11 Days of Marvel: Avengers: Age of Ultron


Day 11 of 11 Days of Marvel is here! In this project, Bill and Erin go through every sin­gle extant film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and write their reac­tions to them! The project start­ed here, with Iron Man, or you can click here to see all the arti­cles in the project so far. Today is about:

Avengers_Age_of_Ultron

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Bill’s Response: I Dare You to Do Better

This movie had a lot rid­ing on it, and I think almost every review I read at the time it came out focused less on its indi­vid­ual mer­its and more on its place in the broad­er MCU canon. This makes sense: Although Ant-Man is tech­ni­cal­ly the end of “Phase 2” of the project, I think Ultron is the movie which most sym­bol­izes the end of the first two arcs of the MCU. People who are pre­dis­posed to hate the inter-connected mar­ket­ing blitz that is the MCU found Ultron incom­pre­hen­si­ble and bor­ing, while peo­ple who are pre­dis­posed to love all the inter­twined ref­er­ences and cameos from other movies most­ly liked it a lot. Further, the clum­sy scene between Banner and Romanoff in Hawkeye’s farm­house dis­tract­ed much of the crit­i­cal dis­cus­sion away from the movie as a whole and more towards its por­tray­al of women, and their place in super­hero movies as a whole.

What I’m say­ing is that it’s hard to exam­ine this movie strict­ly on its own terms. It serves as the sec­ond part of the Avengers “tril­o­gy,”1 and second-installments are hard to land on the best of days. You need to advance plots brought forth in the first movie and set up the third while still main­tain­ing some sem­blance of self-identity, which is very dif­fi­cult. Further add the fact that Ultron needs to make ref­er­ences to many of the other MCU movies aside from just The Avengers while try­ing to tell a coher­ent plot and sell­ing a ton of toys, and you have an incred­i­bly tall order. I said before that it’s some­thing of a mir­a­cle that The Avengers was a coher­ent movie, and Ultron faced even more chal­lenges than the first movie did. There is a lot going on in this movie.

I nev­er­the­less most­ly like it. It’s not smooth or effi­cient the way a per­fect movie should be – there are rough edges every­where, trun­cat­ed plot­lines and weird pac­ing, but I actu­al­ly think it suc­ceeds rel­a­tive­ly well. It is true that I can­not imag­ine mak­ing any sense of this movie if you haven’t seen most of the rest of the MCU2 and that may account for why many peo­ple didn’t care for it. Even peo­ple who have seen all of the MCU movies but aren’t as bizarrely obsessed with them as I am may have lost track of who some of the sup­port­ing cameos were or what, exact­ly, all these weird glow­ing rocks are. Since Erin and I had pret­ty recent­ly watched all of the other MCU movies, how­ev­er, I don’t think we had very much trou­ble fol­low­ing what was going on.

hulkbuster

I still haven’t real­ly said very much about the movie, because it’s hard to approach. I think it’s the first MCU movie that I wish was longer, rather than short­er: it feels like it should have been a minis­eries rather than a sin­gle 2.5 hour movie, and I think it’s inter­est­ing enough that I’d like to have seen that minis­eries. Ultron’s arc is actu­al­ly pret­ty neat, even if it does cul­mi­nate in the attempt­ed anni­hi­la­tion of the world (which is still so bor­ing, as I’ve said a dozen times before). Much of his changes in moti­va­tion hap­pen in about four lines of dia­logue, so I’d like to have spent a lit­tle more time with him before he threw his final tem­per tantrum and resolved to destroy all of human­i­ty. Nevertheless, the arc makes sense: aware of the com­ing Infinity War (or what­ev­er we’re call­ing the fact that Thanos is com­ing soon), Ultron thinks the only way to “save” the world, as per his pro­gram­ming, is to force human­i­ty to evolve. So he plans to kill many of them and force the rest into sur­vival mode. At least, I think that’s his moti­va­tion. Like I said, it hap­pens in about four lines of dia­logue. Then, when his own attempt at evo­lu­tion is thwart­ed when they steal his new body, he becomes furi­ous and resolves to just kill every­one instead.

