I’ve consistently praised Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for it’s willingness to use sequels as a chance to explore other genres. Iron Man 3 was a dark comedy crime movie, Thor: The Dark World plunged completely into sci fi fantasy (I think I said it was like Lord of the Rings meets Star Wars), Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a spy thriller, and Guardians of the Galaxy basically was a space adventure movie starring characters who are only technically super heroes. Avengers: Age of Ultron bucks that trend hard, as if writer-director Joss Whedon set out to make the most comic book-y comic book movie of all time. Luckily for us, he’s maybe the only guy on the planet who could actually pull that off.
As someone who has written several comics himself, Joss Whedon understands The Avengers and the kind of stories that people expect from the super team. I am sure that it was Whedon who decided to do a version of the “Age of Ultron” story – because who else could have been pushing for this relatively obscure villain to be the centerpiece of the biggest sequel of all time (until the new Star Wars comes out). More than that, he knows that outside of the fighting and the powers stuff, what people enjoy are watching these characters play off each other. And this movie gives you a chance to see how just about every conceivable combination of these characters would turn out.
Tony Stark is still definitely the star of this franchise, slightly more than even other-guys-who-got-sequels Captain America and Thor. Avengers-only characters like Hawkeye and the Hulk are given more fleshed out subplots – I especially like that Hawkeye got some cool moments after the first movie shafted him – but don’t expect much screentime to be given to anything that doesn’t tie into the whole saving the world thing. Even at two and a half hours, there are so many characters that it still feels like there was a lot left on the cutting room floor.
Much hoopla has been made about Age of Ultron‘s portrayal of Black Widow, which to me is a bit of a mountains out of molehills thing. There definitely seems to be reason to worry about the way that Disney and or Marvel feels about female super heroes, but I don’t think that’s anywhere on screen here. Black Widow kicks as much ass as anyone else on the team, and her romantic subplot is compelling – another tragic chapter in this woman’s story about wanting to be a good person. Plus, Black Widow isn’t even the only female super hero in the Marvel Universe, there’s Peggy Carter (on a TV show no one watched, apparently), Agents of SHIELD‘s Mockingbird and Quake (that’s a TV show definitely no one watches), and Scarlet Witch (who spends a decent chunk of this movie as a villain)… Let’s hope that Captain Marvel movie gets here real fast.
Speaking of Scarlet Witch, she’s in this and OK. So is her brother, Quicksilver, who my dad called Speedo which is pretty good. The third new Avenger is Vision who is great but barely in the movie. I guess they didn’t want to get you confused between him and Ultron? Oh yeah, Ultron. He’s an evil robot who wants to save humanity by destroying it, I guess. Kind of like Skynet, but if it was more pulpy and melodramatic. But the end result is about the same: super heroes get to fight basically an infinite army of terminators.
The one kind concerning thing about the first Avengers movie was how the big action sequence at the end was like a well-done version of the end of a Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Age of Ultron is full of big fights and none of them feature a giant sky laser, so I’m happy to report that we don’t have to worry about that comparison this time. In fact, I would say that, in general, the action in this movie is some of the best we’ve seen in the whole franchise – even if it was a shift back to the CG violence which made me miss the more brutal style of fighting from The Winter Soldier. Really, the only action problem I had was that there was so much of it. You will see every single Avenger kill hundreds of robots over the course of these 150 minutes, which disarms the admittedly limited tension of these battles.
That’s another thing – we all know there are so many movies in the pipeline that pretty much everyone is safe. More than that, Ultron starts the movie as a terrifying monster, something that seems impossible to defeat, but the more time I spent watching him get beaten up, make jokes, and come up with weird plans, the less threatening he felt. I get that he’s supposed to be like an evil mirror image of Tony Stark, but he’s also an alien AI – why wasn’t that more reflected in his behavior? Ultimately I was disappointed by the character, and I do worry that Marvel still has yet to find a good villain who isn’t related to Thor.
Whedon cut his teeth making beloved, nerdy TV shows and I’m just now realizing that’s why he is so great as part of the MCU, because Marvel has brought the serialized delight of television to cinema. Phase Two wraps up this summer with Ant-Man, the twelfth Marvel movie, and Phase Three is supposedly 10 more movies that will keep testing everyone’s super hero fatigue through 2019. I’m not saying super hero movies need to stop at that point, but I hope that all the creative people involved remember that the best TV shows knew when to call it quits and the endless nature of comics is what makes them so damn impenetrable for everyone else. Avengers: Age of Ultron concludes on a message of change, new adventures, and hope – don’t ignore that.