"You have no idea how hard it's been for me to stay away from the Marvel subreddit!" exclaimed the theatergoer nearby; one of a hundred or so in line with me to see Avengers: Age of Ultron on opening weekend. While it wasn't opening night, this was the Saturday showing at the only IMAX screen in town (even if it was the smaller "fake IMAX"). Fans debated their expectations of the movie and talked about Agent Carter and Daredevil. These were the true believers I wanted to see an Avengers movie with.
The crowd was ushered in to pack the sold-out theater. Little time was wasted in-between screenings, as it was quickly time to see a few coming attractions. Although the Star Wars trailer had been out for a few weeks, that didn't stop this group from applauding it fervently. Before long, the Marvel title went up and we were off.
This group was excited. I was excited. We've had a steady dose of Marvel hero's, but The Avengers was something special. All of our favorite characters were back, with plenty to spare. Joss Whedon returned to bring everyone together again. Could the sequel possibly live us to its predecessor?
Warning: This is a spoiler-filled reaction to Avengers: Age of Ultron. If you haven’t seen it yet, turn back now.
The Avengers had the challenge of being so big due to needing to incorporate so many characters, but it was also an origin story. Age of Ultron adds more characters and tells its own story while setting up at least three sequels (Civil War, Black Panther, and Infinity War). It's not really fair to judge it the same way we judge other Marvel movies because we have a different expectation. We've already grown to think of movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe differently. The Avengers films are something beyond that. Something even more complex. We want to see each of our favorite characters shine. We want to see them working together, and we want to see them do things that couldn’t be done in the "smaller" movies. For this reason, I'm partial to give Age of Ultron a pass in the story department. It's best not to look too deeply or pick it apart. I'd say the same thing about its predecessor. Now that the movie has been released, Whedon has hinted that a much longer cut exists. It seems that some of the scenes that might have better supported characters and plot lines were cut at the behest of the studio.
Another similarity between Age of Ultron and The Avengers can be found in the villains. While Loki was a great villain, he could have been swapped out for just about anyone else who wanted to rule the Earth. Ultron's motivations and plan made sense, to a point. He want's peace, ultimately involving the end of mankind, and he needs stuff to do it. (just like Loki). He needs time to prepare, which conveniently gives our heroes time to come together and prepare to make a stand. After a huge battle, he is we eventually worn down and goes down in a whimper. The two villains had similar paths; Loki just had a bit more fun along the way.
That isn't to say that Ultron was a bad villain. He's a natural choice to test the Avengers and a fit well as a creation of Stark and Banner. Tony's fear of losing everything and everyone in another alien attack feels like a natural motivation for asking "how" he can make Ultron instead of "should". The incorporation of alien tech (the Infinity Stone) as Ultron's key ingredient allowed for some unpredictability in his actions, such as losing words and acting with emotion. Ultron's actions didn't always make sense, but I guess they were more interesting to watch than an evil computer application. James Spader and his menacing voice make a great fit for our villain, especially in his manipulation of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. Ultron is given some good dialog, almost to a fault. He doesn't seem very mechanical, but it worked well enough.
In addition to Ultron, we had a number of new characters. The addition of Hawkeye's family gave one of our un-powered heroes more depth; rebalancing the scales after losing him to mind control is most of the previous movie. Whedon gave Hawkeye a strong reason to be a part of the team, and boy did it seem that he was setting out to kill him off. Of course, in retrospect Quicksilver's fate seems like a better fit. He's not an anchor to the franchise, and his death made us care for Scarlet Witch all the more. In fact, Quicksilver's death seemed to be his characters best contribution to the movie (well, maybe that isn;t such a compliment). His sister was given more of a focus, and she proved to be the more interesting of the two. I'm looking forward to seeing her hopefully confront Tony Stark with her story of waiting two days for that missile to kill them. She'll be a good addition to the team (though I wish we could have seen some consequence for her leaving her post in our final battle).
Vision represents the last big addition in this movie, and I'm surprised that they did it so well. Like Ultron, Vision is a bit understated in this adaptation. We don’t see all of what he can do. You need to know to look for him phasing through objects, otherwise you might miss it entirely. Kudos to the creators for coming up with the scene involving heroes attempting to lift Mjolnir, only to have Vision effortlessly the hammer to a flabbergasted Thor. It was a great payoff, and was quite the crowd pleaser.
