***SPOILERS ARE MARKED. PROCEED WITH UTMOST CAUTION***
In short: Meh.
But before I break the film down, here’s a brief summary:
The much-anticipated sequel to The Avengers finds our heroes a bit more experienced and taking names. However, in light of recent events in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the Avengers take it upon themselves to shut the neo-Nazi organization Hydra and all its bases down. This development leads to the reveal that Tony has converted his army of Iron Man suits into the Iron Legion. This ends up being a jumping point for both Tony and Bruce to build upon a peacekeeping program—Ultron—that they’ve been working on.
Prior to the Hydra bust, their program was missing one key ingredient: Artificial Intelligence. After the bust and after fighting back the likes of Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, Tony stumbles upon an artificial intelligence technology that Hydra was working on…and decides to use it to bring Ultron to life.
That’s right, folks.
Tony decides to use a potentially evil AI that he found at a Hydra (a neo-Nazi organization) base to make Ultron. What could possibly go wrong?
Moving on, when all hell predictably break loose, it is up to the Avengers to stop the megalomaniacal Ultron before he destroys them all.
At any rate, the film was a nice popcorn film. If you came in with tempered expectations, you should enjoy it just fine. If you came into it extra hype…you should probably lower said hype. That being said, here are my reservations—good, bad, and “eh” about the movie:
Characters (Growth, Development, and Screen Time)
– Tony Stark/Iron Man
Tony has arguably had better characterization in The Avengers films versus his own franchise, which says a lot. We are re-introduced to the snarky bastard that is Tony Stark and we see him doing way more for the Avengers and as part of the Avengers versus what he did in the past. In fact, it is his love for these various people that drives him to stupidly co-create Ultron with Bruce.
– Bruce Banner/The Hulk
Bruce the Recluse has seemingly (and miraculously) gained much from bro-ing out with Tony at the beginning of the movie. Instead of locking himself away from the world, we see Bruce at the forefront of decision (well, co-decision) making in this movie. I enjoyed seeing more of socially awkward Bruce this time around.
– Hawkeye/Clint Barton
Unlike the last movie where he was straight-up b*tched out and spent most of the movie as a mindless drone (and thus only got 20 minutes of screen time tops to be awesome, and you know, not mind controlled), Clint actually gets a legit (and heart-warming) arc in this film. I appreciate the inclusion of this arc if only to balance out the exceedingly erratic pacing of the film (something I will get into later). Clint also gets to show off more of his dry humor and wry personality, which is great.
– Captain America/Steve Rogers
I always enjoy seeing Cap and Joss Whedon semi-does right by him this time and shows how cool Cap is when in action.
– Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff
Natasha has always been a fave, so I was delighted at the fact that we got to get a peek into her background as well as her interacting with people who weren’t spies or weren’t Avengers. It brought out a different side of her, which was cool.
Even though I’ve been less than pleased with his movies, I still love me some Thor and I relished his presence in the film, especially when it came to Tony doing knuckle-heading things (as Thor was right there to smack him back into place).
– Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver
Snark master and butthole-in-chief Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) finally joins in on the party in this movie. I loved the display of his powers and really enjoyed his time on-screen.
– Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch
Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) brought a certain horror movie feel to the film when she appeared during certain points, which is something I appreciated.
– The Vision
The Vision (Paul Bettany) did not appear as long as he could have and the powers he displayed in this movie did not begin to scratch the surface of what he is truly capable of, but I loved him anyway. Very introspective and damn near inherently trustworthy (emphasis on the worthy part), it would not be off-base to say that he totally functioned as Cyborg/Humanoid Jesus in this film.
– Tony and Bruce
Their bromance from the first movie most certainly makes its way to this movie and I found it enjoyable to watch. Honestly, they remind me of Trunks and Goten of DBZ lore. Tony, like Trunks, is forever getting Bruce, Goten, into trouble. While Bruce is most certainly not as ditsy as Goten, both of them have issues saying no to their friends, even if it technically would be the right thing to do.
– Steve and Tony
Based on various scenes in this movie, I definitely understand why Civil War eventually pops off. While it is very clear that the two are buddies and that they respect each other, they bitterly fought at different points of the film and it got really intense. I expect this intensity to be turned ALL THE WAY up in Captain America: Civil War
– Pietro and Wanda
I have a soft spot for sibling relationships and I thought this one was executed quite well. Not only are Wanda and Pietro fiercely protective of each other, but their battle synergy was also off-the-charts. I loved it. Neither of them coddled each other and their powers meshed together effortlessly.
