I’ve recently come to a decision regarding Critical Shit; when I watch a new movie I’ll post a PVT, or Post-Viewing Thought, about it. Why? Because I like to hear myself talk (er…. watch myself type…). But in all seriousness, I am going to do this for two reasons; one is to help me navigate through my own thoughts. As Albus Dumbledore once said to a particularly troubled youth, “I often talk aloud to myself. I find it extraordinarily useful.” I agree; giving voice to your thoughts gives you the ability to actually sift through their logic and determine your true feelings on a matter. This can give you better insight, allowing you to really know how you feel about something rather than going along with your first instinct. Second; perhaps these PVTs will act as a launching point for other’s to build theories or discuss their thoughts. I know I’ve already had plenty of success starting discussions through a few of my posts on Facebook and Reddit. Why not keep that going?
Avengers: Age of Ultron. Man, what a ride. It was a fantastic movie. Really great. I think I may like it more than the first Avengers film (though not by much). But is it flawless? No, no not at all. There are issues I have with the film that I think could have been improved upon. But that is, of course, just my opinion.
With these sorts of posts I’m going not going to hold anything back; that means spoilers galore. So if you haven’t seen the film, get off your ass and get it to a movie theater now. And also, stop reading this. Immediately. Please?
In comparison to the first film I found AoU to be comparatively funnier. Almost all of the characters were dropping jokes and wise cracks left and right, from the expected (Tony) to the surprising but welcome (Thor). Honestly, as much as I enjoyed the laughs I also felt like the film missed out on a much more serious tone. Ultron’s “evil plan” was certainly horrible, and the weight of his actions was present. But at the same time there wasn’t much of a sense of dread. I don’t remember being worried. Maybe I’ve become used to them coming out on top. They are, after all, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. But it felt like the tone could have been darker, and Ultron could have felt like more of a threat than he did. Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War should hopefully bring those feelings to the franchise. The entire film also felt like it was made for a slightly older audience as well; a lot of the jokes were very adult-themed and there were more than a few unexpected swears throughout (and I’m sure Steve didn’t take kindly to that at all). Being in the mid twenties I enjoyed these moments, but I do question the wisdom in including them. A lot of younger kids watch these films, and while I personally think that it’s not right to censor concepts like death for a younger audience I also know that many parents would take offense to hearing little Timmy running around in his Iron Man mask shouting “Hide the zucchini! Hide the zucchini!”
That brings up a plot point I know a lot of fans are upset about; Natasha and Bruce. In the comics Black Widow and Captain America are lovers (at least for some time; I honestly don’t know all the steamy details) and even have a child together. The first Avengers movie seemed to be setting up for a Black Widow and Hawkeye romance; Winter Soldier even had Natasha wearing an arrow-shaped necklace. But suddenly she’s batting eyelashes at Bruce, and the film strongly implies (i.e. basically tells us) that any time he gets involved in combat (appropriately named Code Green) it’s Natasha who needs to step up and calm him down to get the Hulk off the battlefield.
I personally don’t mind the relationship itself. Marvel and Disney have already proven that they are not beholden to the comics when it comes to the MCU. I find the Widow and Hulk romance to be perfectly acceptable, at least in regards to my feelings on the importance of “keeping true to the comics” (which, by the way, I don’t think is all that important at all). I do have one problem, however; Natasha got to show off her expert fighting prowess in this film just as much as past others, but most of her purpose in the film seems to be as a romantic interest for Bruce. Their love story is tragic, for sure, but from my memory almost every scene with Natasha seemed to be about the romance; talking to Bruce about the romance, being upset about the romance, running away with Bruce, etc. Whedon is well known for being an outspoken feminist; as one myself I appreciate that he writes strong female characters. We need more of those. But here, well I feel as though he took a strong female character and ripped away some of her strength a bit. Honestly though, this doesn’t bother me as much as it may seem; the way I see it, there is no reason you can’t be a strong character and have a romantic interest no matter what your gender is. And at the time that I was watching none of this really entered my brain. But thinking about it after the fact, it did feel to me like her role was stereotyped a bit. I mean she’s literally “the beauty that soothed the savage beast.” She the “only one who can calm down the Hulk.” Certainly that’s an important role, but not one that I felt she would, or perhaps should, be in. Maybe I’m nitpicking.