I will say that the crowd in my theater had a great time. They laughed and cheered throughout the movie. I don't remember a joke falling flat. I thought Age of Ultron was a lot of fun, and judging by the crowd I saw it with, it was fun for them as well. While most seemed to be big Marvel fans, I did find it interesting that more than half stayed for the post-credits scene that never came. They hadn’t heard that Joss did away with it, and had been training to wait. No one in my row got up to leave, and the people next to me where disappointed and surprised.
One of the general criticisms that I started to hear before seeing Age of Ultron was that it was like a Michael Bay movie. I can see where they are coming from, but I'm not sure that is a fair criticism. People love to hate the Transformers movies for their insane (and often bewildering) action sequences involving CGI characters beating on each other. However, there can be room for good action movies. Furious 7 just proved that people can get behind big dumb action. Age of Ultron does have a great deal of action, but we generally know who is who. Whedon's dialog is usually damn good (sorry, language), and our director seems to be aware that we care about our individual heroes and their relationships. Yes, some plot details end up missing, and its wise not to think of things too deeply (like why Tony didn't have a backup of Jarvis somewhere?, or what exactly happened to Thor in that cave?). We've seen Marvel movies start to fit in different genres. Winter Soldier was a 70's political thriller, Guardians of the Galaxy was a space opera, perhaps Age of Ultron is a better class of big action movie.
That isn't to say that Age of Ultron doesn’t give you plenty to think about. We don't dwell too much on the public perception of The Avengers, but I suspect that will come to a boiling point in Civil War. Our heroes created Ultron and nearly caused the end of the world. The Hulk destroyed a good portion of a city, culminating on the destruction of a tower. It was an image reminiscent of 9/11, including the dust that spread for blocks. This is the same kind of devastation that was seen in Man of Steel, and it feels wrong. We've been teased the idea of Hulk and Iron Man in the Hulkbuster armor for some time, but it seemed like an occasion where it seemed like we should be careful what we wish for.
As a side note, I originally felt very confused about Bruce Banner's ability to control The Hulk. It seemed to have changed, becoming more unpredictable. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Bruce was always afraid of what could happen when he transformed. Always being angry explained his ability to "turning green' any time he wanted, but we never dealt with calming down (which seems understandably harder). In Age of Ultron, Bruce is shown his worst fear when he loses control is a major city. I’m not sure the Hulk’s self-control will seem consistent upon further viewings, but I guess I’m wiling to go with it. After all, I did buy, "I'm always angry".
The Iron Man & Hulk fight set up our ending well. S.H.I.E.L.D.'s reappearance to save civilians in the final battle gave us the heroics at a scale we may not have realized we wanted. Watching Captain America smash Ultron sentries gets old after a while, but we are still thrilled by saving civilians (every last one of them). It did seem odd that getting people out of the floating city pushed Ultron to the backburner, but it was a welcome inclusion for me.
The rest of the ending was a mixed bag in my eyes. I never quite understood how everyone was able to escape the bomb blast. Even if I assume the helicarrier and civilians were too far away, and that nobody was on the ground, we had a few heroes on the scene. I counted Thor, Vision, and Iron Man. The first two I could believe were strong enough, but I don't buy Iron Man's armor taking something like that (especially after Iron Man 3). Ultron ultimately seemed to run out of steam, and could have used a better close, but I guess that was a choice to focus on our heroes (and that last chat with Vision).I wonder if the fabled three hour cut fixes that too...
Later we were shown the new facility in upstate New York (if only it was near the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters...). After Iron Man once again rode off into the sunset (How many times is he going to quit?), we are introduced to the new Avengers. This felt like Marvel's opportunity to say "Look, everyone. Eventually we are going to have to continue the Avengers without some of these characters. See, the Avengers can assemble without Thor and Iron Man, start getting used to it now." Comic book fans know that the team will cycle through members, but I don't think the larger movie-going public will share that expectation.
Age of Ultron isn't as satisfying that the original Avengers, but it couldn't be. Just like you only get one chance to see a star destroyer fly into the screen for the first time, we had our event that brought all of heroes together in the same movie. The Avengers wasn’t terribly deep, but the story was tight, allowing everyone to shine. Age of Ultron ups the ante and ends up at the natural conclusion. It is a very fun ride that sets us up for more. Joss Whedon may be done, our stars may eventually walk away from their roles, but the Avengers have many more stories to tell. Age of Ultron isn't the strongest Marvel movie to date, but its one of the most fun, and that is what I paid to see.