– Natasha and Clint
Great friendships are hard to come by, but these two managed to have an awesome one. The movie somewhat builds upon their established friendship more in this film and it was appreciated.
– Pietro, Wanda, and The Avengers
While I wish the movie would have gotten more into this particular dynamic, I was fascinated with Pietro and Wanda’s refusal to drink The Avengers’ kool-aid initially and I was here for their beef with Tony (which is always understandable as Tony is butt to everyone).
– Fear as Motivation
This movie dealt A LOT with fear and how, if one is not careful, it can be a ferocious and destructive motivator. We see it with Tony and Ultron. We see it with Bruce and the Hulk. We see it with Natasha, Cap, Thor, and even the Maximoffs. Fury has a great line in the movie about people creating what they hate because of fear and I feel like that will be something that is always relevant.
– What Constitutes Life?
Or rather, what constitutes humanity, especially when looking at a character like The Vision. While pondering this issue, I decided to get some help from Webster’s dictionary. Webster offers the following definitions:
– The quality that distinguishes a vital and functional being from a dead body
– A principle or force that is considered to underlie the distinctive quality of animate beings
– An organismic state characterized by capacity for metabolism, growth, reaction to stimuli, and reproduction
– The sequence of physical and mental experiences that make up the existence of an individual
Taking all those different definitions into consideration, I considered the question again. Cap, Tony, and Bruce chime in on the subject of The Vision’s humanity in passing at different points in the film, but it is something that I hope will be explored more in the future. I was particularly interested Wanda’s mentioning that she could read his mind because it forced me to try to ponder about his personhood. Is he human? Is he a machine? Is he both? Is he neither?
– Order vs Chaos
This theme was ham-fisted into the film at last minute via a throwaway line by The Vision gets near the end of the film, but it is still compelling. Why do people feel that something in “order” cannot be “chaotic”? Why do people think the two can’t essentially be the same thing depending on the situation at hand? Personally, it reminds me of the cognitive dissonance that some people experience when you explain that something can be lawful and still morally wrong. Order and law aren’t inherently good. And on the flip side, chaos is not inherently bad (it literally just the absence of order).
Fight Choreography (and Action by extension)
Let me just say that the film was just visually masterful to begin with. However, the inclusion of very well-done and visually stunning fight scenes nearly blew me away. Case in point, there are key moments when two (or three) Avengers synchronize their fighting and each of these moments end up being so fascinating (the use of slow-motion was also great too). Some awesome examples include Natasha using Cap’s shield, Thor snacking his hammer against Cap’s shield to create a massive shockwave, and Thor, Vision, and Tony coordinating their energy blasts Power Ranger-style to fight Ultron.
Cameos and After-Credit Scenes
Basically, Thanos makes a welcome appearance that promises to have heavy consequences on the rest of the Marvel Universe.
And I am here for ALL of it.
The New Roster
I’m not going to spoil the whole of the roster, but I will say that I found it pretty interesting and was impressed with the new blood and the new variety. It’ll be interesting to see them all in action.
The Villain (And All Related Villany)
Holy Nerfing, Marvel.
What the hell happened to Ultron?
Real talk, I am not happy about how Ultron was rendered in this film because Marvel has consistently given us half-assed villains save for the villains of Captain America: TWS (Hydra) and, you know, Loki.
This entire phase has been filled with mediocrity. Aldrich Killian of Iron Man 3 was so damn hokey and erratically motivated (he hated Tony, he wanted Pepper, he wanted to help people, he wanted to make money, he needed Tony to fix Extremis, he had beef with the president for some reason—I could frankly go on). Malekith was grossly underused and was almost a non-threat in Thor: TDW (which is so sh*tty because Christopher Eccleston is great). Like, Loki was a bigger “villain” in that movie (even though he was functioning more as an anti-hero) and he got substantially more screen time than Malekith and probably the “star” of the film, Thor. Ronan the Accuser of GOTG was all zealot and nearly zero motivation. Even when you found out the reason that he *probably* turned into a villain, the movie seemingly brushed it aside! I know GOTG was not trying to be on that uber-serious life, so I was willing to excuse its’ villain’s lacklusterness somewhat. As it pertains to the rest of these films? Hell no.
And this brings me to this film.
