Will Avengers: Age of Ultron outperform its predecessor?

After Joss Whedon's The Avengers was released in 2012, it became the third highest grossing film of all time. The sequel reunites Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), while introducing Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Ultron (James Spader) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson).

That's a lot of star power.

Expectations are high for the Marvel Studios movie, with analysts predicting it will earn between $210 million and $224 million in the U.S. in its opening weekend. When it debuted overseas last week, it earned $201.2 million.

Avengers: Age of Ultron also stars Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter), Paul Bettany (J.A.R.V.I.S./Vision), Don Cheadle (James "Rhodey" Rhodes/War Machine), Idris Elba (Heimdall), Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson/Falcon) and Stellan Skarsgård (Erik Selvig), plus Linda Cardellini and Julie Delpy in secret roles.

Here's what critics have to say about the movie:

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Marvel/Disney Enterprises

• "Age of Ultron is a whole summer of fireworks packed into one movie. It doesn't just go to 11, it starts there," Rolling Stone's Peter Travers writes. "But it's best when Whedon sins against the Hollywood commandment of playing it safe. He takes a few wrong turns, creating a jumble when the action gets too thick. But he recovers like a pro, devising a spectacle that's epic in every sense of the word." He argues that "Whedon is the true master of the Marvel Comic universe onscreen." The writer-director won't be back when Avengers: Infinity War, Part 1 and Part 2, start shooting in 2016, as the Russo brothers will take the helm. "That makes Age of Ultron Whedon's last Avengers hurrah. And the monumental battle between gods and monsters that he stages to end the film does him proud. Bravo."

Variety's Scott Foundas says the movie is a "super-sized spandex soap opera that's heavy on catastrophic action but surprisingly light on its feet, and rich in the human-scale emotion that can cut even a raging Hulk down to size." He praises Whedon in particular, as the writer-director "brings a looser, more inventive and stylish touch to this skillful follow-up."

Entertainment Weekly's Chris Nashawaty writes that he "walked out of the theater feeling like the survivor of an all-you-can-eat buffet." He argues that "there are five shock-and-awe action sequences when three would have sufficed." He says there are too many leads, and "even the film's rimshot-ready one-liners have the overkill desperation of a stand-up scared of bombing." Whedon "simply has too many balls to keep in the air for one movie—even a two-and-a-half-hour one—and you can feel his exhaustion," he adds. That's not his biggest issue with Avengers: Age of Ultron, though. "My real beef with these movies—and this one in particular— is how same-y they've started to feel. Each time out, everything is at stake and nothing is at stake. Someone wants to destroy the world, but none of our heroes is ever in any jeopardy. With sequels already lined up for the next decade, how much danger could any of them be in? They're too valuable to the bottom line. And where's the excitement in that?"

Marvel's Avengers: Age Of Ultron

Jay Maidment/Marvel

• After a couple of hours, Avengers: Age of Ultron begins to feel padded," USA Today's Claudia Puig writes. "Cutting Whedon some slack, it's an all-star superhero saga that will likely please diehard Marvel devotees and many fans of the first film. But for the less dialed in, the fun of watching these top-tier heroes save the universe diminishes with the passage of time." Puig argues that the "overextended sequences don't make [the superheroes] any more impressive. Whedon seem to have forgotten the old maxim: Always leave them wanting more. During the final 20 minutes, we can't keep from wanting less."

Us Weekly's Mara Reinstein notes that the returning actors "have charm to spare." Still, she cautions, "The crowded cast is more of a necessary annoyance. Second installments by design are transitional—i.e., an excuse to infuse newer and younger stars with the stalwarts. And this franchise in particular has unlimited growth potential. Face it: 50-year-old Downey is not going to play Iron Man forever." For now, at least, "This cast sparkles together, tossing off glib one-liners and ribbing each other like comedy vets."

• "Marvel's latest is its biggest, baddest installment yet, but it's the little moments that make it work—in part, because Joss Whedon is so good at them," BuzzFeed's Alison Willmore writes. "Avengers: Age of Ultron is bigger, messier, and more sprawling than The Avengers, less satisfying while still being an undeniably good time from the opening raid on a Hydra stronghold to the concussive finish. But this film, more than the first, is also beset by tension between the need for blustery set pieces and the fact that the greatest pleasure of these movies is actually watching its varied and not always simpatico superheroes hang out and interact, especially as written by someone with such a feel for them as distinctive personalities." In fact, Willmore writes, "It's fun to see these characters fight together and, sometimes, against each other. But it's so much better to see them talk, and to revel in the facets of their fully formed personalities and personal histories underneath their outsize exteriors."