Spader was a per­fect choice for Ultron: a deep, men­ac­ing voice which can nev­er­the­less deliv­er the sort of snarky and irrev­er­ent dia­logue for which Joss Whedon is famous. Spader can sell Ultron both growl­ing­ly quot­ing scrip­ture and com­i­cal­ly apol­o­giz­ing for acci­den­tal­ly slic­ing off Ulysses Klaw’s arm. He’s a good vil­lain, and I wish we could spend more time with him. The MCU’s vil­lains are often not as good as I’d like, so that’s a good prob­lem to have.

Many other peo­ple have writ­ten about Whedon’s skill with dia­logue, and at this point it’s pret­ty much acknowl­edged as truth that the man has a gift for words. The light touch with the dia­logue keeps the movie run­ning for­ward and helps pre­vent its long run­ning time and many dif­fer­ent plots from becom­ing too painful. Even if you’re not nec­es­sar­i­ly sure what’s going on, at least every­one is hav­ing a good time and spout­ing witty dia­logue as they punch robots in the face.

Anyway, I’ve already said a lot. But unlike the first Avengers movie, Ultron is also try­ing to be about a few things, about human self-identity and what “sav­ing the world” real­ly looks like, and even when it’s some­times stretched too thin, it’s still a good time. I can’t argue too much with that.

More to the point, I think this movie was always going to look like this. In May, as we sat in the the­ater and the lights began to dim, I looked at Erin and said, “This movie is going to be crowd­ed and clum­sy,” and I was right. But I enjoyed it any­way. And I also think it’s not as sym­bol­ic of the future of the MCU as peo­ple want­ed to make it. I actu­al­ly think Ant-Man will be more pre­dic­tive: if the launch of this new MCU prop­er­ty goes well, it will imply the train hasn’t gone com­plete­ly off the rails. But if Ant-Man also feels like a clum­sy and crowd­ed movie which exists only to set up future movies, that may spell the doom of the MCU more than Ultron could ever have, both in terms of qual­i­ty and box office returns.

Favorite Moment: The look on Clint Barton’s face when he thinks he’s going to die, just before Quicksilver saves him. He sees the Quinjet com­ing towards him, real­izes Ultron is pilot­ing it and revving up the machine gun, and he grits his teeth, sighs, and tries to shield the lit­tle boy’s body with his own. Jeremy Renner is fan­tas­tic as Hawkeye, and I think he gets over­looked in favor of some of the flashier per­for­mances. But the look in his eyes as he makes that deci­sion is per­fect. He’s doing it, even though he knows it means he won’t see his fam­i­ly again, because it’s his job.

Least Favorite Moment: I mean, the scene in the farm­house that every­one hates real­ly doesn’t land well, and I don’t like it either. I think it’s more because of time con­straints than a delib­er­ate attempt to equate steril­i­ty with mon­stros­i­ty, but it’s still a bad scene.

Best Captain America Moment: “Yeah, who would let a German sci­en­tist exper­i­ment on them to save their coun­try?” Because, as we’ve kept say­ing, Steve Rogers is the best: even as he knows he will need to fight the Maximoff twins, he sym­pa­thizes with them, under­stands their posi­tion, and refus­es to let Maria Hill dehu­man­ize them. This helps con­tex­tu­al­ize his later deci­sion to trust them in the run­away train.

Favorite Thematic Middle Finger to Man of Steel: The whole back half of the movie is about pre­vent­ing col­lat­er­al dam­age, because that’s what heroes are sup­posed to do. TAKE THAT, ZACK SNYDER.

