For a number of reason, Age of Ultron got a lot of flak from MCU fans for, essentially, not being The Avengers. The film had the thankless task of being a set-up film, masked as a climax film. This is really Civil War Part One. This is the inciting event whose consequences come home to roost in Captain America: Civil War. But the film also had to introduce fractures into the team, introduce a slew of new characters, set up Phase 3 films, and still manage to tell the story of the Avengers fighting their biggest traditional foe. I think it works very well in the larger context of the MCU, and would have just fine on its own had Disney not made one of its very few forays into meddling with the MCU. They felt the film was too long (they have since made longer) and made director Joss Whedon choose between neutering Thor’s storyline, which was the thread connecting the film to the overarching Infinity Gems plot, or cutting the entire sequence at the Barton farmhouse (not much of a choice because cutting that sequence breaks the film). How did that work out? AofU still made a bunch of bank, and angered director Joss Whedon is now directing Justice League and Batgirl for the DCEU.
One of the things I most admire about Joss Whedon is his ability to take running gags and use them, not only for humor, but for character development and plot advancement. A perfect example of that is the party in Age of Ultron where we get a lot of great character bits culminating in a manly fest of trying to lift Thor’s hammer (the best piece of acting I think I’ve ever seen Chris Hemsworth do in his life is the look on his face when Captain America shifts the hammer). The joke is funny, it re-establishes Thor’s nobility, and is a running gag throughout the film. The Vision (Paul Bettany) is a character that should be immediately suspicious given the robot paranoia going on, and Whedon makes you realize that this is a character without malice in a second by having him wield the hammer. It’s funny and it saves him having to do anything further to prove himself. Economy of storytelling…..plus now that Thor actually has someone he can talk to about the intricacies of wielding his hammer, it opens up a whole new line of jokes. The film even closes with Thor, Iron Man, and Cap (together for the last time until Infinity War) trying to find alternative ways to lift the magic hammer.
“But if you put the hammer in an elevator….?”
“It would still go up!”