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Marvel/Disney Enterprises

The New York Post's Kyle Smith argues that if Whedon had a superpower, it would be "mediocrity." Still, the movie isn't "a disaster," he explains. "It has enough whammo-kerblammo, high-stakes standoffs and breezy banter that, if you work really hard to fool yourself, you might mistake it for a pleasing blockbuster, in much the same way that Tim Tebow's mom probably thinks he's a good quarterback." He argues that Scarlett Witch's "mind-control techniques" are meant to turn the Avengers against each other, but "it's the kind of brainwashing that wears off, like a couple of margaritas." He calls Hawkeye " "the world's most boring superhero" and complains that the movie "manages to look costly and cheap at the same time, like a Donald Trump building." The climax "is so dismal and lacking in character that it's the functional equivalent of the folding metal chair thrown into the ring in a pro wrestling bout."

• "Marvel's movies, Age of Ultron included, are shiny, bouncy fun, witty and just south of serious where DC's recent superhero opuses are turgid and leaden," Vanity Fair's Richard Lawson writes. Whedon "brings slightly less acerbic flair to his second Avengers adventure, but still proves invaluable to the franchise for his zingy humor and prodigious juggling abilities," he adds. "Each Avenger has their own little arc in the film, and Whedon does a nice job of weaving them together, making an Avengers that's heavier on psychology and introspection (yes) than you might expect. More than you might think you want, too, but the heavier tone actually works well for the series, serving to ground it in real-world stakes just as the whole thing gets flung up into space...Age of Ultron does something really rare for a superhero movie, which is to take a moment to reflect on how much is being destroyed when these rampaging egos go crashing through a city. The movie considers, y'know, the people the heroes are nominally trying to protect, which is certainly appreciated."

Avengers: Age Of Ultron

Marvel

• "Ultimately, Whedon's efforts to invest the heroes with a degree of unsurety and vulnerability comes off as half-baked, as such an effort can only go so far due to the nature of the material. After all, these are comic book characters defined by their double identities; a third dimension is neither required nor perhaps even desired," The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy writes. The heroes "go a bit wobbly," he writes. Still, "Avengers: Age of Ultron succeeds in the top priority of introducing a worthy opponent for its superheroes and giving the latter a few new things to do, but this time the action scenes don't always measure up and some of the characters are left in a kind of dramatic no man's land."

The Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan opines that the movie's biggest weakness is its plot. "Well-made though each action sequence may be, there are so many of them, including more going on in the pre-credits sequence than in many entire films, that everything blurs together," he writes, adding that "all this action overloads the senses. When you add in a bloated running time of two hours, 22 minutes, what happens on the screen stays on the screen and is difficult to recall later on." Still, he praises Whedon's dialogue, writing, "There may be no one else who would or could fit amusing references to Banksy, Eugene O'Neill and how hard it is to afford a place in Brooklyn into a superhero epic." He also commends the villain, voiced and brought to life by Spader in a motion capture suit. "Ultron is certainly a memorable creation, which is not always what you can say about the film that brought him to life."

Time's Lev Grossman disagrees with Turan. "If anything, Whedon's writing is almost too sharp. The characters are so finely drawn and verbally quick (they name-check Banksy and Eugene O'Neill) that they seem to belong to a different universe than the cartoonish one they find themselves in," he says.

Marvel's Avengers: Age Of Ultron

Jay Maidment/Marvel

• "It's hard to muster the attention span to care about Earth's Mightiest Heroes when we know they'll just be back to do it all again in a few years," The Daily Beast's Jen Yamato gripes. That being said, she commends the characters for "beginning to realize the consequences of using unchecked force in the name of national security, with a high-stakes conflict over civil liberties, government surveillance, and personal privacy on the horizon in 2016's Captain America: Civil War. And that's a start for what could become Hollywood's most intriguing era in superhero popcorn cinema."

The Wrap's Alonso Duralde cites "sequel fatigue" as his main issue. "There are moments of respite between the big battles, and that's when Whedon can give us his trademark badinage. What he does less successfully is fit in quotidian moments with Black Widow, Hulk and Hawkeye, the characters who haven't had movies named after them over the last three years. Add some crammed-in cameos from the sidekicks from Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 3, and the film starts to resemble a phone booth crammed with frat pledges," he says. "All these minor characters and blueprints for their function in the coming chapters give Ultron a bloat that the prior film didn't have." Though the movie "jumps through enough hoops to remain entertaining on a basic level, it doesn't have the giddy enjoyment factor of Avengers and The Dark World nor the smarts and character development of The Winter Soldier. Marvel movie die-hards will come away having found nuggets of pleasure, but those who complain about superhero sagas will find plenty to support their arguments here."

Avengers: Age of Ultron is in theaters Friday.

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