Bill’s Ranking:

1Captain America: The Winter Soldier

2Captain America: The First Avenger

3The Avengers

4Iron Man

5Iron Man 3

6. Avengers: Age of Ultron

7Thor

8The Incredible Hulk

9Guardians of the Galaxy

10. Iron Man 2

11Thor: The Dark World

ultronwhining

Erin’s Response: Age of Ultron and the Green Power Smoothie

Of all of the movies that we re-watched, I think this one was the most fun to watch again. First off, fol­low­ing the plot was eas­i­er the sec­ond time around – I knew we were head­ed to Africa (although it felt even more like a set up for Black Panther the sec­ond time around), I knew that Dr. Banner would capit­u­late to Stark not once but twice, and I was pre­pared for some deeply trou­bling dis­cus­sions about the Black Widow’s sexuality/monster-dom.  I am sure that if I want­ed to I could talk about how much I dis­liked her flash­backs, how envi­ous she is of Hawkeye’s bare­foot and preg­nant secret-wife and his chil­dren, or how she com­pares her steril­i­ty to being a mon­ster. I still think that scene des­per­ate­ly need­ed more dia­logue to come off as any­thing but strange and hor­ri­ble, but I have watched Whedon do some fan­tas­tic things with female char­ac­ters in the past. I am now of the opin­ion that the prob­lems with her char­ac­ter devel­op­ment were prob­a­bly cre­at­ed by trun­cat­ed (and arti­fi­cial­ly imposed) time con­straints rather than out-and-out misog­y­ny.

Instead, I would posit that a much more inter­est­ing way to look at this movie is through a par­a­digm of care. Because of this project, Tony Stark’s break­down and fear from Iron Man 3 is still fresh in my mind, and his actions make so much more sense when one remem­bers all of his pent-up fear in Iron Man 3.  In this movie, Tony tries to care. Ultron is born of the fear that Tony won’t be able to save the world or, per­haps most impor­tant­ly, his friends.

While there are many things I could say about this movie, I want to put some of my Art History train­ing to good use and do an in-depth read­ing of what I think might be the key to under­stand­ing Stark and the way his char­ac­ter relates to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Right after their first bad-ass bat­tle, the Avengers return to head­quar­ters, and while Hawkeye’s seri­ous injury is treat­ed, Tony makes the whole team a green power smooth­ie. It is such a throw­away moment, but it real­ly res­onat­ed with me. Tony’s care is so often con­cep­tu­al­ized in terms of tech­nol­o­gy (the clean­ing and dis­as­sem­bling of his suits, the gad­gets he makes for him­self and the team, the fancy club­house he has cre­at­ed for them, etc.) that the green power smooth­ie, by its pedes­tri­an, unas­sum­ing nature, is beau­ti­ful. It is not like any­one needs to be watch­ing their weight or that they need some good food to per­form bet­ter – they are all gods or at least close to it. Thor is an actu­al God, the dam­age that hap­pens to the Hulk never seems to be trans­mit­ted to Dr. Banner, Captain America’s body is patent­ed by the US Government, and with his new arc reac­tor, Tony is health­i­er than ever before. These peo­ple don’t need care, and yet Stark offers it up in the most nat­ur­al and unas­sum­ing way. He feeds them, even though they don’t need to be fed (this action is later echoed in the “kitchen sink” scene at the farm­house). That sen­ti­ment is one that car­ries this movie – from the green smooth­ie to the Black Widow’s care for the Hulk , from their amaz­ing josh­ing around about Thor’s ham­mer to the final (and I will admit, a bit ricioulous) urge to clear all of Sokovia’s inhab­i­tants even while Ultron hangs anoth­er aster­oid apoc­a­lypse over their heads. Care, abun­dant, con­sum­ing, and (as embod­ied in Ultron) destruc­tive, makes this one of the most human of all the Marvel movies.

Favorite Moment:

When Captain America budges the ham­mer. So excel­lent, so kind, so hot, so good. He is my favorite. No apolo­gies.

