Bringing together a host of characters from different films, and doing it coherently, is not easy, but Joss Whedon managed it beautifully in Avengers Assemble.
Now, three years later, the director is back with Avengers: Age of Ultron, where Captain America/Steve Rogers, Iron Man/Tony Stark, Thor, Black Widow/Natasha Romanov, Hulk/Bruce Banner and Hawkeye/Clint Barton battle against Ultron, an AI – created accidentally by Tony Stark – who becomes sentient and determined to gain peace in our time, via murder. Joining the cast of characters are brother and sister Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, better known as Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, who find that life is not as black and white as they thought.
Ultron clocks in at a whopping two hours and 21 minutes, and while it’s entertaining and enjoyable (it would take a lot for me to hate a Marvel film), it’s also bloated, a bit of a mess, and frustrating to watch. Rather than a conventional review, here are a bunch of thoughts about what I loved and what I hated about Ultron, in no particular order. Warning, lots of spoilers ahead.
-Whedon opens Ultron with an action packed sequence, which, like the other action sequences in the film, is adrenaline fuelled and great to watch. Personally, I think the action was done pretty well, showing how the Avengers now pretty much work seamlessly as a team now, in contrast to how they were at the start of the Avengers Assemble. However, on the action…
-what is with Marvel films ending with a fight in the air? Avengers Assemble, Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and now Age of Ultron have all ended with big sky-based fight scenes, and Thor also featured a threat from up above. I’m not saying it’s not done well this time round, but maybe Whedon could have changed it up a bit. It’s well on its way to being formulaic (and a little boring) now, and while all superhero films conform to a formula of sorts, the final fight scene is somewhere that a little leeway and some imagination can be used.
-in about 10 seconds Clintasha shippers will be yelling at me, but I don’t think Bruce and Natasha is a bad pairing. Sue me. However, while the pairing works in theory (and in fanfiction), it does not work in Ultron. The execution is pretty bad. The seeds of this relationship were sewn in Avengers Assemble, and sewn well, but in Ultron the romance lacks logic – Whedon’s script means the interaction between Natasha and Bruce is wooden, and the pair lack chemistry. It’s also not subtle, and there are lots of elements that just come from nowhere – the lullaby is ridiculous, and I’m confused as to the angst between the pair and the length of time they’ve been awkwardly flirting for. And the worst thing about the relationship is that…
-Black Widow/Natasha is largely wasted in this film. In Avengers Assemble Black Widow was shown to be capable, tough, intuitive, a world-class interrogator and manipulator, sympathetic, a team player. She was also, if you’ll remember, the first of the Avengers to work with/for SHIELD. And in Captain America: The Winter Soldier she was shown to be Nick Fury’s most trusted confidant, a partner, friend and teammate to Captain America AND Steve Rogers, and also someone willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. Her role in Ultron is to be passive romantic interest, or sidekick/support in a fight. This is hugely frustrating, and even more so when you remember that this film is a Whedon production, and Whedon has created some absolutely brilliant female characters in the past. More than ever, we now need a Black Widow film so that we can erase her appearance in Ultron from our minds.
-the internationalism was interesting, and whether it meant to be or not, it was a comment on American involvement in conflicts overseas, the country’s righteousness at times, and the way it likes to act as benevolent occupier. The Avengers, an unmistakably American force (despite the presence of Natasha Romanov), swoop in to take down bad guys, punish who they think needs to be punished, and act as rescuers to a poor, blighted people.
-and talking of internationalism, I’m curious as to where in Africa the Avengers went when they found Ulysses Klaw. There is a location caption, you say? Maybe so, but it just says ‘African coast’. I’m not amazing at geography, but the African coast is a large area, so it’s weird that that’s the only location we’re given, especially since not long before Wakanda (more on that in a second) was so clumsily mentioned.
–Ultron contained way too much world-building for other Marvel films, which felt too clumsy. Thor’s whole trip to see Eric Selvig because of his vision were clearly a set up for Thor: Ragnarok, and the lack of sophistication was obvious. And Bruce Banner’s stumbling over the word Wakanda (which really, not that hard to pronounce), was an obvious lead in to Black Panther. This is one thing that isn’t Whedon’s fault, since being part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe means you have to slot into it (although there were times Ultron completely ignored or contradicted the other films in the MCU), but Whedon could definitely have sewn it together a bit better.
-Peggy and Steve. Oh, my heart almost didn’t make it through Captain America’s vision. While Cap got little development in comparison to some of the other characters in Ultron, I did like the way Whedon decided to flash back to one of the most pivotal moments in Steve Rogers’ life, and one that never actually happened but we all wish had. Give Chris Evans an award for the way he looked so enraptured with Peggy when she twirled into his arms, and for the way his face just broke when he realised she wasn’t there. And give me a box of tissues to wipe away my tears.
-it seems like Whedon’s feminism disappeared somewhere along the road between Avengers Assemble and Ultron. Aside from the portrayal of Black Widow, there were a few other things that sat uneasily with me. Among them was Maria Hill’s description of the Maximoff twins as “he’s fast and she’s weird”, as though Wanda’s powers aren’t as important as Pietro’s. See also Tony Stark’s joke about reinstating ‘prima nocta’ if he becomes ruler of Asgard, which is completely tasteless; possibly Whedon and Marvel knew this, since in the originally released clip of that scene, the lines are different. Also, Natasha’s regret over not being able to have children, which would be fine if Whedon hadn’t portrayed her sterility as making her less of a woman (especially when contrasted with Clint and his wife’s growing family, who are just in another room).
-talking of Clint, I really liked Hawkeye in this film, and I liked his family, and his farm.
-is Marvel planning to release the StarkPad as a rival to the iPad? Because it certainly seemed like it, given the amount of scenes we had of people looking at something on a StarkPad, or handing one to someone else. What happened to the days of just telling each other things, or looking at files? (There is a nod to paper technology in a scene where the Avengers, badly, search through boxes of files.)
-“If you get hurt, hurt them back. If you die, walk it off.” A corker of a line, brilliantly delivered.
-so much sass in this film, and I loved all of it (even the bits that probably could have been cut to make the film shorter). I liked the “language” joke from Captain America to Iron Man, and its continuation throughout the film.
-James Spader is just brilliant as Ultron. That voice. *shivers* I just wish we’d had a bit more coherency with Ultron, who went from being born to murderous in a split second. Perhaps there are some essential scenes lying on the cutting room floor?
-TOO MUCH IRON MAN.
-I love the camaraderie between the Avengers, and really enjoyed (apart from the prima nocta comment) the hammer scene. I could have done without the party scene before it though – amusing as it was I’m not sure what purpose it served except to make the film longer/mean something else more essential needed to be cut. This probably should have been saved for the DVD extras.
-a good note to end on – Vision. I love Vision. That is all.