Avengers: Age of Ultron is the only Marvel Cinematic Universe movie that I felt disappointed with after I walked out. I mean… I was bored with Dark World and really didn’t dislike Incredible Hulk until I saw other things and went back and re-watched it. But leaving Age of Ultron, and the expectations that pretty much all of us had going into it, it felt so much like it just underwhelmed.
It feels like it should have been an absolute knockout. They were coming off two of their best and most entertaining movies, the previous Avengers set all kinds of records, and it was directed by Joss Whedon before he got all creepy and had a pretty hard fall from grace. It featured one of the oldest and most sinister of the bad guys in Avengers history, and we were dealing with a great setup in Winter Soldier.
I mean, this isn’t a bad movie, it just isn’t a good movie. Even the sub-par movies we’ve gotten in the MCU have had fairly unique plots and twists… Age of Ultron is basically just an AI run amok story playing on basic tropes. The subplot of the movie, which is the cracks starting to form in the Avengers because of fundamental disagreements that we will see play out later, is superb. It’s just that the vehicle to set them up is so often dull or underwhelming.
What is so frustrating about it is that there is so much good in the movie: the interaction between the characters is as great as ever, the addition of the “new” Avengers is good (though squandered in part), and there are some scenes that are especially memorable. It’s just so damn inconsistent in just about every area.
The opening is a shining example of this when it comes to CGI is in the opening fight. When the movie starts the action is far away and the effects look downright cartoony and cheaply done. When the action gets close in and the twins enter the battle, the effects seem to improve greatly. Seriously, go watch the Hulk enter the battle and see how it looks when he runs in there… it’s a step back from the Ang Lee CGI Hulk, not just what we’ve seen so far in the MCU.
At points, the action in the same scene goes from amazing to just mind-boggling stupid. The stuff we seen Iron Man doing looks awesome, and I love seeing the play between his global technology and the suit. Yet at one point, Captain America jumps up, flips the motorcycle he was riding over his head, drops down standing with no issue, and throws it at a tank.
Look, I love Captain America in the MCU (and Chris Evans, for that matter), but he is basically “peak human being” and not a super or gifted or augmented or enhanced or whatever. He is simply the best that a human could be, and having him do things like this, or the nonsense he does on the Bridge in Sokovia, when Thor throws a woman in a falling car to him at mach three or so and he jumps off to just barely catch her, is just asinine.
Steve Rogers in this film is amazing, and I do buy the building conflict between him and Tony, despite the fact that it’s all swept under the rug at the end while they gaze longingly into each others eyes. Civil War was already announced, comes out a year later, and there had already been marketing that made it clear was the two of them in opposition. I remember seeing the poster for this in the theater I went to… the trailer wouldn’t show up for several months but it was certainly being marketed as a fight between Tony and Steve.
That’s probably my biggest issue watching through this… so much of what it’s setting up seems to be just trying to create moments, recapture magic, or build up things for future movies… only for it to take the cheap route or to throw it away before it’s done. A lot of the movie feels like Whedon trying to recapture what worked so well in The Avengers, especially in the last battle, and it feels incredibly forced at times to get to it. The whole spin-around battle inside the church when they are the core is a great example… that scene worked fantastically in the first Avengers, because the action flowed so naturally to it, but in this movie it was “okay everyone, come in for our signature shot.”
What is most shocking, though, is the things that were usually hallmarks of the directory just not working at all. The “romance” between Nat and Bruce is a probably the most famous of that… it had no basis in anything we’d gotten in previous movies. There is great chemistry between all of the actors, that’s why the scenes of them just talking are so great, but nothing about what was being presented felt right.
Worse, for whatever reason, the movie had to go and have Black Widow call herself a monster because she can’t have kids. I understand why Bruce doesn’t want to have kids, being full of green super juice and all… but Widow doesn’t get that. A lot of people were understandably upset about it, because it doesn’t add anything to the movie or the character.
