Avengers: Age of Ultron has the daunting task of not only adhering to what has come before in the Marvel Cinematic Universe but to also move it forward into Phase Three. It also has to deliver a satisfying, self-contained story in its own right. This movie could have easily fallen apart at the seems due to how many disparate elements it has to balance.
This isn’t the case however.
Despite its gargantuan size, Age of Ultron manages to deliver on almost every conceivable level and is yet another example of how Marvel has mastered the art of making larger than life superhero movies that feel intimate and personal.
Age of Ultron‘s biggest achievement is how it contains nearly a dozen characters and various plotlines but remains coherent throughout. Even for the average, non-comic book savy public, the movie is easy to follow. This is due in large part to the focus on characters. The actual plot isn’t complicated at all. In fact, there is no traditional plot to speak of aside from the bits of MCU world building. This is first and foremost a character driven movie. All of its major beats come from characters’ decisions and how they react to them. You wouldn’t expect compelling character moments in a movie with superheroes fighting crazed robots but that’s exactly what we get here. The characters are the glue that holds the film together.
The two stand-out characters in the film aren’t even human. The titular Ultron and the newly introduced Vision steal the show here. Though they’re both artificial children of Tony Stark and (essentially) have the same goal of saving the world, their methods are polar opposite. Both beings believe that humanity is ultimately doomed. However, Vision believes that there is hope for mankind to better itself whereas Ultron believes that the earth must be wiped clean of them to make way for the rise of artificial life. The philosophical struggle between the two beings is by far the most intriguing aspect of the movie and one that I wanted to see more of.
What’s interesting is that while Jarvis, Vision and Ultron are all Stark’s creations, the one that resembles him the most is the one that wants to kill humanity. That alone raises interesting questions about who Stark really is as a person. In this film, Ultron doesn’t behave anything like he does in the comic books. However, he acts almost exactly like Stark does, delivering witty one liners and quips just as easily as a human breathes air. While this was a bit jarring at first, it serves to bring some levity to his scenes. It also functions as a way to show how utterly frightening Ultron can be when he can go from being jovial to violent in the span of a second. Ultron also has a way (no doubt because he is Stark’s creation) of getting into the heroes’ heads and telling them truths about themselves that they may not want to admit.
The Avengers become more humanized in this film which is a great contrast to the larger-than-life personas the public sees them as. Their humanity is demonstrated best when the team stays with Clint Barton’s family; a family the team, save Natasha, didn’t know about. After having their darkest fears shown to them by Wanda Maximoff and having to stop a crazed Hulk from destroying an African City, the team is, as Clint’s wife puts it “a mess.” We see each trying to cope with what has happened to them individually, and how they try to move on to face the bigger threat of Ultron. It’s a quiet but powerful sequence that gives the team time to reevaluate who they are, what is it that they fight for, and also gives the audience a chance to get to know the people under the costumes more intimately. It’s also a nice break from all of the crazy action.
In a somewhat surprising twist, it turns out that Bruce Banner and Natasha Romanov have a nascent romantic relationship happening. This however hasn’t been allowed to fully flourish due to Banner’s “condition.” Though Bruce plays coy and pretends to not notice how Natasha acts around him, he knows exactly what is happening. The fact that Bruce turns into a big green monster doesn’t concern Natasha who also believes herself to be a monster. Even though the two have a chance to make things work between them, Bruce (as the Hulk) decides to leave by the movie’s end. Though he knows Natasha will be heart broken (as well as himself), he feels it is best if the Hulk is away from other people. He can’t have what they can, after all.
Though the origin of the Maximoff twins is radically different from the source material (no doubt because Fox owns the rights to the X-Men franchise) they are integrated into the film nicely. The decision to have the two be orphaned due to Stark’s bombs was a smart move in not only giving them motivation to kill Stark, but to show how not everyone in the world approves of him and the Avengers. The twin’s fictional home country of Sokovia also served as a great bookend to the movie and as something the twins would want to protect against their former ally Ultron who used it as the means to destroy all of humanity.
