It’s hard to think after only three short years we got a sequel to Hollywood’s ground-breaking event, Avengers Assemble (or Marvel’s The Avengers in the US), with Joss Whedon back on-board to direct, and all of the original cast signed back-up to join him along for the ride. But the massive question both Hollywood and the fans had to ask was, “Will it surpass the original?”
That was always going to be a hard task to accomplish and sadly Avengers: Age of Ultron doesn’t come close to surpassing Avengers Assemble. It’s actually quite hard to put into words why that is the case though. I think it’s mostly down to the fact that Avengers Assemble was something we’d never seen before and had a lot of “awe and excitement” bursting out of it. So seeing all the elements of the first film, such as having The Avengers together fighting an endless army of mooks, just doesn’t have the same “wow” factor. Sure, it’s still exciting (more so because you’re happy to see the gang reassemble) but it’s not the same reaction as the first time.
The other major contributing factor is the structure. There are places were the film crashes to a screaming halt and I wonder why. That, and there’s a lot of inconsistencies, not to mention it just feels like it’s trying too damn hard. The first Avengers film worked well because it has a fairly straight-forward structure, which ultimately made the film more easy going and fun to experience. Here, there’s so much shit going on and a lot of it (to begin with anyway) just doesn’t seem to add-up to anything we’d seen in the last couple of films.
I know Guardians of the Galaxy took a little side-step from all the main action on Earth but when we came back to it in Avengers: Age of Ultron it left me thinking, “Hold on, hit the breaks, have I missed a couple of films or something, because I have no fucking idea what the fuck is actually going on here!”
- Why are The Avengers together?
- Who brought them together [and when answered, tell me how the fuck that said person managed to connect Thor – is there now a massive Hammer signal they beam off into space in the vein hope he sees it]?
- How did HYDRA get their hands on Loki’s scepter and learn how to develop artificial intelligence [let alone create super-humans]?
- Who the fuck is Wolfgang von Strucker?
- Is he an important villain [and if so, why wasn’t he given relevant screen-time and development]?
- How the fuck did the gang manage to convince Bruce Banner that he needed to become The Hulk again [I know he proved to himself in Avengers Assemble that The Hulk can be used for good but that doesn’t automatically mean his paranoia about losing control would just up and vanish]?
- And how long exactly has this campaign to regain the scepter been going on for? Days? Weeks? Months?”
Apparently I needed to watch Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to understand what the fuck is going on (which I’ll admit makes for perfect marketing, thus making you want to go and watch every corner of Marvel Studios’ content to keep on top of everything, but at the same time it’s extremely annoying because it means I have to watch even more shit in order to have the foggiest idea as to what the fuck is going on in each and every film).
Maybe someone like me will go out of their way to indulge in every corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe but a casual viewer will not, thus this beginning will be utterly confusing because it’s missing a lot of vital information (with a lot of the ifs, and whys, skimmed over by the slimmest of dialogue). Sure, they may view it as being a huge spectacle (that’ll probably distract them with excitement for a moment), but as soon as the pieces fail to add-up they’ll become wary as to why they are cheering.
Moving past the messy, convoluted, and (quite frankly) confusing introduction we move onto the main plot of Avengers: Age of Ultron, in which Tony Stark begins to lose his fucking mind. Built upon his anxiety attacks from Iron Man 3, Tony feels it’s his duty to protect the world by any means necessary and so begins constructing a programme to control his Iron Legion, thus having a permanent shield circling the sky in preparation for the next alien invasion. It’s pretty deep, and although from a certain stand-point you can see where Tony is coming from, his mind just isn’t in the right state (thus losing him his credibility).
His ambitions stem from fear, and it’s this way of thinking that is driving him to become a massive liability, to the point where he’s more of a threat than a tool for world peace. Things become even more complicated when Wanda Maximoff, aka Scarlet Witch, gets into Tony’s mind and shows him an amplified version of his inner demons. This makes him convinced that his inability to protect the world will be the death of The Avengers and the world. He then manipulates Bruce into helping him go forward with his plans, and thus Ultron is born, a super artificial intelligence that has all the temperaments of Tony himself (as well as the lack of understanding the difference between saving the world and destroying it).