Least Favorite Moment:

Black Widow’s dis­cus­sion with Banner still makes me real­ly uncom­fort­able. Perhaps I shall write about that anoth­er day.

Most Important Smoothie:

Didn’t you read my arti­cle? ;)

Erin’s Rankings:

1. Captain America: The First Avenger

2. Iron Man

3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

4. Avengers: Age of Ultron

5. The Avengers

6. Iron Man 3

7. Thor

8. Guardians of the Galaxy

9. The Incredible Hulk

10. Iron Man 2

11. Thor: The Dark World

scarletwitch

And Now, A Conversation

Bill: Some­thing I had want­ed to talk about: you touched on the ele­ment of care, and I think you’re absolute­ly right that it’s what makes this movie work. These peo­ple are friends in a way that most movie casts aren’t.

Erin: And in a way that they weren’t in the last movie. They are now Assembled!

Bill: It’s in the lit­tle things, not the Grand Gestures, which is what Guardians of the Galaxy didn’t under­stand. It’s the silly jokes and the care that shows that they are a team of friends and not sim­ply fel­low cast mem­bers.

Erin: Exactly! This movie feels like the behind the scenes was just as much fun as the movie itself.

Bill: Yeah, I like to think that the cast hangs out all the time. I don’t know if it’s true, but I sure hope so.

Erin: Although, I have to say, BLOW UP SOKOVIA. I am a bit ter­ri­fied to think that super­heroes would let the world end over 200,000 civil­ians. But I know you dis­agree. ;)

Bill: Well, I mean, I sus­pect they even­tu­al­ly would have, had it come to that. But I think it’s impor­tant as a styl­is­tic choice: these are super­heroes, and part of the point of super­hero sto­ries is they allow us to think about what we would do if we could tran­scend our own lim­i­ta­tions. That’s why Superman should always be able to save the day with­out sac­ri­fic­ing his moral com­pass: if I want that kind of “what is the right thing to do in a tough sit­u­a­tion where you can’t save every­body” ques­tion, I should read Batman.

Erin: Also I think you are right about Jeremy Renner, but wrong about the last scene with Hawkeye. It isn’t about it being his “job,” it is about doing and being what is good and right. He isn’t a god, just an excel­lent man. And that is more pow­er­ful than any­thing else.

Bill: I under­stand what you mean. What I want­ed to com­mu­ni­cate is that he doesn’t hes­i­tate at all: he sees the sit­u­a­tion, and knows exact­ly what he has to do. That’s what I mean: this is what he MUST do, and he has no real choice about it. That, I think, must be why Quicksilver chose to try to save him (aside of course from the rights dis­pute which neces­si­tat­ed his death some­where in the movie). He saw Hawkeye make the choice with­out a moment of hes­i­ta­tion, like it was sec­ond nature, and real­ized he had to save him.

Erin: Well, again, I think that was clum­sy. His death didn’t have any real punch. If this was a longer movie we could have spent more time with the twins, and that would have been bet­ter. Although I did like how they styled Elizabeth Olson: she is very pro­por­tion­al, her larg­er boobs are in keep­ing with her more nat­ur­al curves, but I don’t think they over­sex­u­al­ized her.

Bill: I hear what you mean: I was pret­ty happy with the Scarlet Witch over­all, actu­al­ly, though as you say, I would have liked to spend more time with the Maximoff twins. Which brings me tan­gen­tial­ly to two ques­tions for you. First: we’ve lament­ed the lack of “badass female sci­en­tists” in the MCU so far. Do you think Helen Cho makes any steps in that direc­tion?

Erin: No.

Bill: Fair enough.

Erin: To expound: she isn’t inter­est­ing, isn’t a main char­ac­ter, and her team-switching to Ultron was so hard to fol­low it almost didn’t mat­ter. Also. WHERE WAS JANE FOSTER? WHY WAS SELVIG HERE AGAIN? Seriously, where were Potts and Foster? I enjoyed the ban­ter between Thor and Stark about their accom­plish­ments, but it still rang hol­low.

