Avengers: Age of Ultron feels like the movie Marvel has been building towards for years. Not in terms of plot, really – that would probably be the original Avengers, the moment that all these standalone solo movies finally came together into one. But that film still felt like it was putting the pieces into place, getting this team together and setting up the universe for future years.
Ultron doesn’t really set that much into place; it just is what it is. Sure, there are certain elements that are teased in there for Civil War and Infinity War, but whereas previous movies slowly gathered these characters together, in Ultron, we get 2 1/2 glorious hours of them functioning as the team the first movie spent so long designing. I was honestly worried that after the Avengers all went their separate ways at the end of the first movie, Ultron would spend its first half hour getting them all back. “Look, Thor’s back! Now here’s Iron Man!” But no, Ultron kicks it into gear right away and from the first frame, everyone’s working together and on a mission. No bullshit. Whedon gets us right into what we want from the start, and that money shot of everyone in slow motion jumping forward happens within the first five minutes. I was on board so fast.
Right from the cold open, I knew this was going to be a special movie, and the opening mission is one of the absolute greatest action scenes in all of the MCU. It’s on par with the end of the first Avengers, and it’s how this movie starts. It’s also one of the most well shot sequences in all of these movies, and Whedon has clearly improved since the first film. This no longer feels like TV. One long continuous shot in particular had me so absolutely giddy for what I was about to see. The rest of the action setpieces are good, including one pretty great fight involving Hulk and Iron Man, but I honestly think that first sequence is the best in the whole movie.
In addition to not having to set anything up, Ultron shows us so clearly how cool this shared universe idea is. We now have all these pieces in play, all these characters we know from other movies, and so people can just drop in and out without the need for huge amounts of backstory and exposition. Important characters from each of these characters’ individual films show up, sometimes just for quick little moments, and it’s so endlessly satisfying that we’ve gotten to the point where we can do that.
Another concern I had was that the movie wouldn’t be funny like the first one was, becoming way too dark for its own good. As it turns out, that concern was completely unfounded, and the movie is arguably even funnier than the first one. Whedon’s screenplay is as witty as ever, with dozens of memorable lines and running jokes throughout. And while a lot of the first movie was the Avengers fighting before eventually teaming up, here we get to explore how they interact as friends, and that makes for some really hilarious dynamics, like the scene in the trailer of everyone trying to pick up Thor’s hammer. That’s the kind of thing that only someone like Whedon would include, but it feels so genuine. Yeah, if these guys were friends, they probably would mess around with Thor’s hammer in their down time. Spending time with these characters when they’re relaxing and not running around blowing stuff up is so important, and Whedon completely nails that.
A few of the movie’s memorable lines go to Hawkeye, who had practically nothing memorable at all in the first movie. I was surprised to see how Hawkeye-centric this one was, actually. It seems like Whedon realized he didn’t really do the character justice last time, and so now was his chance to make us care about him and make him as cool and memorable as everyone else.
The problem I had with this was that in a two and a half hour movie crammed with stuff, I didn’t really see the need for everything with Hawkeye’s family. It felt almost like a cheat, as in how do we make the audience care about this guy and not want him to die? I know, we give him a wife and kids! Having Hawkeye do cool things and have fun moments through the action would have been enough to make me like him, and lines he had, like the “this doesn’t make sense” dialogue towards the end, were enough. In other words, Whedon could have done Hawkeye justice just by giving him more to do throughout the movie. We didn’t need a whole family subplot that wasn’t really particularly interesting.
Speaking of subplots, my one major gripe with the movie is that I haaaaated the [MINOR SPOILERS] Black Widow and Hulk romance. Just, why? What’s especially weird about it is how quickly this progresses, and from the first scene it seems like we should already be aware that the two like each other from previous movies. You would expect the film to slowly build their dynamic together, but right away it’s just shoving their relationship in our face, and we’re supposed to just immediately buy it. Why does Black Widow need a boyfriend? What evidence is there that these two characters are even good together? Why does every female in a group dynamic have to pair off with one of the men? Who are they going to inevitably pair Scarlet Witch off with? Why why why?