The Ultron that has been pushed at us for the last two years is not the one that we get in the film. This Ultron is literally a nega-Tony/Reverse Tony and NOT in a good way. Those one-liners that we have learned to expect from Tony? They were turned up 200% for Ultron. If you were expected Ultron to be sinisterly evil while maintaining some charm and slight humor, you need to lower your expectations. Instead of getting that creepy, human-like robot who sang “No Strings On Me” in the trailer, we get a shell of that character. Instead, Ultron turns out to be a petulant child whose penultimate motivation is so disconnected from his initial motivation (and subsequently inane plan) that it is extremely jarring. Like, his hate for Tony—which I expected based on the trailers—virtually goes unexplained in this movie and frankly, that disconnects me from him as the villain.
This also leads me to the inclusion of Ultron’s own robot army, which is just a riff on Tony’s Iron Legion. Listen y’all. This is literally a repeat of the faceless Chitauri army of The Avengers. They’re just made of metal this time. Frankly, this is infuriating. Ultron is supposed to be smart, right? Ultron is based off of Tony’s modifications (and bogarted Hydra tech) right? Okay, so if that’s the case, why the f*ck did Ultron opt for a generic robot army instead of something more strategic and specific?
One example? Ultron literally knows everything about the Avengers. With that knowledge, I expected Ultron to take the whole squad down by exploiting the hell out of their weaknesses—a la Justice League: Doom style. He could have built a group of Ultron bots that specifically matched up with each Avenger and THEN The Vision could’ve have swooped in as the wild card. Nope. Instead, we get a wise-cracking Tony on steroids who wastes the talent of James Spader.
I need—I repeat—I need Marvel to do better with their villains (especially as they enter the crucial Phase 3). They are capable of so much better, which is why this was so maddening. You know why? Because although this movie had a lot of issues with plot and characterization, it was Ultron’s haphazard rendering that ultimately prevented this movie from being great.
I get it. Joss Whedon is very fond of snark and sass. I accept that and thought that it worked wonderfully well for The Avengers.
I can’t really say that for this film. My problem with the humor employed in this film lies in the fact that a good chunk of is not even funny (catholic rabbits? Really?) AND the fact that EVERYBODY and their mother is slinging one-liners left and right.
What I mean by the latter is to say that everyone on the team should not be a sass master and that everyone’s humor should be slightly different from the next person, because hello, what about team dynamics? I expect Tony to be snarky as f*ck, but I don’t expect him to be slinging the same one-liners as Cap and Thor. That doesn’t make any sense. Cap’s supposed to slightly be more serious than everyone else. Thor is supposed to find humor in us peculiar Midgardians. Clint is supposed to be all about that dry (and occasionally morbid) humor. Natasha supposed to have more biting humor. Bruce is supposed to be nerdy AF. Why aren’t any of these things—besides Tony—the case?
The Maximoffs, Hydra, and Jewish Erasure
I struggled with this even before seeing this movie, but their rushed/seemingly glossed over origin story in this film ended up bringing it to the forefront of my mind:
Why are two characters that are *supposed* to be of Jewish and of Romani heritage VOLUNTEERING to be EXPERIMENTED ON by a NEO-NAZI organization?
Like, who did this? Who wrote this? Do you know how tacky and insulting this is? That would be the nigh-equivalent of having a Black person volunteer for an organization that is the off-shoot of the KKK. Do you know how much flak that would have gotten? Yes, let us seemingly gloss over the oppression of a marginalized group by having them volunteer for an organization/party that systematically and methodically tried to eradicate them.
I find this especially gross since both Wanda and Pietro were created by two people (Stan Lee aka Stanley Martin Lieber and Jack Kirby) who are of Jewish and/or Romani heritage.
What the hell, Marvel?
Personally, if you wanted to keep that storyline, other characters should have been used. Period.
Africa: The Country
I am very tired of Hollywood treating Africa as one big, blobby mass of crap.
Which is why I expected better from Marvel in that regard, ESPECIALLY because they have a f*cking Black Panther movie coming up. On the contrary, Marvel succumbs to the “Africa is a country!” trap at one point when they take us to Africa and simply list the location as “The African Coast”.
Are you f*cking serious.
The African Coast? WHERE? NORTH? WEST? EAST? SOUTH? SOUTHWEST? NORTHEAST?
Like, *I* knew it was in Johannesburg, South Africa based on Ulysses Klaue’s (not even going to comment on that spelling) weird Dutch accent and based on the fact that prior reports had some of this film shooting in Johannesburg.
