The following contains spoilers for Avengers: Age of Ultron. You have been warned.
All hail the mighty avenging machine! Yes, Avengers: Age of Ultron hit theaters this past weekend and predictably ate them whole. We’ve got a bunch of, well, a bunch of Marvel nerds here at Mxdwn, and perhaps none nerdier than our Editor-in-Chief Ray Flotat, who joined Erik, Tyler, and myself to hash out what was right and wrong with Age of Ultron, and maybe more importantly, what it means for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Tim: So, we have what is definitely going to be one of the two, if not the top, highest grossing movies of the year (the other being Star Wars). It’s also the 11th Marvel movie to date. So let’s start with some general impressions. Who loved it, who hated it, and who’s just feeling Marvel fatigue?
Erik: For now, I loved it. I may look back on it later and find some massive flaws with the narrative, characters, or whatever, but for now I’m just basking in the afterglow of one of the most satisfying big budget blockbuster experiences I’ve had since….well, the last Avengers movie.
Ray: I loved it, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a masterpiece. It checks all the boxes that a quality superhero movie ought to. Generally, it successfully continues the through line of excellent continuity that the Marvel films have mostly perfected. It’s not at the operatic heights of say, Spider-Man 2 or The Dark Knight, but overall it’s great. It leans a bit heavy on the action versus story, but truthfully, what big-budget action movie sequel doesn’t?
Tim: Ok, so pretty positive all around. Erik, I want to start with something you alluded to there – this is basically a home run on a $200+ million budget. That doesn’t often happen, certainly not in both the commercial and critical spaces, but Marvel’s done it a couple times now. And for me, even though this is the second time out having all the Avengers together, it had nearly all the, “Wow, they actually had all of them together in one movie!” factor of the first time.
Tyler: I’d disagree with you on that last bit. I would put every one of my favorite moments from The Avengers - i.e. the “team shot,” – over the best parts of AoU. But there weren’t any of the low points here.
Ray: That is truly a good point. On paper, both the first Avengers and Age of Ultron could easily have been a catastrophic mess. It’s a wonder how a film with quite literally double the number of major character speaking parts can have a cohesive story. Honestly, that alone is impressive enough, even if the film as a whole isn’t completely perfect.
Erik: I think that perhaps that was possible because of Joss Whedon. When it was originally announced that he was to direct the first film, I thought it was some sort of joke because it seemed too perfect of a choice to be true. You have a guy who knows how to make films, loves superheroes, was inspired by superheroes, and has even written some superhero comics. Whatever anyone thinks of the guy’s filmmaking abilities, I think it’s clear that he understands how superheroes (and more importantly, superhero teams) work.
Tyler: That brings up one of my biggest issues with the movie. This (more or less) marks the end of Marvel’s Phase Two lineup, yet it doesn’t feel that way. With The Avengers, it felt very much like the culmination of the the five films that preceded it. This didn’t feel like the bookend to the last set of movies that began with Iron Man 3. It might be because we already know that Civil War and Infinity War are coming. It wouldn’t be an issue if the movie was more directly a first part of a larger whole, but it seemed to me like it wanted to be both the end piece to Phase 2 and the bridge to Phase 3. By doing so, didn’t have the same weight for me as the first Avengers.
Tim: You’ve just articulated my single biggest takeaway from Age of Ultron. This felt like the end of the first act of a story that is the sequel to story of Phase 1. And even though there’s groundwork for Civil War, this movie felt like it was all about Infinity War for me. I mentioned this in my review as well, but as cool as the movie is, it feels very much like a placeholder.
Ray: You’re not wrong. For what’s it’s worth, though, I don’t entirely blame them. When it comes to a shocking story to tell in the Marvel universe, the Infinity Gauntlet saga is about as climactic as it gets. I would wager they probably couldn’t render a more epic finale than that.
