Beware! There are unmarked spoilers below.
It’s unfortunate that Avengers: Age of Ultron happens to follow up Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, two of the best Marvel Cinematic Universe films to date. When held in comparison, Age of Ultron fails to live up to their lofty standards, nor the standards set by The Avengers. That’s not to say Age of Ultron is a bad film. It’s certainly a lot of fun, especially for those who enjoy director Joss Whedon’s signature style. But with several questionable plot choices and an incredibly ill-advised romance, Age of Ultron just doesn’t capture the magic of its predecessor.
Age of Ultron‘s problem stems mainly from the natural expansion of its hero roster. The Avengers was all about bringing together six misfits to battle for Earth, meaning that while it lacked plot complexity and individual character development, it was a tighter, more cohesive film. In its attempts to service the original six, plus new members Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Vision, Age of Ultron gets caught up in telling everyone’s stories. The results are hit and miss. Sometimes you get a genuinely touching revelation about Hawkeye’s personal life. Sometimes you get a random romance between Black Widow and the Hulk, or a random vision quest for Thor. And while Scarlet Witch’s hallucinations are a clever way of granting all of the heroes some quick character development while foreshadowing future plot lines, they also distract from the main conflict.
The eponymous Ultron is the one who suffers the brunt of the movie’s fullness. For a character who is a peace protocol gone terribly, terribly wrong, Ultron never reaches a dire level of threat. James Spader portrays Ultron with an odd sort of regular guy charm, as if he could just be any average joe with an intent to destroy the world. It’s very compelling, and Spader’s portrayal is delightfully hammy. Yet, Ultron doesn’t seem particularly menacing, and that could stem from a lot of his story line feeling rushed. In fact, his inception and then immediate rebellion goes by so quickly, It took a couple viewings for me to really grasp his motivations.
Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of Age of Ultron is the decision to include an out-of-the-blue romance between Natasha and Bruce. Their angsty flirtations did little to serve either of their characters, and took up a disproportionate amount of their screen time. Why did we not instead get scenes of Natasha grappling with the fact that her past is no longer a secret to the world? Why did we not see more on how Bruce feels about his part in creating Ultron? Instead of following through with the threads created in The Winter Soldier, we get Natasha and Bruce almost completely isolated from the rest of the Avengers. It doesn’t help that the revelation of Natasha’s forced sterilization is in relation to her romance with Bruce, when it could have led to an exploration of her feelings about how the Red Room took away the agency to make her own choices in life.
That being said, Age of Ultron isn’t without its merits. It introduces several compelling new heroes, while also granting some much needed characterization to Hawkeye. The detour to his farmhouse is one of the film’s less exhausting location changes, and the discovery of his happy family is sweet. Hawkeye’s absence since The Avengers suddenly makes more sense with the knowledge that he’s not the human disaster I’ve always assumed him to be (thanks to his comic counterpart), and Age of Ultron‘s increased focus on him reveals that he has a snarky sense of self-awareness concerning his abilities. Non-mutants Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch don’t get as much focus as I would have liked, but their identities shine through just enough to leave me wanting more. In fact, Quicksilver’s untimely death is one of the most baffling moments in Age of Ultron, especially since he and his sister were the subjects of a dramatic custody battle between Marvel and Fox. Here’s hoping they pull a Coulson, since killing off a beloved superhero in his debut film just seems like a waste.
The best new addition to the cast is undoubtedly Vision. An android with a few different origin stories in the comics, Vision is cleverly worked into the film as a potential vessel for Ultron that’s ultimately hijacked by the Avengers and merged with J.A.R.V.I.S. Vision steals the show with his earnest outlook on life and he’s just quippy enough to not be annoying about it.
Joss Whedon’s brand of humor is an enhancement or a detriment depending on who you ask, but I personally enjoyed some of the more light-hearted moments. The Avengers spend so much time bickering (and subconsciously picking sides for the upcoming Civil War), that moments like Tony’s party do a lot to remind you why these people are even friends. It’s those bits of world building that make up for some of the sloppier moments of storytelling.
Age of Ultron spends a little too much time setting up future installments, but it’s establishment of the New Avengers is one of it’s highest points. As much as I hate to admit it, the team as we know it was getting stale, and the departure of Tony, Bruce, Clint, and Thor leads to the line up we deserve. With War Machine, Falcon, Scarlet Witch, and Vision officially on the team (and with Nick Fury, Maria Hill, Dr. Erik Selvig, and the newly introduced Dr. Helen Cho on the support team), we’ve got a more diverse group of heroes with fresh stories to tell.
Ultimately, Age of Ultron is a good movie that goes off the rails a bit. Nothing in it is a dealbreaker for me, but I do find it telling that this is the first MCU film with elements of canon that I’d rather just ignore. I know this movie was a monumental task to undertake, and I hope its shortcomings convince the writers at Marvel to aim for a more focused feature next time. It’s awesome to see all of my favorite heroes on the screen together, but not at the expense of a concise, well written film.
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