That being said, you could have f*cking said Johannesburg, South Africa. The other locations in the film got explicit mentions. Seoul, Korea. Manhattan, New York (The Avengers Tower), The Shield Base in Upstate New York, Sokovia, Eastern Europe. Yet, Africa once again gets exotically and collectively branded via the stupid ass tag of “African Coast” when there are literally 65432345678987654345678 coasts on this f*cking continent to choose from. How about the Somali Coast? The West African Coast? The Ivory Coast? The Bight of Benin?
I’m pissed that this othering happened and now I’m fully expecting Black Panther to be othered too, which distresses me for a variety of reasons.
The Women of Age of Ultron
Some months ago, Whedon mentioned that we’d see four prominent female roles in Age of Ultron. I’m here to tell you that that was overstated. In reply, fellow nerds have written greater pieces on this subject than I possibly ever could. That being said, I’m still going to voice my frustrations on this subject using two examples:
*****BEGIN MAJOR SPOILER*****
– Natasha and Womanhood
The implication that Natasha is less of a woman because of her forced sterilization is not only insulting to women who cannot bear children, but it is totally unfair to her as a character and as the only woman on the main squad. NONE of her other male counterparts mention children explicitly like she does. Why is the only woman on this team reduced to that?
And furthermore, I’m pissed because this reveal and subsequent lamentation could have easily been fixed if Natasha had instead lamented that the CHOICE to have children had been taken away from her. That would have spoken volumes and hearkened back to her great speech on survival from TWS (and, you know, said something about her agency then vs her agency now).
*****END MAJOR SPOILER*****
– Maria Hill
Maria’s lack of screen time in these films is really starting to bug me. Besides the fact that she most certainly should have been a WOC, Maria spends most of this film as a floating head on an assortment of Stark Industries’ screens. She advises the Avengers on what to do next and chides them after their f*ck ups and then seemingly disappears until the end of the movie where S.H.I.E.L.D. shows up.
This is so aggravating because this is the same Maria Hill whose comic book counterpart eventually assumes the mantle of Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. This is the same Maria Hill whose comic book counterpart is a mean hard-ass, but is almost always right (which challenges the people around her). I can’t even nail down her personality in these movies and I’d be hard pressed to find a time where she was on screen for more than 10-15 minutes. And people are going to point at AOS in reply to this, but I don’t watch that and I am sure that plenty of the general movie-going population don’t either. So what then?
What is the MCU’s obsessions with the word “slave”? Didn’t I already address this with GOTG? Why do I have to address this again?
This movie was all over the pacing-wise. For example, the opening sequence of this movie was really fast, which I initially did not hate. But as the movie progressed, this pacing got out of hand as there would occasionally be slow moments (which are inherently needed because you don’t want to overload your audience), but said moments would end up dragging. And then it would revert back to being fast again, which is just disorienting.
Inconsistent Power Levels
I tend to count Marvel movies as a whole under Sci-Fi Fantasy (before sectioning them off into other genres like Political Thriller, Epic Fantasy, Black Comedy, etc). Leaning on that Sci-Fi Fantasy thing, I expect these movies to set rules and standards for themselves and adhere to them. This leads me to my issue with how power levels are portrayed in this film. Granted, it is not ultra-specific, like say, Dragon Ball Z, but based on what this universe and the last Avengers movie established, it is wholly inconsistent and shows huge bias towards certain characters.
I’ll break a few of this instances down.
– Iron Man vs Hulk (the Hulkbuster fight)
Let us be real here: Tony should not be able to go toe-to-toe with The Hulk so soundly without, in the very least, sustaining some injury or some cuts or bruises. But he can and he does in this film. In fact, I would be willing to go as far saying that he beat The Hulk. Hard, which makes no goddamn sense (Hulkbuster be damned). Based on the first movie, we already know that Hulk—per his explosive fight with Thor—is at least as powerful as the God of Lightning if not more powerful. Yet, you would not know that from how they portrayed this fight.
– Thor vs Ultron
This is the match-up that made me audibly say “What the f*ck” in the theater. I don’t know if this was a result of Thor suppressing his strength Goku-style or something, but I was very confused by this fight. When Ultron and Thor meet up in the latter third of the movie, Ultron ends up opening a can of whoop ass on Thor that is so thorough that I found myself temporarily wondering whether or not Loki had magically showed up and was impersonating his brother (I later decided against this when I found out that Loki was cut from the film).
Like…I still don’t get it. NO WAY is Ultron more powerful than Thor. No way.