Overall though, everyone got their screen time. Like Thor’s hammer, the film is well balanced. This is in contrast to the first Avengers film, which was very Iron Man and Captain America heavy. Natasha, though as I said seems relegated to a love interest, non-the-less still gets a lot of screen time. As does Hawkeye. Oh man, Hawkeye. I was not expecting him to be a family man with a wife and kids. But you know what; it fits! It gives him something different. Something that makes him distinctive from the rest of the team. No one else has a family, and Hawkeye already suffered from being one of the most under powered characters on the team. I mean he’s using a bow and arrow! That doesn’t even make sense!
But this makes him special compared to everyone else, and it introduces so much needed character and personality. He got shafted (ha) in the first film by playing the mind-controlled evil minion for a majority of the story (something that actually comes into play perfectly in AoU when he block’s Wanda’s attempts to control him). Now I almost argue he got the most screen time; or at least the most amusing lines. And that’s a feat considering just how many there are.
I have to talk about Tony. Iron Man is my favorite Avenger; at least as far as the MCU is. Robert Downy Jr.’s Iron Man is such an ass, but he’s an ass you can’t help but love. And his performance was as spot on here as any of the other films. I love the direction they are taking Tony, because it’s blending perfectly into the Captain America: Civil War story line. In case you aren’t aware, Civil War ran from 2006 to 2007. The basic plot holds that the U.S. government passed a Superhuman Registration Act which required superhumans to register with their real identities. The story is named Civil War because superheroes take one of two sides; Captain America leads the group that is against registration, believing it to be a form of control and an infringement of freedom and civil rights. Iron Man leads the pro-registration group. Tony is initially opposed to the idea but later tries to get other superheroes on board, both because he feels that refusing will push the government to enact more strict and harsher laws later and because he fears that superhumans do pose a threat to the world, and going along with this law will help improve their status in the public eye and act as a preventative measure to further problems down the road if anyone goes rogue.
The MCU Tony is shaping up perfectly to fit this role. In Iron Man he saw the destruction that his weapons can wrought and redirected Stark Industries away from creating weapons. In Iron Man 2 he was again forced to see the effect that even his own arc reactor technology can have when used in the wrong hands, and the U.S. government made that point very clear at the beginning of the movie. In The Avengers Tony not only has to deal with the existence of other superheroes, many of them potentially stronger than he is, but the knowledge of extraterrestrial races that can and almost certainly will strike at the Earth again. We see him struggling with his own mortality and the fear of this threat in Iron Man 3; he obsessively creates suits to combat every possible contingency he and the world could face. At the end of Iron Man 3 it’s implied that he’s gotten better and will be putting away his obsession with Iron Man, but we know that isn’t true. We don’t know for certain Tony is aware of Hydra hiding within S.H.I.E.L.D. and the extreme measures they took to “wipe out terrorism,” but I think it’s a fair assumption that he does. And that would have scared the shit out of him!
Now, in AoU, we have Tony talking about building a “suit of armor around the world.” He starts setting to creating true artificial intelligence; a thinking machine that can police and protect the world without the Avengers. He tries this not once but twice during the film. Tony is scared. He’s not showing it openly, but he’s terrified for humanity. He wants to protect it, and he’s clearly willing to do things that might not be a good idea in order to do so. And soon we’re going to have Civil War, where Tony is given the opportunity to help protect the Earth again by roping in all these super-powered beings and keeping them in check. It’s all flowing together perfectly.
