Avengers: The Age of Ultron

One criticism that I’ve frequently heard leveled at the Marvel Universe films is that they are not self-contained movies; they reference events in other movies and even TV shows and plot points turn on these events. To me this is the point. Kevin Feige, Joss Whedon and now the Russo brothers are creating a mega-continuity, a huge sprawling saga that stretches across multiple movies and formats. The individual works stand alone but there is always recognition that this is a part of a greater whole. Was the world clamoring for this? Probably not, but it is an interesting experiment; one which I don’t think has been tried before, at least at this scale, although Star Wars is about to attempt it, as is DC. It is a grand experiment and I’m excited about it.
A pattern is beginning to emerge in the project. The established tentpole properties, i.e. Captain America, and The Avengers, depict major events in the universe’s history and then the TV shows fill in around the margins. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is still picking up the pieces from Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Daredevil is dealing with the consequences of New York being almost destroyed by the Chitauri in the first Avengers film.
So now it is time for another major event in the MCU. Tony Stark, has developed the Iron Legion, a semi-autonomous unit of robots based on his Iron Man tech, to handle routine tasks like evacuations while he or the Avengers directly fight the bad guys. The Iron League is deployed when the team raids one of Hydra’s last remaining strongholds in Sokovia. There they recover Loki’s scepter. Stark studies it and discovers that it contains a powerful artificial intelligence that he can copy and try and install in his robots creating a world police force that will deal with threats automatically before they get out of hand. This proves to be a mistake as the technology becomes self-aware and quickly comes to the conclusion that mankind needs to be eliminated. Thus Ultron, voiced and played in motion capture by James Spader, is born. Ultron lives in the cloud. He can download himself into any robot or multiple robot bodies to do battle with Avengers. Ultron also has allies in the twins Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, played by Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. They are the result of Hydra experiments to create people with enhanced abilities. Wanda, aka the Scarlet Witch, is able to use her mental powers to cloud people’s minds and shoot out scarlet colored energy beams. Pietro, aka Quicksilver, is a speedster.
Like the latest Captain America movie this film is a lot darker than its predecessor. The stakes are higher and the lines between right and wrong are blurrier. This is, after all, a threat of Tony Stark’s making. It also shows the team’s divisions straining the seams that hold it together, the main conflict being Tony Stark’s desire for security against Captain America’s desire for freedom.
At the same time it shows them becoming more familiar with each other. They attend Stark’s party to celebrate getting the scepter back. There’s a scene where they all try to pick up Thor’s hammer, much to the Thunder God’s amusement. They tease Captain America unmercifully when he chides someone for saying a curse word. At the beginning they work pretty well as a team.
This film deals with complex emotions and themes and is a prime example of the growing sophistication of the superhero film genre. Happily it has forced DC and Fox to up their games, although with mixed results. At the same time Age of Ultron delivers the requisite set pieces and spectacles. It is a really good film but it’s not as much fun as it used to be.
It also leads to the question of how Marvel proceeds with this series. Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans have already voiced desires to step away from their roles and move on. Obviously bucketloads of money can fix that problem. But only for a while. They are getting older and movies are not comic books where you can stop the characters from aging. At this point can you imagine someone other than Robert Downey Jr. playing Iron Man? Even if you could you can’t cast someone younger without spoiling the continuity. Maybe they’ll bring it all to some kind of unimaginably spectacular climax and then reboot the continuity and build it up again. I’d like to see a few years between iterations in that case, just to let us savor the accomplishment. But that’s not likely to happen. There’s simply too much money to be made.
They’re smart over at Marvel and they’ll figure something out, I’m sure. But I keep remembering that I once thought that Pixar was untouchable and then they stumbled. That’s why I like the reboot idea. Bring this to a satisfying conclusion while you’re still on the top of your game.


2 Responses to “Avengers: The Age of Ultron”

  1. 1 Thomas Van Horne May 6, 2015 at 9:46 pm

    Didn’t love the film as much as I’d expected…I had some real problems with the tone in spots… and, frankly, Ultron was just kind-of boring. Oh, they killed an Ulton… they killed another Ultron… and again… Oh, they killed that Ultron in a cool way… oops, 3 more Ultrons killed — I found it more boring somehow than the Chitauri — they had Loki to break things up — I’d say it was better than Iron Man 2, but not by a massive amount — definitely a lesser Marvel — I look forward to the next (oh, also, if RDJ is getting tired of Tony Stark, you sure wouldn’t know it from his Facebook feed)

  2. 2 Thomas Van Horne May 6, 2015 at 10:17 pm

    Hey, I’ve just learned a possible reason I didn’t like the film that well… I haven’t SEEN it. Apparently they had to trim about 40 minutes out of the film quickly and Whedon wanted to make sure all the Hawkeye family stuff stayed in (why?) — they’ll be releasing the full thing on direct sale.

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