Age of Ultron, man what a film! I went in with a slight apprehension after the mixed reviews started coming out but thankfully Marvel, Joss Whedon and Co. have done it again!
I would go as far as to say it is actually the most comic book like film Marvel Studios had come out with to date. Rather than trying to re-hash the first film Joss Whedon instead has opted to borrow the current Marvel Comics structure of having all the characters doing their own thing in their solo series (i.e. the other Phase 2 movies) then having a big event that brings everyone together for big action, grand ideas and shake ups of status quo. Age of Ultron is that event and it rocks!
Firstly, while I can understand some of the criticisms of the film to a degree; Elements of the film feel a bit rushed and you can tell that a lot of things have been left on the cutting room floor. It is a very different film to the first Avengers movie. One that easily could have just done something similar to the first film and still be highly entertaining instead we get a more complex story full of rich characters and world building. Most of the “big” complaints people seem to have with it are just the usual grumpy old person claims that have been levelled against almost all the Phase 2 movies:
“The continuity doesn’t makes sense!” – Answer: It does.
Use your damn brain to fill in the gaps! Everything you need is handed to you via bits of dialogue and visual imagery! Use your imagination and think, “Hey, if they said X that means they’ve had have done Y!” or “Oh look its the important thing! That means its connected to the other big thing!” Comic book readers have being doing this for decades and it really isn’t that hard to piece things together. #itsallconnected
“There is not a lot of character development!” – Answer: There is.
It is just more attention is rightfully paid to the characters that don’t have their own movies. Although Cap, Iron Man and Thor do receive some considerable development. Just because they aren’t stood there on the screen saying “Hey I think learned something about myself over the past two hours of this movie!” Does not mean that have not had any development! Hell just look at the Scarlet Witch she goes from lab rat, to villain, to cautious ally, to finally, Avenger over the course of the film.
“It’s just a teaser for the next Marvel Movie!” – Answer: If you think a two and half hour movie with a self contained story and perhaps, at the absolute max, ten minutes of setup for future things is a teaser then you need a slap.
By this logic every film that is structured for a potential planned sequel or two is just a teaser for the next movie. Every game you play to completion, a teaser for the next. Every episode of your favourite TV show just a teaser for the next. It is just how sequential story telling works you jackasses!
Anyway the above is just the usual regurgitation of, “everyone on my Twitter feed says/thinks this therefore I must think it too!” and is something to discuss another time…
The film does a good job of connecting nicely with the first Avengers movie and laying the seeds for Phase 3 and Infinity War. Once the dust is settled at the end of Phase 3 the Avengers movies should be a compact saga of the over-arcing story of the MCU. Loki’s staff and the Mind Gem within being the focal point and cause of a lot of the films’ action and development. The gem allows Tony Stark and Bruce Banner to create Ultron which in turn gives birth to The Vision. It is also the thing that gives the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver their powers. It’s continued presence and influence over things also causes Thor to start seeking out answers for why everything is happening. It has been turned into an interesting jumping off point for multiple plot threads while also providing a tangible link to the first film.
As for the new characters introduced in the film they in turn add to the growing depth of the MCU and help towards making it more comic book like. The film going audience was not ready for characters like The Vision and Scarlet Witch when all this kicked off with Iron Man back in 2008. While Quicksilver is sadly the most under developed and one note of the new guys I am actually okay with it because in the comics he is also incredibly one note. (His whole being in both the comics and this film is basically: be an arrogant douche, oh and don’t mess with his sister!) Joss Whedon instead uses him to help develop and add to the Scarlet Witch’s story which is one of the more interest plots and main through lines of the film. One which culminates in an interesting twist on a long running trope to do with female characters in superhero stories.
Interestingly this is a big summer blockbuster where one of its central themes is if man has the right to play god and create artificial intelligence. It explores the potential repercussions of that deftly and goes beyond just the usual “oops the AI we made is evil and wants to kill us!” cliché.
It is there but it is expended upon significantly. Ultron has a personality and arrogance to him, he looks at himself sees the flaws with his created “humanity” and rages against it. In a very twisted way he sees himself on the side of good. His main directive is to protect the planet and this is the only way he can see to do it. Marvel could have easily reduced Ultron down to being a killer computer but thankfully we get a complex character as twisted as his comics counterpart. His last moment in the film getting right to the core of the character and what has ultimately motivated him since his inception.