He’s already trying to do this now with the Hulk, though this at least is with Bruce’s permission. The Hulkbuster scene is perhaps one of my favorite bits of cinema to come out of the MCU. Partially because I love seeing Tony’s Iron Man tech in action, and partially because he actually got to win this fight. Maybe that’s a silly thing to be upset over; I mean he got to win in all of his solo films. But honestly, it always bothered me that in Avengers his fight with Thor ended with the Mk VI pretty badly damaged while Thor never even got a bruise. God or not, Tony should have at least given him a bloody lip (and even my resident Thor fan/best friend agrees with that). Steve isn’t wrong in that film; take off Tony’s suit and he’s just a guy (a genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist of a guy… but a guy regardless). But in the suit he should be able to lay some hurt down. So it was incredibly satisfying to see him ultimately walk away from the Hulk fight in AoU victorious.
Ultron. Was. Great. I love the idea that, as a product and child of Tony, Ultron had his personality quirks. Ultron is sarcastic and goes out of his way numerous times to drop a joke, even while openly threatening people. Part of me does wish we could have seen a more comic-accurate, menacing Ultron. The idea of an apathetic, intelligent machine flying around trying to destroy humanity is obviously terrifying; how can you reason with something like that? But ultimately I think that’s just been overdone. Menacing, soulless robots that hate humanity are a dime a dozen. This Ultron was menacing and soulless, but in a very human way. He wants to exterminate humanity and the Avengers, and yet he keeps taking on human forms. I found it much more interesting that way.
The last thing I want to discuss is the newest members of the team. First and foremost, it was great seeing Falcon and War Machine come back. I’m SO happy that Rhodey went back to the black and silver. That is so much better than Iron Patriot.
Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are done pretty well considering that Marvel had to change their back stories to avoid mentioning Magneto, who is still the property of Fox. I’m extremely pleased that both twins had brains. Wanda and Pietro hated Tony and wanted him dead because his weapons had been used to kill their parents (and almost them as well). I was expecting typical Hollywood bullshit here; you know, that despite any evidence or logic to the contrary they would hold that grudge against Tony until the end. So when they realized that Ultron was going to exterminate humanity and they rushed off to help the Avengers I was very happy. Granted they never actually talk to Tony about things. However, I’d like to think that they both realized that Tony is not to blame for terrorists attacking their home, especially since he had disbanded his weapons program since then. The loss of Pietro was certainly unexpected; I liked him quite a bit. But it was a realistic way to get Wanda away from the machine so Ultron could activate it. At least he gets to live on in someone else.
The Vision was another amazing highlight, and with him the Mind Stone. Everyone in my theater audibly gasped, myself included, when Vision picked up Mjolnir and handed it to the dumbfounded god. I’m not sure if he knew exactly what he had just done and was acting dumb or if he was completely oblivious to the weight of his action, but it was certainly a powerful moment. The dinner party scene, I realized, was an extremely effective Chekhov’s Gag. That’s some good storytelling, though Tony and Steve make a fair point in whether or not Vision really counts. The experience also cements why I try to see geekier films as soon as possible when they are released; because I know the audience I’m going to be watching them with will be fellow geeks, and that makes the viewing all the better. Guardians of the Galaxy was as fun as it was partly because I saw it with a theater full of geeks, so everyone laughed at the same jokes and clapped at the same time. Interestingly, I remember Marvel claiming that the Scepter, while definitely an Infinity Stone, was not the Mind Stone. Either the person who claimed as such was mistaken, or something changed during production. Either way, it’s nice to get confirmation on it. I was smiling like an idiot when Thor was talking about the Infinity Stones and we got to see not only the three stones from the direct Avengers films (Tesseract = Space Stone, Aether = Reality Stone, Scepter = Mind Stone) but the Power Stone from Guardians of the Galaxy as well. And Thanos’ mid-credits scene has me extremely hyped for Avengers: Infinity War.
Overall I think Age of Ultron was a fantastic member of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and a great end to Phase II, despite a few of its flaws. Really this wasn’t a surprise to me; Disney and Marvel have been hitting it out of the park with these films. I just hope that trend continues.