Film #11 in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Avengers: Age of Ultron
“The end is near.” Avengers: Infinity War is set to hit theaters at the end of the month. Each weekday FilmExodus will be spotlighting a film from the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the buildup to Infinity War. Don’t expect a Stan Lee cameo though. This is… The Road to Infinity.
The year 2015 brought us the Marvel Cinematic Universe‘s most anticipated, and ultimately one of the more disappointing, entries into its repertoire of films. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Avengers: Age of Ultron!
Age of Ultron was the MCU’s 11th film and a direct sequel to 2012’s Marvel’s The Avengers, which was the highest-grossing comic-book adaptation, the highest-grossing superhero film, and the highest-grossing film ever released by Walt Disney Studios, at the time of its release, so… it had a lot to live up to.
Directed by Joss Whedon, the storyline goes that the Avengers have been chasing down HYDRA agents all around the world after finding out that this evil organization had been infiltrating the United State’s premiere spy agency, S.H.I.E.L.D., for decades (the plot of 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier). As the movie opens, the Avengers are in full battle with enemy soldiers as Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) tries to get into a castle which is supposed to contain weapons of some sort.
At this point, the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and her brother Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) enter the fray. Apparently working for HYDRA, they are two super-powered beings with the abilities of neuro-electric interfacing, telekinesis and mental manipulation for her (yes, I had to look it up) and super-speed for him. Quicksilver briefly attacks Captain America (Chris Evans) on the battlefield while the Scarlet Witch casts a spell over Stark as he is searching around in the castle.
The spell on Stark increases the fear and tension that he had been feeling ever since he and the others barely saved New York from Loki and the alien invasion. He sees the Avengers dead all around him, in hallucinations, which push him to try and develop some type of artificially intelligent security sentience. For some reason, it did not seem as stupid in the movie as it sounds right here.
Stark, with Bruce Banner’s (Mark Ruffalo) help and the jewel from Loki’s staff (which I have no idea why is on Earth), begin to create their all-encompassing defense program, code-named Ultron. And of course, with the advent of Loki’s jewel, the project takes on a life of its own, goes mad and decides, “Yeah, Tony’s plan on saving the Earth is a good one, so that’s what I’ll do… and the best way to do it is to kill all humans.”
*Sigh* Trying to make a long story somewhat shorter, Ultron (James Spader), creating a body for itself from leftover Stark robot parts, gets into a scuffle with the Avengers, gets away, somehow teams up with Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch to buy some vibranium, a rare metal with fantastic properties, from criminal weapons dealer, Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), so as to make a BETTER body for itself and accomplish its reason for being.
Ultron confronts the Avengers again, during which the Scarlet Witch hypnotizes the Hulk (also Mark Ruffalo) and sends him into a frenzy, causing Iron Man to have to go battle him in his impressive new ‘Hulk-buster’ armor. Because of the big mess that the fight causes, the Avengers have to go into hiding where they run into Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) who fills them in on yada yada yada.
Meanwhile, in the Eastern-European country of Sokovia, Ultron builds drone-copies of himself, which help him finalize his master plan to raise the entire country of Sokovia into the air and then, once reaching the optimum height, drop it causing extinction level earthquakes and tidal waves across the planet. Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, realizing that Ultron is not good, switch sides to join the Avengers in stopping him.
The final battle begins as Sokovia starts to rise. Tasked with simultaneously trying to bring the country back down to earth and engaging hundreds of Ultron drones, the Avengers must also get the citizens off of the rising landmass in case things don’t go well. Luckily, Nick Fury arrives in the nick (Fury) of time with a helicarrier, a bunch of flying lifeboats, more than a few S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and War Machine (Don Cheadle).
As the tide turns against Ultron —the Scarlet Witch securing the machine that would let the country drop, the evacuation of all the people onto the helicarrier and the Avengers finishing off the drones— Quicksilver dies while saving Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Sensing this, the Scarlet Witch loses control of the country dropping machine, thus allowing Sokovia to… uhh… well, drop. But, with everyone finally evacuated from the landmass, Iron Man and Thor are able to blast the landmass into smithereens before it hits. And, putting a cap on things, what is left of Ultron gets destroyed by The Vision (Paul Bettany).
Oh geez, I almost forgot. Somewhere amidst the 2nd or 3rd battle, the vibranium body that Ultron was building for itself got taken by the Avengers, zapped with lightning by Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and infused with J.A.R.V.I.S., the artificial intelligence that usually talks to Stark when in his armor, to become The Vision.
