It’s been a few hours, but I’m still processing what I thought about the latest entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Avengers: Age of Ultron. I know that my feelings and recommendations will have no bearing on whether you will go out to see this movie. It’s guaranteed to generate a couple billion dollars in box office — and that’s probably just for this weekend alone! And while I had a great time watching the thing, I couldn’t help but feel a little underwhelmed by the whole enterprise.
Needless to say, there will be spoilers ahead.
Up to this point, it seemed like Marvel Studios could do no wrong — especially after the brilliant one-two punch of The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy last summer. Throw in the relative successes of its Agents franchises — both Carter and S.H.I.E.L.D. — on ABC and the brilliant, game-changing Daredevil on Netflix, and it seemed like the House of Ideas was batting a thousand on all of its properties. There’s no way that an Avengers movie — which is supposed to be the culmination of each “phase” of the MCU — could possibly disappoint, right?
Well, that’s only half-right. By no means did I hate this movie. In fact, there were several instances where I audibly cheered at the screen. But more than any other Marvel movie, Age of Ultron felt the most over-stuffed. And I guess that’s to be expected when you’re trying to mash up all of the different franchises and plotlines from a dozen other movies and television series. That’s ultimately the drawback of the shared universe approach to movie-making.
That said, I am still a fan of the cinematic universe and think that the best scenes in Ultron benefit from that approach as much as the worst scenes are hindered by it. In fact, some of my issues with the film have nothing to do with how it fits into the larger MCU and more about story choices that I felt were out of the blue and dragged down the momentum of the movie.
I think the thing I didn’t like the most, honestly, was Ultron himself. I know that most of the reviews are praising James Spader’s voice work as the eponymous villain of the movie, but I have to admit it started to wear a little thin on me about 30 minutes or so into the story. I didn’t find him nearly as engaging as Tom Hiddleston’s Loki from the previous Avengers or as intimidating as Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin is on Daredevil, and I thought his CGI-enhanced facial expressions were a little hard to take seriously.
Personally, I was hoping that the version of Ultron that we saw grace the cover of Entertainment Weekly last summer would get more play, but alas it was just a throwaway sentry bot and not Ultron Prime. The “No Strings on Me” Ultron from the first trailer is the main embodiment of the villain, and Spader ensures each line delivery is dripping with sarcasm and contempt.
But your mileage may vary when it comes to how much you enjoy Spader as Ultron. While I don’t mind villains with a glib sense of humor, sometimes it can get a little grating. I get that his snarkiness was a byproduct of being created by Tony Stark, but to be honest, even some of Iron Man’s constant quipping was a little overdone too.
The other aspect of the movie I wasn’t so sure about was the romantic subplot between Banner and Natasha. Never mind that there was no real build up to this ‘ship in the previous movie — or any subsequent MCU film — but all of it just seemed awkward and oddly placed. Not to mention that Mark Ruffalo and Scarlett Johannsen lacked a lot of chemistry together. I felt more between Chris Evans and Hayley Atwell in that brief dream sequence than any point in the Hulk/Widow romance. Hell, Banner had more chemistry with Tony, but we’ll leave that to the internet. Also, whatever happened to Betty Ross? Isn’t Liv Tyler still technically part of the MCU?
The other weird subplot was Hawkeye’s secret family. I understand that Whedon was probably trying to give Jeremy Renner more to do with the character, and the movie takes pains to establish Hawkeye as the everyman heart of the team, but giving him a white picket fence was a little too on the nose. I’m not saying we shouldn’t explore Clint Barton’s non-Avenging life — hell, that’s the most interesting thing about him, after all — but I’m not sure an idyllic farmhouse in the middle of nowhere screams Clint Barton to me. It also seemed like a waste of casting to have Linda Cardellini play nothing more than a doting wife, especially since the internet went into a tizzy when it learned she was even in the movie! Also, since Bobbi “Mockingbird” Morse is officially part of MCU canon, it would have been nice to have seen Adrianne Palicki cameo as Barton’s “girlfriend.”
This isn’t to say that I disliked the movie totally. As I said earlier, there were moments I really enjoyed as well. Like any MCU property, there are tons of Easter eggs and fanservice to warrant multiple viewings, and the battle scenes are dizzying and kinetic (though some of the CGI in the opening sequence is a bit dodgy, I must say).
I did appreciate how they were able to tie-in the most recent episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. directly into that opening battle scene of the movie. Like last season, S.H.I.E.L.D. dramatically improved after the events of Captain America. Will next week’s episode deal with the fallout from the movie?
My favorite scene, though, doesn’t involve Hulkbusting or buildings collapsing. Of the whole movie, my favorite is probably the “hammer scene” at the party. It’s always nice to see scenes like this in which the team bonds with one another, and that party scene — where the Avengers feel like real people — does more to humanize them than any forced romance or backstory.
Of course, that scene — like most of the best scenes in the movie — was released weeks and months prior to opening weekend. Can I also say that the marketing for this movie has been the most annoying? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a promotion that revealed as much stuff as the lead up to Avengers: Age of Ultron did. Between the trailers, TV spots, featurettes, and clips, I feel like most of the good stuff was already spoiled — which makes the stuff they held out on all the more disappointing.
Speaking of spoiling the good stuff, the introduction of the Vision was another aspect I absolutely loved about Age of Ultron. Even though we knew he was going to be a part of the movie from all of the teases and promos, Paul Bettany did a great job bringing the android to life.
Also kudos for the brief scene between Vision and Wanda that hints at their potential future romance — and again, more convincing than Hulk/Widow.
I also liked how the film made a point to show the Avengers protecting civilians as much as they are destroying a city. While it seems like a direct response to Man of Steel and Superman’s disregard for collateral damage, that aspect was also a big part of 2012’s Avengers as well. Though, it did feel like the team was less cognizant of civilians when they were in Wakanda and Seoul. Funny, that.
Speaking of Korea, how great is it to see another Asian in the MCU? Agents May and Skye finally have company! While Claudia Kim’s role as Helen Cho was brief, it was still significant to the story. Also, she’s an important enough member of the team that she got to stick around for Thor’s hammer contest. Not even Falcon can say that!
Also, with Helen Cho firmly established as a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, here’s hoping we’ll get her son in a future installment. Who’s her son? None other than the seventh smartest person in the world, Amadeus Cho of course!
While Avengers: Age of Ultron isn’t my favorite superhero movie — that honor still goes to The Winter Soldier — it is still a lot of fun and needs to be appreciated on as big a screen as you can find. And while there were some misses this time around, it’s safe to say that the movie still finds ways to set up the next phase of the MCU pretty interestingly. Not least of which is the makeup of the Avengers themselves. Since Cap assembles new recruits to the team — namely, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Falcon, and War Machine — it looks like the next incarnation of the Avengers will be a little less white and male when it finally takes on Thanos.
We shall see.