but the endgame in "Avengers: Infinity War." But all of this is in service of the characters and story in "Ultron," too. You can argue bits here and there and how necessary they are (and fans will), but everything that happens in "Ultron" is important for the movie, and to push the story forward.
It's an incredible balancing act that's tipped over before, but not here.
This might be the most comic book movie ever, and not just because it's based on a comic. Like all the greatest movies in the MCU, it takes inspiration while essentially being cinematic. But here Whedon pulls images and ideas directly from the books that made me nearly faint with joy. There's that team shot above, of course. But the climax is set on -- well, you'll just have to see, but it's an image I've seen in the books dozens of times but never on screen, and it's a wonder to behold.
What Whedon has pulled off here is something that's been attempted before, but never achieved: a perfect symmetry between page and screen. Oh, and if that wasn't enough? There's an awesome, super-subtle joke that pays tribute to Archie Comics. Not kidding.
They Save EveryoneDisney/Marvel
This is going to be an ongoing conversation as long as superhero movies are around. But one of the most important, driving features of "Age Of Ultron" is that pretty much every set piece is built around the heroes saving regular human beings and it is wonderful. I really can't emphasize enough how incredible this is without spoiling major set-pieces, but let's talk about two moments in particular.
First, there's the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo)/Iron Man fight that's been glimpsed in the trailers and our exclusive scene. Rather than a simple superhero smash-em-up, it's a fight that's motivated by plot, character and Iron Man spends nearly the entire time trying to talk Banner down rather than just bashing him. And when he's not doing that, Iron Man is trying to get bystanders out of harms way -- and an insane Hulk out of a populated area.
Then there's the climax of the film, which as mentioned I'm hesitant to spoil anything about. Suffice to say, where most movies would focus on kicking the villain right in the shiny metal hiney as hard as possible (and don't worry, there's plenty of that, too), "Age Of Ultron" builds the whole third act around the Avengers trying to save as many lives as they can. And get this: it's not at the expense of excitement or scale. There's even a great visual joke (I think it was a joke, anyway) about how a dog always survives these disasters... Except it's while the Avengers are also saving tons of people, too.
I've written plenty before about how having heroes inspire instead of just showing how hard they can punch is important, so I won't dwell. Suffice to say, the Avengers show why they're Earth's Mightiest Heroes, and it has more to do with the power of their hearts than their fists.
Spider-Man Isn't In ItSony Pictures
"Avengers: Age Of Ultron" opens in theaters on May 1.