I will admit though that the quick pacing did certainly help to get this sequel into the swing of things instead of re-treading the slower pacing of the original, allowing their to be instant action and then a perfect opportunity for The Avengers to just be casual. This part is great because we finally get to see these characters just chilling out with one another, having fun and socialising, made even more entertaining by the fact that they’re all trying to lift Thor’s hammer (in a daft little argument over the actual meaning of how Mjolnir chooses it’s wielder). I even liked the fact that Tony’s overconfidence is shot down in flames and Steve Rogers is the closet to even lifting it off the table (to which even Thor shows a slight look of confusion).
But the fun and games quickly pass upon Ultron entering the scene. The team quickly turns on Tony, faulting him for being a massive fucking idiot as he felt he could take matters into his own hands (and hypocritically still believed he hadn’t done anything wrong, and that his actions to protect the world [through paranoia] was justified). Even Thor got so pissed off with him that he pinned him up against a wall by his throat. This is the beginning of The Avenger’s downfall, and although they manage to pick the pieces up by the time the third act rolled around, the damaging seeds had already been planted.
Ultron enlists the help of Wanda, and her brother Pietro Maximoff, aka Quicksilver, for help taking down The Avengers, making his vendetta to save the world even more personal. He quickly becomes their biggest threat to date as he is pure intelligence, able to sweep across the internet, as well as transfer his consciousness throughout various robotic bodies he’s built for himself, making him hard to kill. Plus, his knowledge of The Avengers allows him to take advantage of all their weaknesses, as well as exploit the world’s darkest secrets to aid his scheme.
The Avengers attempt to stop Ultron from getting its hands of Vibranium (to which had originally been stolen from Wakanda by black-arms dealer Ulysses Klaue) but the team is defeated after Wanda infects their minds with their inner demons. This is a really fascinating moment in understanding each character’s specific fears, with Black Widow shown her horrific past (to which she is forcefully trained as an emotionless killer), Captain America is shown his dilemma of whether or not he can live without warfare (which is added by the fact that he’s lost everyone he cared about), and Thor is shown the strangest vision of all (which I hope is elaborated on in Thor: Ragnarok) which shows him the destruction of Asgard due to his power.
Meanwhile, we have the exciting scene of The Hulk going on a rampage (after Wanda got to Bruce as well) and Tony has to stop him using anti-Hulk armour. This chaotic fight sequence nearly levels an entire city and leaves the citizens in a state of panic, resulting in Bruce feeling at his lowest upon regaining control. The world has seen him for what he really is and ponders on how he can bounce back from this, where he can stand in the world without being branded a monster, as well as avoiding the risk of hurting anyone should he lose control again.
Here’s where many problems start to come in. The second act is quite convoluted with ideas, to which the film is trying to complete it’s own narrative whilst trying to introduce others, plus try to give these characters more development (and a lot of these choices are extremely questionable). The relationship between Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, and Bruce is so sudden and out of nowhere. Did I miss something here? This acts as Avengers: Age of Ultron‘s biggest weakness as it constantly feels like their are elements that we’ve missed, and yet we’ve seen all the allocated films within Phase Two. Has shit happened off screen, in which case, could you please elaborate for us instead of just trying to cram it in with the shoddiest exposition.
It’s great that we see these characters evolve organically but not at the expense of us missing key developments, thus making their characters appear inconsistent (or performing unrealistic actions). It felt like changes were made to certain characters to accommodate certain creative ideas from particular people from behind-the-scenes, and this began to fuck around with the canon. Say, Natasha and Bruce just lacked any real chemistry (even though it was clearly present onscreen, but what the film lacked was build-up and true commitment, instead of just forced-writing).
In many ways it just felt like they had a relationship for the simple basis of character study, bouncing off each other’s misery in order to declare who the real monster on the team was. Whilst Bruce clearly embodies the physical term of that statement, i.e. being The Hulk, having to fight for control of his body constantly with a creature of pure destructive capabilities, whilst Natasha embodies a more psychological term, i.e. she’d been brainwashed since she was a child to be the perfect killing machine, without emotion or care, even to the point of being stripped of a normal life due to being sterilised.
It’s a deep and personal moment (for sure) to which even Bruce doesn’t know what to say, but it doesn’t fully justify this direction of creative choices (just make a Black Widow film if you’re that bothered about progressing her character, instead of using other character’s films and their allocated time-frame).