It could just be that she can’t have children because she doesn’t, or doesn’t want to because of her own history… basically any other reason that doesn’t turn her into “a monster.” The same could be said about their whole romantic relationship; you could get the same effect in a trusting friendship between her and Bruce as you could trying to shoehorn a romance in there.
Sure, a lot of the people wanted to ship a Nat and Hawkeye romance, but I look at that as a great analog for friendship and trust, in how they had a certain intimacy as partners for a long time that didn’t need a romance to work. The reveal of his family, and his secret… that normal little thing, was awesome, and it did so much to reveal the trust between him and Natasha. She was the one who knew the secret, after all, and his family… and his family accepted her too. That gave us more of those characters, and where the trust was, in a simple little moment, than pretty much everything else.
Coming in to Age of Ultron, Hawkeye was the safe bet of the person Whedon had to kill. Somehow, he got that rep… probably thanks to Serenity or the first Avengers. Thankfully, that didn’t happen, because Clint was probably the best character in the whole thing. It really showed in this as well as the first movie how good Jeremy Renner’s comedic timing is. Come to think of it… maybe that’s the secret of the MCU compared to others. All of the main characters seem to have a firm grip of comedy, but are doing action roles.
The problem, though, is that there was a death, and it wasted a perfectly good introduction of Kick-Ass into the MCU. That they made him an interesting character, that had little hints of the comic character, is fairly amazing. Not because of any failing in this movie… but because the previous year gave us X-Men: Days of Future Past and a Quicksilver that was just brilliant in execution and just perfect in capturing that particular character.
Unfortunately, he makes a heroically stupid sacrifice at the end, pushing Hawkeye and a kid out of the way of bullets but stopping his own momentum in the path of the bullets. Really, go watch the movie again. He pushes Hawkeye and the kid out of the way but stops directly in the path of the bullets. I mean, it was a heroic act, but it doesn’t come off that way. It comes off as a stupid director trope to make Scarlet Witch mad, something that all my history reading comics tells me is an outstandingly bad idea, and relies on the character suddenly forgetting his powers in order for it to work.
Scarlet Witch, who was never called that in the movie, something that is fairly uncharacteristic of the movies (even if just in passing), was a bit better. The younger sister of the Olsen twins comes in with an accent, and it is vaguely Eastern European to match the made up country, which wasn’t nearly as distracting as I thought it would be.
I do like that she seemed to be the “brains” of their operation, which does sort of fit their comic story. It’s a convoluted mess, since they started as X-Men villains but quickly rolled to the Avengers as heroes (along with another former-villain, Hawkeye), where they probably spent far more of their published history. That was apparently how we got them in both Fox’s (now Disney’s) X-Men films and the MCU… they are just connected both places in pretty deep ways.
The other new character is Vision, who is basically JARVIS put into a meat body and given an Infinity gem. Remember, it’s too dangerous to keep more than one in the same place, that’s why they left so many on Earth (and apparently just didn’t know about the Time stone at all). I mean, he was more than JARVIS, but it was Paul Bettany, who voiced the AI, so I’m going to go with that.
It was a decent homage to the comics to see Vision created as a reflection of Ultron, since that was how he was first created before becoming an Avenger (seeing a pattern here… in the comics nearly everyone is an Avenger at some point). He comes in fairly late, so we have to get shorthand to trust him in the form of him being able to lift the hammer… which is enough for Thor, and then they go after the bad guy. That is really all there is to him… we don’t get enough time to get to know him, we only get what he says. It’s not bad, it’s just sparse.
It’s the villain that is the real failing of this movie, though. I have no idea how you get the menacing voice of James Spader and turn it into… whatever it is that we get. Ultron certainly has motivations… he wants to destroy all of humanity. We just have no idea how he got there so quickly. He moves from “hello” to “this is weird” to “hey baby… wanna kill all humans” in the first thirty seconds of dialog. He hates Tony Stark for reasons that aren’t explained, and is basically just Skynet crossed with a Twitter AI Chatbot experiment. There is no reason given for him being evil, he just is, and that propels the rest of the story.
