I’d like to write a review for this movie without going into any spoilers, but yeah, that’s not going to happen. So, forewarned is forearmed. Now, without further ado…
I’m not sure if I should be amazed that, seven years after it began, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has worked out as well as it has, or if I should just feel stupid for thinking that a talented group of actors and filmmakers might not be able to pull something like this off. And, love it or hate it, you can’t deny that putting something like the MCU together doesn’t take talent.
With success to the tune of seven BILLION dollars behind it, Marvel’s feeling pretty good about itself. Its big stars are nearing the ends of their contracts? It introduces a team no one’s heard about starring a talking tree and a raccoon. People come out in droves to see it. Sony can’t get its act together, so it makes a deal with them to bring Spider-Man into the MCU. It’s all fuel on the fire. It really seems like there’s nothing Marvel can’t do. Age of Ultron is the embodiment of that. This is a movie that’s doubling down on everything Marvel has done up to this point. This is Marvel telling its audience, go out and buy a hat, and get ready to hold the f**k onto it.
I don’t think anyone is surprised to learn that this movie has a lot going on in it. Not only does this have to be a story about the Avengers, but it has to address things that have come before it, as well as set up a lot things to come. This is no small task. When The Avengers came out in 2012, it was the culmination of everything Marvel was doing up to that point. At the end of Iron Man, Nick Fury told Tony Stark, “I’m here to talk to you about the Avenger Initiative.” That was the endgame. Marvel had spent years introducing these characters, and then they were all going to team up. What came after, well, no one was really thinking about that. But then Marvel teased us with Thanos, and fanboys the world over felt that warm spot in their pants and knew nothing would ever be the same again. Our girlfriends and our wives asked, “Who’s that?” And we looked at them, our eyes a little unfocused, and said, “Shit’s about to go down!”
So Age of Ultron is planting seeds not only for the next Avengers movie, but the next Captain America movie, Black Panther and Inhumans (which is more or less the X-Men, if Marvel still had the film rights to the X-Men). The cast is bigger, and so are the expectations. It would be easy and almost expected to see a film like this collapse under its own weight. But somehow, it doesn’t. Age of Ultron definitely has its problems, but I walked out of the theater feeling like Joss Whedon had hit more beats than he had missed.
If I had to sum all of the movie’s problems up into one, big uber-problem, I’d say that too much of the film was left on the cutting room floor. There are moments in which we get from point A to point B and feel like there was a lot of connecting tissue that got skipped over. Two examples of this are the Maximoff twins — Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch — meeting Ultron for the first time. They have no idea who this person is, or why they’ve been summoned to meet him, but maybe two seconds have passed before they accept this big, hulking robot as a normal thing that exists, and throw their lot in with him. The second example would be the Avengers crashing Ultron’s party as he collects the virbranium from Klaw (foreshadowing!). The bad guys are talking, talking, then it’s oh shit the Avengers! The editing was a little manic at times, which made a few things seem jarring. Most of this I can live with. Until we start talking about Thor and his vision and then we’re in a cave and there’s a lake and I get that it ties into the Infinity Stones somehow but c’mon man just slow down and explain it to me!
One other problem I felt the movie had was that it spent a lot of time showing the Avengers helping innocent civilians survive problems that they had created. I can’t help but feel that some of this stands a little too strong in contrast to Man of Steel, which a lot of people love to hate on because of the huge smack down between Superman and Zod in its final sequence. I understand that a big part of being a superhero is actually being a superhero, but when I see Captain America jumping into the street to direct traffic before running off the fight the next big thing, I can’t help but feel the film is getting a little lost in the weeds.
With the exception of the Thor thing, I’d have to say that these are minor quibbles, overshadowed by everything the film got right. Whedon doesn’t have to worry about the Avengers assembling, so we’re thrown into the action as soon as the movie starts. And while things do slow down a bit to explain who Ultron is and why he was created, a good chunk of the film is given over to some pretty amazing action sequences. As I watched all of these people up on screen fighting a giant army of robots, I had to take a step back and say, “Damn. This is something I really never thought I’d see on screen.” Really, the whole thing was just good, clean, American fun.
But while armies of robots are amazing, I have to admit that the film finds most of its real strength in the quiet moments between its characters. I think everyone was pleasantly surprised to see that Hawkeye actually has a life. The relationship between the Hulk and Black Widow was completely out of left field, but you feel the connection they have to each other, and the ability that Romanoff has to reign in Banner’s more animal instincts, even if he only believes that to be a band-aid that won’t forever control his problems. It was a shame to see Quicksilver killed off in his first outing with the team (and pretty unexpected, given that all of these actors are signed to multi-picture deals), but his death helps turn out a very strong performance from Olsen, and I’m excited to see what she brings to the team going forward. Paul Bettany was kind of amazing as Vision (and the fact that the film’s have brought him in as a character is proof that Marvel’s balls hang all the way to the ground), and the scene between him and the last remaining Ultron drone provided some great contrast to all the crazy action we had been watching just minutes before. All of this doesn’t even touch on how funny the film is. Yeah, I’ll admit that some of the one-liners and jokes in the middle of really dire circumstances get away from the film in a few spots. But then again, it’s good to laugh. Anyone who’s seen the trailer for Batman v Superman knows that not every superhero film is like this. So there’s something out there for everyone.
Many more films past this one have already been announced. Captain America: Civil War is currently filming, so I’ve heard a lot of people complain that this movie just keeps its characters in a holding pattern, and that it has no real stakes as we now they’ll all be showing up again, many as early as next year. Yes, because the only real stakes in a film these days is a character being killed off. Where did that expectation come from? You know, I was able to watch seven seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation and didn’t mind that the show wasn’t a complete blood bath week after week, and that all of my favorite characters were dying left and right. A character arc doesn’t have to end in a graveyard. By the end of the movie, all of these people are in different places than they were at the beginning, and that’s going to inform a lot of what these movies do going forward. Anyone who knows why the next Captain America movie is called Civil War understands that. So don’t be put off by the fact that not everyone ends the film in a body bag.
By the end of the film, we’re left with a new team. Stark and Barton have retired, and Vision, Scarlet Witch, War Machine, and Falcon have signed up. You could argue that this lineup is even more powerful than the old one, which seems somehow fitting, given what we know about who they’ll be facing once Infinity War rolls around. And as I’m writing this, I’m realizing that it’s almost impossible not to judge this film in the light of everything else Marvel is doing. While they cost millions and millions of dollars to make, these feel almost less like movies and more like giant, two-and-a-half-hour episodes in some crazy anthology series. When looked at like that, Age of Ultron has to be a season finale. Things have changed, and we don’t really know what they’ll look like once they come back. I know I’m really excited to see it. Although I don’t know if I can say the same thing about my wife, who still pronounces it, “Tho-nose.” I mean, ugh.