The event of the year has now come to the theaters and it was a glorious event. While probably on pace to come close or equal the pace of the first Marvel’s The Avengers movie, it wasn’t without some blemishes. While I find the blemishes to be minor and not too tonally distracting, this was not the same experience the second time around. Marvel’s The Avengers Age of Ultron (AOU) is the cap on the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase 2 series of flicks that will lead up to the eventual showdown with Thanos in the 2-part installment in 2018. This isn’t a review, so much as an observation of what I saw, felt and how the story related to the comics or the universe Marvel Studios has been developing for over a decade.
First off, this IS NOT like the Age of Ultron comic book event (2010) in pretty much any way other than in name. Had it been, this would have been a much better time travel story than Bryan Singer’s sloppy attempt and they would have had to incorporate a certain adamantium bone-laced, Canadian with an attitude as he was central to the story. But since those rights will probably never be reverted back to Marvel while that franchise sadly makes gobsmacks of money, this simplified version will have to suffice.
Hank Pym v Tony Stark as Creator of Ultron
In the comics, Hank Pym (who is played by Michael Douglas in the upcoming Ant-Man movie) creates Ultron’s A.I. using his brain patterns and the machine rebels against his creator in a Shakespearean father-son struggle. Ultron is basically the Superego of Hank Pym made sentient. All the loathing, fear, paranoia and hatred that resided in Hank Pym, the scientist, adventurer and troubled man actualized in a maniacal, genocidal, metallic form. In the AOU movie, this storyline is transposed upon Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) as he tries to protect humanity from imminent and impending dangers of the universe and from itself. Tony’s desire to “protect” humanity is warped into creature that is basically Tony Stark’s suffering unleashed. He develops the idea of the Ultron A.I. to be humanity’s defense, but technology hasn’t caught up enough to allow him to complete his work. So when he finally gets ahold of Loki’s scepter with the Mind Gem inside, he finally discovers that last piece of the puzzle he needs to actualize his dream – true artificial intelligence. It’s not lost upon Scarlet Witch, and eventually Captain America (Chris Evans) that Tony’s “love” for humanity is almost as dangerous as Ultron’s hatred of it.
What we began to see in Iron Man 3, now in AOU and ultimately in the upcoming Captain America Civil War movie, is that Tony will go to ANY lengths to do what he deems is right for humanity. If that means he has to stomp of people’s civil liberties and maybe even hurt a few people along the way, he’ll do it. Tony Stark is a FUTURIST. He’s not bound by the here and now or sentimentality of morality of by-gone eras. He’s thinking about the long game, the future and the dangers that may come. Thus, it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise that he actually had a Hulk Buster uniform waiting in stasis just in case the Hulk went on a rampage one day. What we saw in the first Avengers movie was that the universe opening up 300 feet above Stark Tower scared him. It scared him bad enough that he’s in some form of post-traumatic stress and his Ultron plan was a decision made by pure fear – fear of the unknown.
Impression of Ultron
James Spader was the perfect choice for the voice of Ultron. His smooth, cocky and mocking tone was spot on. Now, I could have also gone for a robotic and tonally monotone voice as well, but the cruel humanity in his voice was appropriately creepy. I have to say that I didn’t mind the human-like face put on Ultron either, including the moving mouth piece, but I do feel that some of the sinister aspects to Ultron as this cold, heart-less, robot was taken away by humanizing him too much. There’s something to be said for a being that is so anti-life that it having this warped human-like visage makes it more menacing. With that said though, there were times when it worked out perfectly. One instance was when Wanda and Pietro were telling him their origin story and Ultron was just standing there intensely gazing at them in an almost consolatory manner. Appealing to their since of rage by visually and vocally sharing in their pain.
So ultimately, I liked this version of Ultron for his humanness, but secretly wanted more of the robot with the cunning and cruel, sentient A.I.
The Hulk and Black Widow Relationship
At first I was a little put off by this budding relationship. I thought the beauty and the beast angle was a little too “on the nose” and felt that a relationship of friendship centered on their shared abuse, misunderstanding, trust issues and inner darkness was more appropriate. However that didn’t last long and I felt that while it did feel a little forced at times, there was a space where I could see why they were attracted to one another. More importantly, why Natasha (Scarlet Johansson) saw something in Bruce (Mark Ruffalo) that she didn’t in other men who were better looking, more experienced and seemingly more suited for a woman of Natasha’s caliber.