And then you have Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye, who appears when Marvel Studios decides to let him out of the cupboard. Where was he in Captain America: The Winter Soldier? How did the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. affect him? I did like the character development they tried giving him in this sequel (as if to make-up for the fact he’s been mostly absent throughout Phase One and Two, as well as being Loki’s bitch throughout the majority of Avengers Assemble). Having him defeat Wanda (along with exclaiming his hatred towards mind-games and that he won’t allow it to happen again) and then giving him a family, certainly gave his character more depth and personality, making him this more-grounded and caring person you truly want to route for.
Plus, his inspirational speech to Wanda towards the end about becoming an Avenger was really well delivered by Jeremy Renner. But, again (like with Natasha), why can’t he be given his own film or something instead of forcing in story development within The Avengers films (it would make his character more consistent, feel more important, and generally make the structure of the Marvel Cinematic Universe appear less clumsy at times, particularly in the way it uses its side characters and merges them with other films).
The constant distractions, character inconsistencies, and side-steps in the middle made the pacing go all over the place, even making the introduction of The Vision feel rather forced instead of a natural event like it should’ve been. And yet (surprisingly enough) the third act more than makes-up for things by being even bolder and dramatic than Avengers Assemble‘s third act. There was certainly more at stake as Ultron attempted to lift up part of a city in order to use it to create an extinction level event, leaving him the only creature alive to rebuild the world to its design, granting humanity the chance to truly evolve.
The Avengers not only had to stop Ultron, they had to fight its army of drones, protect the people still left in that portion of the city, and find a means of dropping the city without causing the end of the world. And each Avenger is forced to fight to the death, including new members The Vision, Wanda and Pietro.
I will admit that Wanda and Pietro’s story was constructed well enough (if a little rushed in key places) as their hatred towards The Avengers stems from a childhood tragedy that cost them their parents, and nearly their lives too, to which Tony’s technology was responsible for. They teamed-up with Ultron because they believed they would be granted a better world away from men like Tony, but ultimately allied themselves with a creature that was worse, making them switch sides in order to make things right.
I always enjoy this battle a lot more than the first because it’s a clear progression point for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We not only have the original Avengers back together, but we also have them working alongside the newbies, showcasing the expansion of heroes since Avengers Assemble. Plus, say, there’s a lot of personal stake and you can feel the tension throughout due to the grittier tone of this sequel, with even the colourisation showcasing the harsher reality The Avengers now live within and that their decisions hold consequences on those they save. And of course there’s the simple fact that this whole fucked-up situation is the by-product of Tony being an arrogant fuckwit, meaning it’s his personal responsibility to make things right.
Another grudge (I guess) I have against Avengers: Age of Ultron is Ultron himself. He’s not a bad villain (per se), but he isn’t particularly interesting and feels more generic than most of the villains within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In many ways his story-arc just makes this entire Avengers sequel feel like a dragging filler before Avengers: Infinity War came along. I guess I could’ve done with a more thrilling narrative for the second Avengers outing, and not something that just felt like a dumping-ground for clustered ideas which mostly served to benchmark future instalments instead of just telling a good second instalment for The Avengers.
There are places were it hits the mark, but for the rest of the time it feels either wasted, or half-baked. I definitely can’t fault James Spader‘s performance, but what Ultron definitely lacks is an organic presence because he’s completely CGI and never looks natural onscreen. Maybe I’m just being petty now with my nit-picks, but it’s true that this film has some really odd (and hard to explain) problems that don’t do Whedon’s vision much justice.
The film surprisingly ends quite triumphantly with a neat victory (that at least gets Thor in on the action instead of making Tony the sole hero again [because the smug bastard has enough reasons to look self-important as it is]) but leaves some challenging ideas open, i.e. the consequences of heroism, particularly with Tony’s actions in creating Ultron. And then there’s the apparent consequences of Thor being away from Asgard for so long. Another cruel moment came with Pietro sacrificing himself to save Clint (who in turn was trying to save a young boy), which as sad as I was to see him go, I still felt it was still a poetic conclusion to his character as he became somebody that made a difference (even driving Wanda to stay on as an Avenger in his honour).
Also, you had Bruce come to a depressing decision of forcing himself into exile, even cruelly not telling Natasha where he was going, because he genuinely believed he could no longer be trusted in society (although it’s certainly going to be interesting seeing how the fuck he ended-up off world for the events of Thor: Ragnarok). With the world supposedly back in order, it was now up to Steve and Natasha to assemble the new Avengers, consisting of Wanda, The Vision, Sam Wilson (aka Falcon), and James Rhodes (aka War Machine), setting Phase Three rather neatly.