Is he menacing? Absolutely. The Pinocchio thing would have been far more intense if they wouldn’t have tipped that in the trailer (a rare mistake from Marvel in crafting trailers). If they would have simply made him a force of nature, instead of trying to ascribe motive to him, it would have probably worked a whole lot better than what we got… but it was the motive that at no time makes any sense. He’s an unstoppable force because the story needs him to be, not for any reason that we’re given.
Worse, there was another Marvel villain set up, Baron Strucker, in The Winter Soldier, that is just wasted in this movie. He shows up, gives a joke, gets captured, and then is killed offscreen. That’s it… the villain that’s secondary to Red Skull for his role in the comics was just wasted as filler in this movie. It’s said that he was killed to keep a secret, but that is never revealed. I mean, presumably it’s the whole manufacturing center under his castle, because I guess the Avengers didn’t think maybe “securing the site” was an important step… but it’s never said. He’s just killed and then forgotten.
Like I said at the start of the movie… this movie is disappointing, maybe even frustrating, more than anything. I can clearly see that there’s a good movie idea here, but the end product is far less than the sum of its part. It sets things up for future movies, but tries its hardest to undue that work. It gives us some great banter and character moments, but then takes others that will just annoy people. It has great action mixed with eye-rolling action.
I’m not sure if my dislike of this movie explains why I couldn’t remember the LEGO sets that I knew came out with it, but I had to go Google them before I realized that not only do I own all of them, I reviewed almost all of them. Since that time, we’ve gotten a big monster of a Helicarrier (which looks good on the outside but the motorization options were just awful) and a bigger version of the Hulkbuster. Also, I’m still bothered by Captain America riding the bike in the ludicrously undersized truck battle set, when it should be Black Widow.
On that walk out of the theater what feels like ages, but was actually just four years ago, I wondered if the MCU was starting to show its cracks. Winter Soldier was amazing and Guardians of the Galaxy was fun, but Phase II was turning to be, overall, fairly disappointing. There was clearly good ideas and good concepts, but this was the first film where it just failed to come together when everything says it should.
It also had one of the weakest of the trailer scenes, in that it was setting up what we already knew was coming: Infinity War. We’d been introduced to Thanos, we knew the Infinity Gems were the Infinity Gems (Thor even explains that it’s coming in the movie and sees it in his vision), so it was mostly telling us what we already know. I mean, sure, it’s cool to see Thanos, but it has no real impact to the next Phase.
It’s the weakest of the Avengers films, and outside of The Dark World, probably the weakest film of Phase II (spoilers, I like Ant-Man more than I like this… by a lot). I’m was originally tempted to call this a three, because it did give us a couple of important characters, but so much about it fails that I’m dropping it to a two out of five.
Since there are going to be a lot of these reviews, and it’s nice to see how all of the movies stack up against one another, we’re going to add a little summary section for the Marvel Cinematic movies. When we’re all done, I’ll have an article that goes over my rankings of all the movies (which won’t necessarily reflect the overall quality of the movie in stars, etc, more of how it ranks within the total collection).
- Iron Man (2008) – 5 out of 5
- The Incredible Hulk (2008) – 2 out of 5
- Iron Man 2 (2010) – 3 out of 5
- Thor (2011) – 3 out of 5
- Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) – 4 out of 5
- The Avengers (2012) – 5 out of 5
- Iron Man 3 (2013) – 3 out of 5
- Thor: The Dark World (2013) – 2 out of 5
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) – 5 out of 5
- Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – 4 out of 5
- Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) -2 out of 5
- Ant-Man (2015)
- Captain America: Civil War (2016)
- Doctor Strange (2016)
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
- Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
- Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
- Black Panther (2018)
- Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
- Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
- Captain Marvel (2019)
- Avengers: Endgame (2019)