Bill: Yeah. I’m happy to reit­er­ate that these movies would be infi­nite­ly bet­ter if Erik Selvig didn’t exist and Jane Foster did all of his major story beats instead. Also, as much as I love Anthony Mackie as the Falcon, it prob­a­bly would have made more sense to get Paltrow and/or Portman back instead, if they had to choose.

visiongrace

Bill: Anyway, sec­ond ques­tion: what did you think about the Vision? I don’t think we’ve talked about him yet at all, and he’s kind of impor­tant.

Erin: Well, I loved that he was trust­wor­thy because he could move Thor’s ham­mer. It was a great joke to come back to, and it was excel­lent short­hand for his char­ac­ter. I am inter­est­ed to see what they will do with him. He seems to be the kind of char­ac­ter that could be a pro­tag­o­nist or antag­o­nist at the drop of a hat but would always be con­sis­tent. I hope they con­tin­ue to write him well!

Bill: Agreed. I’m glad they found a way to have Paul Bettany play him: Jarvis and Ultron have noth­ing to do with each other in (most) of the comics (I think), but I think it was both a good idea in terms of the fic­tion and because Bettany is a fan­tas­tic Vision. Bettany is a real­ly under­ap­pre­ci­at­ed actor, I think, and it will be good to see if he gets do any meati­er stuff with this part.

Erin: I love Paul Bettany too, because Master and Commander.

Bill: Really, though.

Erin: The best. Anyway, I read an inter­view with Whedon where he talked about all the things he had to do to save the farm­house scenes. Do you think it was worth it?

Bill:  I think it prob­a­bly was worth it in the­o­ry, but we didn’t get as much out of it as we should have. We did need a break some­where, and see­ing Hawkeye’s fam­i­ly was good, both for his char­ac­ter­i­za­tion as the only actu­al per­son on the team and to make Steve feel sad about the life he can’t have. In a world where the Banner/Romanoff scene wasn’t so damn clum­sy it would real­ly be worth it. I don’t know: I guess I don’t know what the execs want­ed instead. We cer­tain­ly couldn’t have gone straight from the Hulkbuster fight to the stuff in Korea: we need­ed some down time, and I don’t know what else would have hap­pened.

godthrowsarock

Bill: So: we are going to see Ant-Man in a few hours. Any pre­dic­tions? Any thoughts?

Erin: I don’t think this one has as much build up (or as many peo­ple who want to see it) so I am hop­ing they might feel free to have a bit more fun with it (a la The Incredible Hulk). What about you?

Bill: I’m not sure. The trail­ers leave me real­ly uncer­tain how to respond. I think it’s going to try to be more comedic than a straight action movie, which is prob­a­bly a good choice, but Guardians of the Galaxy makes me worry that the MCU doesn’t know what “funny” actu­al­ly means. Other peo­ple con­stant­ly try to imi­tate Whedon’s style and it almost never works (see Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), so it needs to have its own iden­ti­ty. We’ll find out tonight!

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Well, that’s it for Ultron! Tune in tomor­row for the 11 Days of Marvel BONUS ROUND, where we talk about Ant-Man! Comment below if you have any respons­es to our thoughts about Ultron or any of the other MCU movies so far!

Notes:
  1. Of course, the last part of this tril­o­gy is going to be split into two movies, because that’s how every­thing works now. I hope what­ev­er Warner Bros. exec­u­tive decid­ed to test-drive this maneu­ver with Harry Potter 7.5 drowns in his money-pool. []
  2. At least Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy and, ick, Thor: The Dark World, since it makes many ref­er­ences to all of those. []

Bill Coberly

About Bill Coberly

Bill Coberly is the founder and now Editor Emeritus (that means he doesn't really do anything any more) of the Ontological Geek. He currently studies law at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, where he lives with his wonderful wife and a pair of small and snuggly terriers.