Once The Avengers crossed the gazillion-dollar line in global box office, it was a fairly safe bet that director Joss Whedon was going to have a lot of latitude when it came to the sequel. That's both a good thing and a bad thing. A good thing, because Whedon is among the most witty, innovative pop-culture artists working today. And a bad thing, because he is often not content with being witty and inventive, and has a long history of steering his projects in unnecessarily—and often unsatisfactorily—dark directions. For many of his fans, this represents a great strength; in my estimation it is his signal weakness.
Folks who have followed Whedon’s career will know exactly what I’m talking about: in particular, his borderline compulsive urge to kill off his sweetest, most gentle characters, frequently when they’re about to enjoy a hard-won romantic happiness (Tara in Buffy, Fred in Angel), or as a kind of bitter coda after the principal action has already concluded (Wash in Serenity, Penny in Dr. Horrible). And it’s not just the body count. It’s the “What would happen if we had Buffy’s mom die?” impulse, the “maybe she should have an exploitative sexual relationship with Spike” drive. Don’t get me wrong: There are brilliant moments of tragedy scattered across the Whedon corpus. It’s just a well to which he returns too eagerly and too often.