And that’s one of the many reasons that this movie fails. There are so many moving pieces going on simultaneously, that you kind of go numb trying to keep track of it all. Some of the things that I didn’t mention in my review were the budding love affair between Black Widow and Hulk; an interesting, machismo-hyped, game of ‘who can lift Thor’s hammer; Thor’s cave water revelations; and wait, what’s up with the army of Iron Man’s drones and where were they when we NEEDED them? All of which, makes little difference to the overall story.
First and foremost, this movie is PRIMARILY for the purpose of introducing new characters, materials and topics for other upcoming movies and pushing the ‘big picture’ narrative along. Scarlet Witch and Vision show up in Captain America: Civil War, vibranium and Ulysses Klaue, a Black Panther villain, give us a heads up for Black Panther, and the gem in the Vision’s head pushes us closer to Avengers: Infinity War. Oh, did I not mention the jewel in the Vision’s head came from Loki’s scepter and has changed from blue to yellow?
Even for a ‘filler’ movie, the overall shallowness of Avengers: Age of Ultron is amazing to me. Especially since Whedon, who wrote (with Zak Penn) and directed the first Avengers movie so well, also wrote (without Zak Penn, hmm) and directed this one. Second, it is almost as if Whedon forgot that he was making a movie about superheroes. In Marvel’s The Avengers, Nick Fury gives a speech about why the Avengers were created:
“There was an idea, to bring together a group of remarkable people, see if they could become something more. See if they could work together when we needed them to to fight the battles we never could.”
And yet, this movie opens with the Avengers fighting non-powered humans for the most part. Despite whatever weapons the HYDRA agents were using, they have no chance against Thor and The Hulk! Again, that is a problem.
Comic books have the luxury of spending nothing money-wise to produce ‘world-shattering’, apocalyptic effects. When you are dealing with characters, the likes of Thor and Hulk, you cannot expect them to find ANY challenge against mere mortals! Ordinary humans would burst like water-balloons every time The Hulk or Mjölnir (Thor’s hammer) hit them. Which is why they were battling alien-robots(?) or only each other in the first movie. They need BIGGER challenges to face, which is why the comic fans went crazy when they heard that Ultron would be the upcoming villain.
With an almost insect-like, hard metal face; hollow eye and mouth cuts filled with glowing energy; in the comics, Ultron is one of the Avengers more heavy-hitting villains. Unfortunately here, he looks nothing like his fearsome comic image (although, his Ultron-drones do slightly resemble that look). The MCU version makes him look like a cross between a human skull and an Iron Man helmet with two, easy to grip handles in an overwhelmingly nauseating art-deco style.
James Spader is a great actor who can convey menace very well with his voice, but for this, Spader’s tone feels too human for Ultron. This may have been a deliberate attempt to show how similar to humans Ultron was without realizing it, but again, for a ‘filler’ movie, that was unnecessary decoration. We should have had the tones of a frightening, robotic, artificially intelligent, blunt instrument, with one purpose only; destroy humanity!
As for Quicksilver, he doesn’t seem to play much of a role overall except for being someone that Whedon can kill to stoke emotional flames of tragedy. Damn you, Whedon, for discarding good characters for the sake of cheap emotional wrenchings and getting me to write that cringey line about ’emotional flames.’ My belief though is that Quicksilver being introduced and then killed had more to do with the bizarre contractual agreement that Marvel had with 20th Century Fox over the characters’ theatrical rights usage than anything. To make a long explanation short, because Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch were both X-Men and Avengers at different, but significant points in their comic history, Marvel and Fox had an agreement for shared use. Either company could make movies featuring them (with more than a few little lines that they couldn’t cross), yet having nothing to do with the other company’s take on their version. Fox introduced their version of Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past in 2014. Although most comics aficionados would have no trouble, I think that Disney just didn’t want to have ANY ongoing confusion between the two and opted to sacrifice their character in a truly heroic and emotional way.
What Avengers: Age of Ultron DOES do well is show us HOW mighty Marvel’s power is. This movie, that really was not good, made $1.405 billion at the box office. By all rights, this should be considered one of the worst MCU movies out there. In my personal list of best to worst this lands as #14 out of 18. But at its worst, it is just mediocre.
Basically, because Disney/Marvel knows what will get us to follow this ‘meh’ chapter through to the BIGGER story that is waiting at the end. It is filled with familiar characters that we have already become comfortable with, introduces us to others that comic fans have been waiting their lives to see onscreen, and has more than a few cheap, but enticing action moments. Unfortunately, it does not go out with a ‘bang’ but with a whimper.