I won’t say this was the classic “the nerd gets the hot girl” situation, but in many ways it was. As she stated, she recognized that they were both monsters of a sort, but the fact that he was a monster who could win but really didn’t want to fight, I could see how that dichotomy truly touched a part of the Russian-born assassin deep in the roots of her soul. I’m sure there was a sense that she found a man worthy of her and deeply wanted to have a glimpse into a possible reality of what she perceives as love.
Hawkeye, the Family Man
I’ve been trying to figure out for a while now which Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) was being portrayed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s no secret that Marvel movies, regardless of which company is telling the story, has borrowed heavily from Marvel’s Ultimate Universe (Earth-1610). When the Black incarnation of Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) made his first appearance at the end of the credits in the first Iron Man movie, it wasn’t hard to tell where they were going to (in part) pull some of their stories from. Even in the first Captain America movie, the last scene of Steve Rogers waking up in modern times is basically ripped right out of the pages of the first arc in the Ultimates comic.
With the reveal of Clint’s wife and children, I now know that this is a representation of the Ultimate Universe’s Clint Barton. In the regular Marvel Universe that we all know and love (Earth-616), Clint was actually married to Bobbi Morse, aka Mockingbird who is currently being portrayed by Adrianne Palicki in the Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series. So when he was on the phone talking to an alleged “old girlfriend” in the movie, a part of me thought that this would be the introduction of Mockingbird in some fashion to the cinematic universe. However, that’s not to be – at least not today.
What we really got to see was really how this non-powered, arrow-shooting, family man fit into the Avengers. Yes, he’s the least powerful member of the crew, but he’s the true heart of the team. His mini-speech to Wanda during the final battle proved once and for all that Hawkeye is as critical to the team as Captain America.
Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch
Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) were first seen at the end of credits of the Captain America Winter Soldier movie displaying their uncontrolled abilities. These two have a massive grudge against Tony Stark and everything they believe he stands for. Recruited as voluntary test subject for Baron von Strucker in his genetic tests, they are imbued with miraculous powers. Wanda’s ability to manipulate mind and matter are used to tear the Avengers team apart from within, while using Pietro’s super speed to inflict devastating damage.
These two were simultaneously a hit and miss for me personally. I think they made for fine characters, but I didn’t fully identify or fall in love with them. So when Wanda busted out of the building to come to Hawkeye’s aid at the end of the movie, I wasn’t really that moved. Nor was I that moved when Pietro shielded Hawkeye and a child from gunfire and sacrificed himself to save their lives. It was sad, but I wasn’t overwhelmed with emotion by the sacrifice.
I attribute this to the fact that Joss Whedon had a lot to get in to the movie and a lot that it needed to set up, thus certain character development aspects suffered for the swelling story that needed to be told. While I was excited to see them on screen, I was a bit underwhelmed by their presence in the movie. My only other issue was that with the death of Quicksilver, we won’t get a chance to seen him become the Avenger he becomes in the comics.
Unfortunately, X-Men Days of Future Past wins in the contest of who had the better Quicksilver portrayal, but not in terms of who had the overwhelmingly better movie.
To even think that I’d see a Vision (Paul Bettany) characterization on the big screen would have been unthinkable in the past. With the success of the marvel phased universe, they’ve gotten a little more brave and are bringing characters to life that are as consequential and important to the Avengers legacy as Iron Man and Captain America. Vision, in the movie, almost takes on a Jesus-like persona. As the perfect blend of organic and artificial inspiration, he’s as much a child of Ultron as he is of Tony Stark and Bruce Banner. With the aid of a modified J.A.R.V.I.S. (also Paul Bettany) program, Ultron’s A.I. and Asgardian magic, Vision is a being composed of the rawest elements of various worlds.
In one sense, his benevolent nature almost made me feel he was too good to be an Avenger. Meaning, I think the Avengers are just not up to HIS standard of nobility and they should be in revel of him. Vision is a being that loves life and while he knew that Ultron needed to be put down, he took no joy in destroying a being as unique and wondrous as himself. Created by Ultron to be the evolutionary leap in human/artificial life, he became something so much more. Also, donning one of the six Infinity Stones, the mind gem, his power is unimaginable.
Obviously, in the next Avengers movies, Vision will come face-to-face with the ominous titan, Thanos and there will be a reckoning as Thanos will have to pry that stone from Vision’s skull to complete his Infinity Gauntlet.