Another element I liked was the ambiguity to the Scarlet Witches powers. Elements of the comics version are there, her Hexes are now just cool looking offensive jets of colour. Her reality warping abilities tweaked to be mind warping abilities which fits in nicely to her being connected to the Mind Gem. Then there is the brilliant sequence of events that happens in the first half of the movie were she gets inside most of the Avenger’s heads and shows them their fears. Except by the end of the film there is some ambiguity to that as well, it is subtle but you can read it as the Scarlet Witch actually showing people their futures in a slightly twisted way which keeps in with her being a master of reality, space and time as in the comics.
WARNING THE FOLLOWING IN ITALICS ARE SPOILERS AND SPECULATION!
You see once everyone has recovered from her mind wammy (technical term) a mix of two things happen. They either go off and do something because the vision told them so or they look within themselves and change because of it. Also as any fan of Buffy The Vampire Slayer will tell you, prophetic dream sequences are among Joss Whedon’s favourite story telling tools.
- Iron Man sees his fear of another alien invasion become real and his friends die around him. This causes him to react by hastily making Ultron without fully weighing up the options. He also says that the Scarlet Witch just showed him the inevitable and that this is what he has to do. This is again reiterated when he helps make The Vision. Without the “vision” as Tony says it that she gives him, none of the film’s events would have happen and the end result of The Vision being born would not have occurred.
- Thor just straight up sees a prophecy veiled in a dream. When the Scarlet Witch goes for him he knows she is trying to get into his mind straight away. Then he promptly steps into the prophetic dream with that knowledge. He is in a dark and twisted version of Asgard where Heimdall (the guy who sees and knows all) is blind. He is blind because he has failed to notice (like everyone) that Loki is sitting on the throne of Asgard and that his corruption is starting to seep into everything. Then by talking to Heimdall, Thor receives the flashes of information that lead him to uncover the true nature of Loki’s Staff and what the Infinity Stones are. They also give him the vision of The Vision that leads to Thor stepping in and causing his birth with his godly abilities.
- Hulk, well we don’t even get to see a hint of what Bruce sees but it is enough to make not just him but the Hulk itself abandon the team and Natasha by the end of the film. Both the vision and his battle with Iron Man rattle him to the core.
- Black Widow gets to revisit her past because along with Cap her past it was ultimately defines her and what she does. We see some of her Red Room training and a few of her more interesting mentors and one rather gruff looking blurry long haired man in one shot. Being confronted with her past causes Natasha to let it go finally and embrace who she is in the now. She pushes for a relationship with Banner and is the only other original team member to still be on the team at the end of the film. For her this is where she needs to be.
- Cap also revisits the past but not really because it is something that never actually happened. There is lots of talk from Peggy of the war being over and that he won and that they can finally have that dance. Except that the fight isn’t over for Cap yet which is why we see him at the head of the New Avengers Initiative at the end of the film. He is also the only one who doesn’t really wrestle with the after affects of what the Scarlet Witch shows him which is a nice touch. However this can still be seen as a vision of the future because well…the next Captain America movie is called Civil War and that story ends in a certain way that means he could finally be having that dance with Peggy soon…. (oooo ominous!)
It raises questions on the true nature of the Scarlet Witch’s powers and what the purpose for the film’s journey is. I ended the movie thinking that there is a grand plan for The Vision. A large chunk of the movie is dedicated to him being born and the build up to that. The Scarlet Witch letting Tony take the staff being the starting point of that. Also The Vision can do things none of the other characters can do. (Yes I let out a loud gasp of excitement when he lifted Mjölnir that made the people sat around me laugh!) His intentions are wholly pure and he looks at the world and humanity with wonder and awe. Something which is great to see in these murky times. Also do you really think The Vision killed the last remnant of Ultron at the end of the film? He is on the side of life!
By the end of the movie the Marvel Cinematic Universe is changed. It becomes bigger and more inclusive for its growing cast of characters. There is a sense of things only getting more connected from here on out which for someone like me is awesome. The film is a little rough around the edges and while it does not reach the dizzy heights and bombast of the first Avengers movie it is still an entertaining story of Superheroes punching things. There is a lot of complexity to the film for those who want it and we get to see the other side of many of the characters too which is a nice touch.
If you’re a comic book nerd and love the Marvel Cinematic Universe this is just another in a long line of amazing movies that continue to translate the comics you love to the big screen. If you are just a fan of the films or have a casual interest this entry will likely feel a bit rushed and confused. Especially if you have not watched and taken on board all the characters and events of the other Phase 2 MCU movies. Make of that what you will.
Also the Scarlet Witch and The Vision just plain rock in this movie and if anyone says otherwise they are a fool!