Erik: I have a theory (one that I just came up with a few seconds ago). This film felt like more of a lead in than a conclusion, and perhaps that was intentional on Marvel’s part because they felt they needed this film to get people ready for Phase 3. Here’s why: Phase 3 will be more of a challenge than the last one. Phase 2 was mostly made up of sequels which, regardless of quality are almost guaranteed to draw an audience (see Iron Man 3 for proof). The only really risky movie in that slate was Guardians. In Phase 3 we’ve got several new superheroes to introduce (Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Doctor Strange), and ones that aren’t as recognizable as a Captain America or Hulk. So, think of Age of Ultron as a sedative before a potentially life threatening operation.
Ray: And here I thought I was the only one. Even at 2 hours 30 or so minutes, I would’ve like to have seen about 30 minutes more of footage expanding on the various branching storylines even more. There’s so much criss-crossing, I wager they had footage enough to dig even deeper, but perhaps that would’ve been too much for a mainstream audience? Ultron was mostly just a nemesis. He didn’t really further where everything is going beyond being the chain of events that leads to Thor, Iron-Man, and Hawkeye’s departure from the team.
Tim: So that’s actually my biggest concern for this brand moving forward, even more than the cookie cutter formula that Kevin Feige seems to be imposing: even in Age of Ultron, there are a lot of movies you have to have seen to get more than just raw action out of this movie. It’s kind of cool to me, as someone who likes comic books and superheroes, that Marvel is scrapping some elements of a traditional movie story in favor of a format that’s more in line with the source material. But as the heroes become more obscure and the key plot lines more distributed, relying on an ever-growing interconnected web of films sounds like trouble to me.
Tyler: Does anyone care enough about the four new Avengers that showed up at the very end of the movie? I like Falcon just because I like Anthony Mackie, but that’s it.
Erik: Yes I do. But I’m afraid that, because I was already a fan of them from the comics, I can’t honestly say if they earned my love from their time on screen or if it was residual love from their comic counterparts. That’s often a problem I have when judging these film, I’m not sure if I’m capable of judging them as a filmgoer instead of as a comic fan who wants to see his favorite characters and concepts done justice.
Tim: So with that said, let’s actually turn things back to some of this movie’s particulars rather than the MCU at large. Specifically, let’s talk a little about Ultron himself. And before we get any more in depth than this, I have to ask, was anyone else annoyed by his lips? I though he looked like a freaking Transformer.
Erik: No, I thought they were weird, but Ultron overall was pretty abnormal and unnerving, so I thought they were appropriate.
Tyler: I’m happy they went with the moving lips, as weird as they were. I would have been more distracted if they went with no lip sync but still had the human movements a-la-Green Goblin in Spider-Man. Marvel has had a villain problem, at least in the MCU, and I thought this was their second best and was a good villain compared to their others thus far.
Tim: Oooh, I disagree, at least with the villain being very good. Although you’re right, they have had a villain problem so maybe he is still the second best….hmmm…
Ray: I found Ultron to be a bit disappointing ultimately. He might have been the weakest element of the movie – aside from the fact that James Spader did sound great as the character. He’s introduced essentially out of the womb as fully formed and completely sure of his vision of destruction. Obviously a supercomputer could make decisions way faster than a human, but as a viewer, all we get of him getting to that place is a short montage of various war-videos and photos he finds off the net. We don’t get to grow with Ultron (like we do with Vision) and he seems more sure of himself than creepy or evil. It seems many viewers (and critics) are fans of him, I wasn’t wrapped up in wanting to see what happened with him next like I was with Loki.
Erik: I’m afraid I’m one of those fans of him. I thought he was the best cinematic depiction of a comic book villain since Heath Ledger as the Joker. The guy was just so fun to watch on screen. And I loved the odd contradictions in his personality. On one hand he’s this arrogant, super being with an endless gulf of knowledge and resources, but at the same time he’s very lonely and insecure (with some major daddy issues). The fact that he wanted to be more human, and becoming so seemed to mean developing flaws actually kind of reminded me of Ex Machina’s handling of artificial intelligence (with more homemade meteors, of course). I was a little sad when Vision vaporized him at the end, because it meant there was less of chance for him to return in a sequel.
Ray: A little bit of column A and a little bit of Column B. I believe his contract was just for three Avengers movies, so this sets him up to be out of Infinity War: Part 1, but in Part 2. Also, Whedon talked a lot about wanting him to show him as more than a zombie, like he was for most of the first Avengers.
