Notes from Age of Ultron
I just got back from the theater, where I watched The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Instead of doing a straight-forward review (which would basically be: it was awesome and thematically mature, but cluttered), I've decided to jot down my quick first impressions and thoughts. Just so you know, SPOILER WARNING. I'm going to write as though you, my dear reader, have already seen the movie, and as such, I'm going to spoil the crap out of it if you haven't, starting with the next paragraph.
|I already want see this movie again|
One thing that generally surprised me is how much time the movie spends setting up future MCU films. It's no Amazing Spider-Man 2--not even as guilty of the juggling sin of Iron Man 2--but it does drop a few balls here and there. The worst offenses take place during some of the big action scenes, where some of the many characters get lost in the mix for several minutes at a time before suddenly popping up again in a "surprise" save of somebody else. One can't help but wonder, for example, what Vision is busy doing after he cuts Ultron off from the Internet and then disappears from the movie for at least ten minutes. The narrative is definitely stuffed to the gills with references to the future, and while comic geeks will love picking all those references up and apart (as I am about to do), more casual moviegoers are going to be turned off by it, certain that they are missing out on way too much.
Incidentally, this is not meant to be a complete list by any stretch. I won't be sharing my thoughts on secondary characters like Falcon and War Machine or on the references to Black Panther, even though I certainly have thoughts on them, and I'm not going to waste your time listing every easter egg I picked up on in my first viewing (though I'm glad I noticed that one brave techy from Winter Soldier being on the helicarrier). If you want such a list, go elsewhere on the Internet, preferably after reading this.
As a villain, Ultron is pretty great, and James Spader is absolutely perfect in the role. Having said that, he is very Joss Whedon, the kind of villain we see a lot of in his work. In other words, he's no Loki. I do like how frightening he is from the get-go, and how quickly he asserts his dominance over the Avengers. It's so effectively set up, in fact, that I have a really hard time buying how they defeat him in the end. Are we meant to believe that, in all that time Ultron was breeding "like a Catholic bunny rabbit," he didn't store a single copy of himself somewhere as backup? He didn't once consider the possibility that the Avengers might get the leg up on his one, single plan? Ultron, while fun, is probably the prime example of things getting lost in the shuffle. He never gets the attention he so justly deserves.
Probably the biggest risk going into this movie is Vision. He could have failed miserably on the big screen, but Age of Ultron pulls it off. It helps a lot that they give him Jarvis' voice and don't spend much screentime showing off his amazing powers, and Paul Bettany is excellent at being an enigmatic android. The long build-up to his arrival and the uncertain, constantly-shifting nature of his creation are all excellent, and when he arrives, he doesn't disappoint. Also, holy crap, the guy is now an Infinity Stone! That should prove interesting going forward.
Age of Ultron delves deep into Tony, setting him up for the forthcoming civil war. In the comics, his motivation for the war starts with a vision he receives of a future in which all his friends have died because he didn't do enough to stop it, and he gets that vision while fighting Doctor Doom (and zombies) with King Arthur. Thankfully, the movie does away with the second half of that sentence, but it does show Tony a vision of a future in which his friends are dead and it's his fault. I thought this was incredibly clever, and it did a lot towards setting things in motion. Having said that, it does get a little carried away with showing tension between Tony and Captain America. I like that Tony himself proves that he's unwilling to change anything about his behavior (in his "time loop" plan to hijack Ultron's new body), and I think it's smart to have at least one person (Scarlet Witch) genuinely hate him from the outset.
Having said that, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver felt like fifth wheels throughout most of the movie. It was easy to predict that Quicksilver was going to die in the end (indeed, I did predict it, on multiple occasions, well before the movie was even out), but aside from that, he seems almost entirely unnecessary to the plot. Scarlet Witch is at least useful in tearing the Avengers apart in the first act and giving Stark his vision, but she too seems a little meh. I'd call her bad-ass if it weren't for the fact that her change in character gave me whiplash. The guy who definitely gets the short end of the stick (pun intended) is Baron von Strucker, who doesn't even get the opportunity to die onscreen. Then again, he's a pretty cheeseball villain, so I'm glad he doesn't last very long.
I really like what they do with Hawkeye. His big surprise is a jaw dropper, and the moment he stops Scarlet Witch from messing with his mind is genuinely brilliant. I was worried they were going to kill him off after his goodbye to his wife, but thankfully, the film avoids that particular trope.
Goddamnit, Joss Whedon. You talk all this shit about how you respect women and want to empower them, but the way you handle Black Widow just doesn't jive with that. In the first movie, you made her all doe-eyed in love with Hawkeye and peeing her panties in fear of the Hulk, and then in this movie, you have her suddenly in love with Banner. Granted, she has a few good scenes, but I swear you are incapable of writing a female character without defining her by her relationship to a man. You kinda did it with Scarlet Witch, but you're not fooling me: you just wrote the character for Summer Glau.
The movie clearly seems to be setting up a Planet Hulk-like arc for Banner, but instead of making his friends betray him, this movie actually drives him to make the decision to leave on his own. However, I feel like they lacked the confidence to follow through, since Hulk doesn't actually go into space in the end (though he could have with Veronica--just saying). I also find it curious how much they ignore The Incredible Hulk. At one point, Banner says this is the first time the public has ever seen the Hulk in action, which is flat-out untrue, and he never once mentions Betty, which seems like a horrible oversight from the writers. I get that the movie didn't perform to expectations, but retconning it out of existence and pretending it never happened is a dick move, Marvel.
I meant to watch carefully for Tony to pluck a hair from Thor's head, but alas, I forgot once the opening title screen appeared. Still, Thor doesn't get sidelined, as he is now the first Avenger to realize that other big thing going on: the Infinity War. His relationship with Vision feels eerily similar to his relationship to Beta Ray Bill, but maybe that's just because the Vision can hold Mjolnir. But the thing I liked most about Thor's storyline is that it lets us know his path is about to get very dark. Idris Elba's Heimdall, in Thor's dreamtrip, is scary as all get out. Knowing that Ragnarok is next--and seeing plenty of hints in that direction--is exciting. I really don't think Thor is actually going to live to see the Infinity War when it finally happens.
I still don't know how Ant-Man is going to fit into the MCU, but I was pleasantly surprised by the audience reaction to the trailer. They actually cheered.
-e. magill 5/1/2015