It’s the movie we’ve been waiting to see for months. Well, at least it’s the movie I’ve been waiting months to see. After seeing them all team up together in The Avengers back in 2012, I was all excited to see Earth’s Mightiest Heroes return in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Did the movie live up to my hopes? Let’s find out.
The first thing I will say about Avengers: Age of Ultron is that it fits very neatly in the larger scheme of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In fact, it practically requires at least a base knowledge of the previous films and, to an extent, “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” As I am among the proud legion of fans who have devoured everything Marvel Studios has offered, this was easy for me. For others, I can see how this might be daunting.
Anyway! On to the movie itself!
Without getting into spoilery territory, here’s a quick summary: The Avengers encounter the Maximoff twins, Pietro/Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olson) while retrieving the scepter at the center of the first Avengers film. Wanda uses her “enhanced” powers on Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and shows him his worst fear. That mental manipulation causes him to enlist the aid of Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) in the creation of what becomes Ultron (James Spader). In a move that is kind of difficult to argue against, Ultron decides that humanity must be wiped out in order to truly achieve peace. Then, things start going boom.
Overall, I liked the movie. I loved the continued use of humor that has become a hallmark of the Marvel films. The Avengers still have fantastic chemistry together. It was nice seeing their banter and watching them riff off of each other. Nicer still, it was great to see Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) get more screen time and actual dialogue. They felt more like a family and I appreciate that and how it’s going to end up causing some difficulties in the upcoming Marvel films.
The action sequences were frequently breathtaking, but also occasionally difficult to follow. That’s just a part of the modern approach to filming action sequences. It’s easy to get lost in the dizzying visual effects and not really understand what, exactly, is going on outside of the basic good vs. evil combat.
Joss Whedon had a monumental task laid out in front of him. He had to weave the stories of a bunch of different characters, a few with their own movies under their belts, and add into that narrative a couple of new characters. He also had to live up to the tremendous expectations of a rabidly loyal fanbase whose excitement was raised to a fever pitch by the mighty Marvel PR machine. On top of all that, he had to make an enjoyable movie that satisfied his creative needs.
There was no way Whedon was ever going to exceed the already heightened expectations. What we got was a perfectly good Avengers movie, but, as Micah and I discussed earlier today, it felt like a placeholder film that was there to set up the next part of the franchise. It was a great deal of fun and I’m going to enjoy seeing it again and again, but it’s only one piece of a bigger puzzle. Without the rest of the pieces, it loses its brilliance.
As one might expect, I have a few things I’d like to get off my chest about this movie. It’s going to delve into spoiler territory so back away now if you haven’t seen it.
Let’s start by talking about Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). She’s the lone woman on the team so, of course, it was only a matter of time before she had to develop romantic feelings for one of her teammates. It’s Hollywood. These things are, unfortunately, expected. What did come as a bit of a shock was the object of her affection: Bruce Banner.
Folks, I read romance novels and fanfic. I love a little romance in my media. I’m not against the idea of Natasha hooking up with Bruce. Honestly, I think if handled well, it would be sweet and adorable. In the context of the film, it feels awkwardly shoehorned in amidst the action. I have read fanfic where their romance makes all of the sense in the world. The writers get the characters and how they can complement each other. I don’t feel that we, as the audience, got any of that from what we were presented. I know there’s a whole lot of ground to cover in this movie. If you can’t do their romance the justice it deserves, don’t go down that road. Plant the seeds to harvest later and just keep going.
While we’re on the subject of Natasha, I’m a little miffed at her characterization in the film. Where was the woman who unapologetically kicked ass with that ridiculous long-haired look in Iron Man 2? Where was the woman who, just three years ago, had red in her ledger that she wanted to wipe out? What about the spy who threw all of her secrets on the web with barely a moment’s hesitation and then told the authorities to shove it when they threatened to arrest her? In her place, speaking with her voice, was a woman who suggested that she and Bruce run away from it all and just be together.
Sure, you can justify it as her being rattled by what Scarlet Witch showed her, but we shouldn’t have to justify those out-of-character moments because those moments shouldn’t be there.
I could also go on a bit of a rant about how I feel like Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) also deserved a little better than what he was given. As he had the most recent solo outing, I suppose I can give him a pass. I’m just mostly tired of Tony Stark. The genius/billionaire/playboy/philanthropist has had three of his own movies already. Not everything needs to ultimately come back to him, but I digress.
Leading up to this movie, Joss Whedon talked about how he was influenced by The Empire Strikes back and that this was going to be a darker movie with higher stakes. It was inferred that someone wasn’t going to make it out of the movie. While I’ll give props to Whedon for giving Hawkeye all of the lines that someone who is going to die in a movie says but having him survive instead, I feel like the death that happened in the movie was without any real emotional impact. Having just been introduced to Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver and only given a few scenes with him, it’s hard to actually care when he dies.
This is where Marvel’s plans end up hamstringing the drama. We already know that Tony Stark and Steve Rogers will live to fight another day in Captain America: Civil War. We know that Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is coming back in Thor: Ragnarok. Their options for ratcheting up the tension are limited based on what they’ve already promised their audience and, ultimately, killing Hawkeye would have been really unfair after what they put Renner through during the first Avengers movie.
I’m not going to fill up this space only with criticisms. Again, there were a lot of things that I did like about this movie. One of them was Vision (Paul Bettany). Then again, I love Paul Bettany in everything. I particularly liked the world-wise innocence with which he approached the character. I also loved the hammer bit. You guys know what I’m talking about. He’s going to add such an interesting dynamic to the new Avengers.
Speaking of the new Avengers, let’s take a moment to appreciate this new team. There’s Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle), Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Vision, and Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch. The film ends with their first day in training as a team under Captain America and Natasha Romanoff. I’m applauding the diversity of this group because it’s two black men, a purple guy, and a woman. That’s definitely a step in the right direction.
As a final thought, I think I should point out just how much effort the movie and its characters took to try and get civilians out of harm’s way. It seems like a deliberate jab at DC and its implied mass casualties of Man of Steel. It’s a lighter, brighter universe that ostensibly cares about minimizing collateral damage. For all their sins, you have to give the Avengers that.