– Ultron vs Iron Man
Drawing from the two match-ups, this one was also head-scratching. If I accept that Ultron is more powerful than Thor and I accept that Tony is more powerful than the Hulk (with his Hulkbuster armor on), I’m expecting Ultron to be able to beat Tony sans Hulkbuster armor.
They end up being damn near evenly matched.
– Cap vs Ultron
This one was a doozy too. Cap’s treatment in the first Avengers’ movie was ass and then everything about him (powers and personality) was upgraded for TWS (which I totally here for). That obviously meant that Whedon was going to have to carry over that awesome treatment to this film. While Whedon completely drops the ball on Cap’s characterization, he attempts to carry over Cap’s awesome skills, but it is somewhat lost on me during his fight with Ultron when they both end up being evenly matched. This is odd as hell especially considering that Ultron somehow trumps Thor.
By the haphazard nature of all these match-ups, this is how the power levels checked out in the movie versus prior films:
Hulk < Iron Man ≥ Cap ≥ Ultron > Thor ≥ Hulk
What is this f*ckery?
*****BEGIN MINOR SPOILER*****
Natasha and Bruce
This relationship had zero build-up and was seemingly pulled out of thin air. Thus, it had no basis to even stand on.
First of all, let’s address the fact that in the first film, these two were barely operating on friendship much less love and adoration.
For starters, Bruce f*cking traumatized and brutalized Natasha as the Hulk with his backhand from the bowels of hell, which should have left Natasha side-eyeing him entirely. Conversely, Natasha pulled a gun on Bruce back in Calcutta and pulled Bruce back into an environment where everyone was on edge around him (afraid of him even), which should have bred some amount of distrust between the two of them.
The above things mentioned end up being completely disregarded. Somehow, Bruce ends up falling all over himself when interacting with Natasha and Natasha practically wants to jump his bones and talks about accompanying this dude into the shower.
Did I miss something?
Is there some one-shot in the ether that I completely overlooked that explores them going on random adventures and falling in love? Were they randomly featured on AOS at one point and was this so-called relationship established during some episode (or episodes)?
No? Oh, okay. That’s what I thought.
*****END MINOR SPOILER*****
Characterizations of the Squad
If you were not Tony or Bruce in this film, it is likely that Whedon did not care about you.
Once again, Whedon proved that he did not understand Cap (that recurring “language” joke got old really fast) and literally ignored his character development from TWS. The same goes for Natasha and Thor too. Natasha and Cap’s strong camaraderie that was established in TWS is virtually missing in this film (they barely even talk in this film) and Thor’s fresher, wiser outlook as a result of recent events in Asgard is traded for grandly stated one-liners instead.
I know this is a team-up movie and all, but you can’t just ignore the progress that these characters have made when solo. That is extremely poor story-telling and I’m not going to excuse it just because it is Marvel. IN FACT, I’m holding it against them more because they are about this shared universe life and in a shared universe, you’ve gotta play ball when it comes to things like this.
*****BEGIN MAJOR SPOILER*****
His rushed death did not hold the impact that it should have and didn’t really make any sense to me, considering that his superpower is speed. And since we were already shown earlier in the film that Quicksilver could catch bullets, I was expecting him to either repeat that or simply move the people that he was trying to save. But…nope.
*****END MAJOR SPOILER*****
Before I close, here’s some food for thought:
– TL;DR: The movie wasn’t great, but it wasn’t exactly horrible. I’d be willing to watch it again…at a much later date unlike something like, I don’t know, Iron Man 3.
– Most memorable quotes:
But if you put the hammer in an elevator? – Steve
It’ll still go up. – Tony
Elevators not worthy. – Steve
Really? That’s it? You just roll over and show your belly, every time somebody snarls? – Tony
Only when I’ve created a murder-bot! – Bruce
You’re unbelievably naïve. – Ultron
Well, I was born yesterday. – The Vision
Clint, you’ve had a tough week. We won’t hold it against ya if you can’t get it up. – Tony
Everyone creates the thing they fear. Men of peace create engines of war. Avengers create invaders. Parents create children, that will supplant them. – Ultron
In essence, I am honestly torn. After being left hella hype after Captain America: TWS, GOTG, and Daredevil, I expected Age of Ultron to be 141 minutes of greatness. Instead, it was just okay. While the film was very much a visual feast, that did not distract me from its glaring storytelling flaws. Maybe I’ll feel differently when Marvel releases the Director’s Cut (that is reportedly over three hours long), but until then, I will remain unimpressed. I still love Marvel and I would like to return to stanning for them, but I need their next film (and the next Avengers film) to do better. Much, much better.
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