Part 11 of A List to Marvel At
Avengers: Age of Ultron is probably the most comic book movie ever made. Not the best mind you, but certainly the most. Specifically the event comics with large splash panels and multiple character arcs crammed together at once, the kind that used to be luxuries but these days the comic industry has binged too much upon until they’ve lacked speciality. Fortunately, as this is only the second Avengers movie, it’s still a novelty to see here, even it lacks the complete novelty of the first.
In terms of sequels Age of Ultron has the aura of the “darker” second chapter like The Empire Strikes Back, but Whedon has previous mentioned his dislike for what he considers the incomplete nature of that instalment. So for goods and ills, this is a complete narrative on the creation of Ultron and the ramifications thereon. Joss Whedon also seems to have taken many of the directorial criticisms of his work in the previous film to heart, because Age of Ultron has more overt shots like framed tableaus; when the team are together the film emphasises as such, and it is all the stronger for it.
Avengers: Age of Ultron is more ambitious than the first. It explores a variety of different tones, scenario and character dynamics, both of established members and of one’s introduced in this film. Cap and Iron Man’s antagonist friendship hints at Civil War. You actually give a shit about Hawkeye, who gets some of the best scenes and lines of the entire film. I might be so bold as to say I prefer the MCU’s Quicksilver, with his backstory and relationship to Scarlett Witch, to the one in Days of Future Past, because one good scene does not a good character make.
As for the new characters, The Vision comes with all his comic book weirdness intact, with commanding, ethereal poise by Paul Bettany. Some find James Spader’s Ultron too jokey, but I actually find that a welcome balance to his more sadistic behaviour, and that it is a combination of his mechanical and his wise cracking creator (Tony Stark) does make him one of Marvel’s most memorable villains. These two character’s final scene together, which is merely an exchange of two different character’s philosophy. is probably my favourite of the whole movie, and next to Cap/Peggy in Winter Soldier my favourite in the MCU.
But, although a more ambitious project, that does necessarily mean the movie is better, or at least as holistic as its predecessor. Avengers: Age of Ultron is a movie that feel both at once too long and too short, and that probably results in the struggle between keeping the elements of the movie that he wanted, and the elements that set up future movies for the MCU. The Thor scenes in particular seem contrived to make hints for Ragnarok, and the unseemliness is emphasised by the fact that Captain America and Black Widow’s dream sequences are noticeably cut down. As is the cast brought together for Ultron made up of actors who feel neglected in such small parts: we get maybe a good 15 seconds of Julie Delpy, Andy Serkis makes a good enough impression but his scenes are small morsels for Black Panther, and Linda Cardelini’s role is very much “good wife”.
Then there’s the Black Widow/Hulk relationship. Scarlett Johansson and Mark Ruffalo’s charisma mean they work great together, but considering Hulk was the one who shined most in the first Avengers he feels a little relegated here as “tamed baby” (and his action scene with the Hulkbuster is the only one that feels superfluous to the narrative). And considering Whedon’s reputation with kick-ass action heroines – which Black Widow still gets plenty scenes of – the element of Black Widow feeling like a monster for not being able to have children is weirdly delivered to the point of being regressive. It doesn’t help of course that she is one of only a few action heroines not just in the Marvel world, but in Hollywood in general, that it forces her to be an ideological stomping ground of which no character could stand up in pressure to. It definitely made all the real world controversies that happened after that quite disappointing; Whedon went from the man who gave that character international attention and further depth to, in some people’s eyes, the man who gave her retrograde motivation.
Still, there is so much going on in Avengers: Age of Ultron that I even feel this bigger than normal write up is cutting it short. Even writing about this movie can be exhausting, so I don’t blame Whedon for wanting to be done with the big Marvel Universe altogether. But at least we got two great, action packed romps out of him anyway. But after all this bloat, it was probably wise for the next film to go something low key. Unfortunately, that movie would come with probably even bigger baggage…