Erik: I was happy with what they did with him. Simply because that’s not something you typically see (in movies and television at least): a superhero with a family. It also helped lend credence to the fact that he was the one who gave Scarlet Witch (I’m not calling her Wanda because Fox doesn’t have my balls in a legal vice) that pep talk – he probably knows something about talking to kids.
Tyler: Agreed. I was happy with the Hawkeye backstory even though it felt like he was preparing to go the way of McBain’s partner for the entire final act.
Erik: So you thought he was going to die?
Tyler: 100 percent. It made sense too since he is the one Avenger everyone jokes about not having powers. It also seems to be the M.O. for Renner, who has inherited a number of franchise roles only to have them taken away. I liked it better, though, that Quicksilver was the one who was KIA, as it solves any major confusion when the character appears in Fox’s X-Men: Apocalypse.
Ray: That was the only thing I didn’t like about that story arc – everything else about his family was great, but the tease throughout the film, even up to the point of the child trapped in the rubble, was that he was going to be killed. Looks like they got themselves in a position where fans had speculated correctly a great portion of the plot and they had to find a way to pull off an unexpected surprise.
Erik: Also, they didn’t send him home for no particular reason. That helped.
Tim: Haha yes.
Erik: Anyone else ticked off the Hulk didn’t have any lines? It’s consistently bugged me that in depictions of the Hulk in film (both Avengers and his solo outings), he never gets anything more than a one liner. Maybe this is just the angry comic book fan in me going off, but I’ve always thought of the green guy as a character, not just a power that Bruce Banner uses.
Tim: One thing I hadn’t given much thought to is that, were this movie made 15 years ago, you’d almost have to make the Hulk speak. As it is, the facial tracking is so good, CGI can actually express some emotion. That said, it didn’t really bug me. The Hulk can speak, but I don’t need him to, and I don’t think he was really given a situation in Age of Ultron where dialogue was an imperative.
Ray: I could agree with you Erik. The impressively famous “Puny god!” line from the first movie has become one of the most quoted from the first movie. Given the Hulk’s story arc of progressively becoming more in control of his rage form, it would stand to reason that he would slowly start being able to say more, but it might be something that swallowed up in the wood chipper of how much they had to cover in this film. Someone correct me if I’m wrong here, but didn’t Whedon and Feige indicate the first rough cut of the film was near 4 hours?
Erik: It may not have been that long, but yeah, I know Whedon talked about having to cut down the film quite a bit. Still, I wouldn’t hold my breath for any Hulk lines in an extended edition – though I’m definitely curious to see if they (the missing scenes) expand on any of the other characters; maybe they’ll fix your Ultron problems.
Ray: To shift gears just a bit, I’d like to star how I was actually quite pleased with the mechanism – call it the instrument of destruction – that Ultron employs in the film. It’s a bit James Bond-villain gargantuan in scope, but it actually would be a completely accurate way to wipe all life from the Earth (it would be truly impossible to reverse if the land mass had hit the soil) and ultimately start the clock of life again literally from scratch. Is anyone else with me or am I reaching on this one?
Tim: Also, he has to differentiate his world-ending plot from the now three or four that we’ve had. Chitauri, space elves, HYDRA…where does it end? (It doesn’t.)
Tyler: I’m happy you brought that up because I have a question about the mid-credits tag that shows Thanos grabbing the Infinity Gauntlet and saying something along the lines of, “I gave you a chance, guess I’ll have to do it myself.” Does that mean he was responsible for Ultron? I understand his ties to the invasion in The Avengers and his role in Guardians.
Tim: I would guess it’s a more oblique reference to HYDRA and their inability to hold onto the staff that contained the stone.
Ray: I wager this was left intentionally vague. I wouldn’t be surprised if somehow the evil persona of Ultron was influenced by Thanos.
Erik: It’s all speculation at this point. Maybe it will be expanded upon in a future movie. If not, as cool as the scene was, I actually did think it felt out of place, considering how Earth-centric this film was. Maybe they just figured the last Avengers had a Thanos cameo, so the sequel needed one as well.
Tim: Whatever the reason we’ll find out in…a couple years. Sigh.