The Avengers: Age of Ultron may be the first of Marvel's "Cinematic Universe" to bend under future obligations.
Age of Ultron is nearly impossible not to appreciate in the moment. It's big, sprawling, excellently choreographed, human where it needs to be. It leverages its role as the 11th film in Marvel's host of interconnected stories confidently, the way that fastidious fans would want. It doesn't spend a lot of time re-familiarizing you with the characters that live and work here, instead getting right down to the story at hand.
Opening with the Avengers as they hunt for the last vestiges of Hydra in a post-Captain America: The Winter Soldier world, Age of Ultron immediately places thoughts of the future heavy on the mind of its leads. After a vision of a dark future where the Avengers just aren't enough to protect humanity, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) convinces Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) to help him build "a suit of armor" for the world. This armor is Ultron, an artificial intelligence network designed to guard the Earth where the Avengers might fail. Of course, things go wrong, and the team must work beyond their own internal conflicts and personal demons to save the world again.
There's an emphasis throughout the film on those personal demons, both past and present. Tony's creation of Ultron is both a demonstration of the dangers of his hubris and a justification of his behavior, and watching other characters wrestle with that and with him is a driving force in the film, and likely set up for more drama down the road. And visions of several characters' pasts and worst fears about the world and themselves does a lot of heavy lifting for character development.
Despite what so many flashbacks and interpersonal conflicts might lead you to believe,Age of Ultron is the most spartan Marvel release yet with regards to character and world-building. Casual interaction between characters reminds you who these people are, and, for newcomers, sketches out just enough about their personalities and histories to keep up.