On a more positive note, I was kind of worried about the introduction of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch being a bit rushed in a movie with so much to do already, but this turned out so much better than I expected. In particular Scarlet Witch is now honestly one of my favorite characters in the MCU. Her powers are so awesome and badass, and I love the way the movie actually makes her kind of terrifying for a while, like something out of an exorcism film. Quicksilver was also a fun addition, and in comparison to the depiction of the character in Days of Future Past, I like how this one feels a bit more real and less overpowered. In Future Past, his abilities honestly verge on just flat out stopping time rather than going really fast, and it feels pretty dumb how unbelievably useful he is but that he just never comes back. In this one, Quicksilver gets out of breath, he gets hurt, and we get the sense he’s actually a real person who just happens to be able to move really quickly.
So we should probably talk about Ultron, especially since I spent a lot of time recently complaining about the Marvel villains. Overall I liked him, and I loved James Spader in the role, but I was slightly underwhelmed with Ultron as a character. The fact that he’s somewhat funny and quippy was something I didn’t expect and was a welcome surprise, and for his first few scenes he was pretty terrifying. That image of Ultron walking forward and falling apart as he spoke was chilling. And the idea of this villain that’s all around you and where even if you defeat him once, he’ll just come back in another form, is super cool.
But overall, Ultron kind of devolves and becomes way less unique than I was hoping for. I really like the idea behind him, that he was created to ensure peace but comes to the conclusion that mankind, and especially the Avengers, is preventing peace and so they need to be eliminated. The movie could have made this pretty interesting where we can actually see things from Ultron’s perspective, or at least understand why he thinks the way that he does. But after a while, this really cool concept seems to kind of get dropped, and his goal is now just pretty much the same goal as every other evil villain ever. He’s an evil supercomputer whose eyes turn red because he’s evil. There was opportunity to create this really interesting situation where we’re asked to examine how much good the Avengers and humanity are doing, but that concept isn’t as much a part of Ultron’s character as I would have liked. And beyond his initial scene, the character was never as terrifying as I was hoping for.
In terms of stakes, though, Ultron does do a pretty good job at taking them to the next level from the first Avengers, with a whole lot on the line in the last act of the movie. It’s pretty tense and with a great feeling of impeding doom, though that would have been even more effective if we were really, truly terrified of Ultron and what he was going to do next. But one hope going into the movie was interesting, unique setpieces, and I can safely say I’ve never seen anything in one of these movies quite like what happens in the third act.
I’m kind of a movie score nerd, and Brian Tyler did some fantastic work here. I’ve previously talked about one of my gripes with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the fact that the movies and characters don’t really have consistent themes. Within seconds of the movie starting, the original Avengers theme kicked in, and I immediately got chills. Later on, Iron Man comes in during a climatic moment and his theme from Iron Man 3 starts. The score is so freaking good, mixing in themes from previous movies with some new music as well. There’s a new Avengers theme, but it isn’t brand new, playing off of the original Avengers theme but progressing it further. In other Marvel sequels, the next movie basically just ignored the music of the last one.
There is so much more to say, and I honestly feel like I’ve just scratched the surface. It’s packed to the brim with characters and moments worth talking about to the point where it’s kind of overwhelming, and I can’t wait to go see it again and discuss these things further. I have a bunch of nitpicks, like the Black Widow/Hulk relationship, the fact that Ultron isn’t that intimidating, and some of the subplot involving Hawkeye and his family.
But despite all that, the movie is so wildly successful, building off everything we love about Marvel and taking it to the next level. The dynamic between this team is pitch perfect, and more than ever, I left the film absolutely ecstatic about the future of this franchise. These films will probably never be completely perfect, and sometimes they’re kind of a mess, but when I’m watching Captain America and Thor work together to blow away a bunch of bad guys, none of that really seems to matter.