Despite some suspect accents from the twins (I thought they were fine), both proved to be a good challenge for the Avengers before they eventually became part of the team. We got a taste of Quicksilver’s power in X-Men: Days of Future Past but in Age of Ultron we get to see the speedster do more with his abilities. Super speed has both subtle and not so subtle ways to be handled and the movie did a good job with showing what Pietro can do.
Wanda’s “weird” powers were by far the most formidable of the two since it encompassed so many various abilities. She could project energy and use psychic powers but it also seemed that she had some of her “hex” powers of manipulating probability fields (though this is never stated outright in the film). We saw just how destructive her abilities truly are when Pietro meets an untimely end and with a single energy blast from her body, destroys a small brigade worth of robots. Yes, she felt very much like Dark Phoenix but since the MCU can’t use that character, Wanda fits that mold perfectly.
Though the movie’s heart is with its characters, this is still a superhero action film. I am not being hyperbolic when I say that this movie has the biggest action scenes yet witnessed in a superhero film. The fact that it has so many heroes versus armies of bad guys is no doubt the main reason for this. Also, it has the freakin’ Hulk who is a walking disaster zone all by himself.
Despite all of the bonkers action on screen, every scene is easy to read and comprehend. There are a ton of single take, superhero money shot moments throughout and each is expertly choreographed and staged. The fluidity of the battles, coupled with note perfect character moments interspersed within, keep things tightly focused and maintain forward momentum without feeling too hectic. The action scenes have set a new standard for superhero films which we will no doubt see replicated in the future.
One thing that must be pointed out about the action scenes is the fact that the Avengers spend more time rescuing people than fighting the bad guys. Super people tussles cause massive amounts of collateral damage and it was refreshing to see the heroes not forget about the innocents who are caught up in the middle of these epic battles. This may seem like a no-brainer considering the fact that the team was brought together to save people, but this aspect of what it is to be a hero is something which other films in this genre seem to have forgotten (I’m looking at you, Man of Steel). The Avengers know that, despite their name, they are heroes first and foremost.
The movie’s final moments after the final showdown with Ultron pave the way for the new status quo of the MCU and will no doubt excite fans with the possibilities to come. Besides the Thanos post credit scene (more on that in a bit), what excites me the most is the new line up of Avengers. Clint has decided to retire, as has Tony. Thor has returned to Asgard and Hulk is keeping away from humans. It’s now up to Captain America and Black Widow to lead the new team which consists of The Vision, War Machine, Falcon, and Scarlet Witch. What’s great about Avengers comics is the ever changing roster and it’s great to see that reflected on the big screen. Here’s to hoping this new team is at the center of the Infinity War films which will no doubt have appearances from every Avenger and possibly MCU character. It’s also possible we’ll see Spider-Man join the New Avengers… but that’s another story for another day.
Before you think I’d forgotten about him, let’s talk about the man… er… Titan behind the curtain: Thanos. We see our big-chinned purple friend walk into a vault with the Infinity Gauntlet housed inside. He puts it on and says “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” Thanos has worked through intermediaries in Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy to obtain the infinity stones but the time for him to take an active role in achieving his goal has come. This may signify that he’ll be making his presence felt in a bigger way moving forward.
There’s so much more that can be said about this movie (the Iron Man vs Hulk fight, Vision picking up Thor’s hammer, Falcon’s absence from the final battle) but I’m not trying to make this review as overblown as some critics say this movie is (it isn’t). Avengers: Age of Ultron is a marvel (pun very much intended) in the fact that it contains so much yet it’s all so easily digestible. This is a case study of how to pack in a ton of characters and plotlines and keep it all cohesive. The movie also has the most engaging and captivating movie villain in the MCU since Loki, and introduces us to the Vision who is no less intriguing. Underneath all of the big explosions, philosophical debates, and larger than life situations is a movie about characters we care about. That is ultimately what this movie is about.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is changing once again and Age of Ultron does an incredible job of keeping us excited to see what will come next.
This, my friends, is truly the Age of Marvel.