Annual assembly of Avengers arrives with a whimper

The screen darts between the trees, revealing glimpses of the worlds’ most popular masked—and caped—superheroes. Through a flurry of bullets, our heroes storm through the enemy, arriving finally at what appears to be an abandoned medieval castle. But something is wrong—they can’t pass through the gates, forcing the Iron Man to swoop down, and… thus begins the second installment of the wildly popular Avengers series. Not missing a beat from its earlier successes, Marvel released the film in Seoul on April 23, packing theaters full of fans of the superhero-action genre. Yet, despite its critical acclaim and mostly unchallenged applause, the film is a disappointment that hopefully doesn’t precede the downfall of Marvel.

The film is set in the chronological continuation of the most recent film, “Iron Man 3.” The story follows the main cast of Avengers: the Hulk (Mark Rufallo), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). No doubt an impressive cast, the film takes no half-measures in ensuring that the audience recognizes these recognizable faces. With origin stories out of the way, the characters are more fleshed out, more facetious. And, of course, the quality of acting has not deteriorated at all.

The problem comes with the plot. As an adaptation of the comic book series of the same name, the film attempts to stay true to this storyline while taking dramatic liberties. Indeed, the story may have been an intriguing exploration of certain themes: artificial intelligence, surveillance, and humanity. Yet what ends up happening is that these themes are diluted, and made incongruous to the average viewer. True, the character faces a dilemma regarding artificial intelligence. True, the other guy finds out that there is a network of surveillance that peeks into the windows of the entire nation. But these aren’t explored in depth; that is to say, the titular artificial intelligence Ultron may very well have been a green alien from Mars, and nothing would have been drastically changed in the plot. “Winter Soldier” had encapsulated the mix between superhero-action and a debate on national security. Age of Ultron shattered this (probably) unrealistic expectation of Marvel.

That isn’t to say that the plot is the only cause for concern in the film. Character design seems to be an issue as well. True, it’s hard to deviate from the iconic red-white-and-blue stripes of Captain America. And Iron Man’s golden-red suit seems to be a trademark design now. Those designs don’t really need change. But what needs change is the design of the villains. Last film, the Avengers fought hordes of grey-metallic enemies. This film, it seems their grey-metallic buddies are back. True, it is hard to make many iconic enemies when the cast of heroes is already so large. But it has to be better than what it is right now—a seemingly cloned army of grey-metallic cannon fodder.

Marvel and director Joss Whedon clearly put some thought into the film, trying to make it as popular as possible. But issues with plot and character design make it a mild failure—not quite a spectacular disaster, but not necessarily a stunning success as well. Marvel has many more films in store, and there is yet hope for the future. But Age of Ultron doesn’t strike me as the brilliant sequel many tout it to be now.