Ulysses Klaw aka The Black Panther Connection
I’m a little miffed that some of the scenes shown in the first trailer of what looked to be a Dora Milaje warrior or maybe even Shuri (the younger sister of T’Challa) wasn’t in the movie at all. We were introduced to Ulysses Klaw (Andy Sirkis), a plunderer and notable villain of both the Black Panther aka T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman cast), the Fantastic Four and Iron Man. Klaw, having already obtained a vital piece to Ultron’s plan, is a little different than how he was used in the comics. Klaw is well known to have murdered the former King of Wakanda, T’Chaka, when T’Challa was a young Prince. Having lost him arm in the skirmish with T’Challa, he replaced it with a cybernetic attachment that could emit devastating sound blasts. Over time, he actually lost his corporeal form and ultimately became a being of pure sound.
In AOU, the timeline is off, or at least it seems to be. He’s old enough to at least somewhat convince me that maybe 20 years in the past he may have run into the Wakandans and still killed T’Chaka, but I’m not so sure. I guess we’ll find out in 2018 when The Black Panther movie debuts. However, instead of T’Challa cutting off his hand, Ultron (seemingly not knowing his own strength) accidentally does the deed. It was sort of humorous watching Ultron fumble around in a bit of shock about hurting Klaw. It was almost like a 10 year old having a tantrum, punching the wall and accidently punching Mommy’s favorite glass vase into pieces – looking around in shock at the damage he caused.
So while we didn’t get to see Wakanda or any Wakandans, we were introduced to Wakanda’s most valuable resource, vibranium. Vibranium was partly the substance used to create Captain America’s shield because of its durability and ability to absorb the shock of impacts. Trust me, had Cap landed on his shield in Winter Soldier the way he did when he jumped from the building in the SHIELD plaza with an shield made of iron, his arm (even Cap’s) would have been splintered into a thousand pieces.
Some Aspects that Sort of Worked, but Sort of Didn’t
There were a couple of areas that just didn’t work for me. One was Thor (Chris Helmsworth) seeking out Professor Erik Selvig to find this magic pool of water so that Thor could go back into the vision he was shown when he was mentally manipulated by Scarlet Witch. Outside of a bunch of well-deserving ladies getting a chance to see some 6’5 hunk-a-hunk-a-muscles, it was sort of a pointless scene. It could have easily just been a series of flashbacks where he finally was able to understand the meaning.
Look, it was great too se Nick fury again, but – so soon? I mean, it wasn’t too long ago that he was burning his eye patch and slinking off into the night for a destination unknown in Europe. Now, he comes back to give a pep talk (that quite frankly I think really should have come from Clint) with a twinkle in his eye and a wiggle of his nose? This was the one movie where Samuel L. Jackson really wasn’t needed and was distractingly tangential.
Speak of the old, one-eyed, baldy; the helicarrier aspect was equally unnecessary. I get that the straits were dire; the city of Sokovia was just launched into the air; you’ve got 5 gazillion Ultron drones descending upon you; there are still civilians in the city that needed to be evacuated; and the only plan to save the citizens and the Earth was also one that would destroy the city and anyone still left on it. What do they do? Bring in the helicarrier. Besides the fact that that there was still one moth-balled and undiscovered, it was just a bit sloppy in terms of storytelling. It was a CONVENIENT save, but not a thrilling one. Truthfully, what would have been more epic is if Heimdall (Idris Elba) has sent the bifrost down and just scooped up the people at the last minute at the beckoning of Thor.
New Avengers Line-up
Okay. The Hulk, in an emotionally appropriate manner is off the grid, having taken the Quinjet to parts unknown. Hawkeye has hung up his bow and quivers and has headed back home to his incredibly pregnant wife and family. Iron Man has given up his suit of armor to try and find a life that doesn’t involve genocidal robots and alien invasions. Thor is off to find out who’s behind the resurfacing of the Infinity Stones and if now off world. Thus, Cap and Black Widow have to rebuild the team at their New Avengers facility in upstate New York. Adding Scarlet Witch, Falcon (Anthony Mackie), War Machine (Don Cheadle) and Vision to the team, they mean to whip them into shape and into the latest incarnation of the Avengers legacy.
Anyone that’s ever read the Avengers comic at any point in time knows that the team swells and shrinks, members join and leave, villains turn into heroes and vice versa all the time. So, this new crop of Avengers will definitely have their hands full and legacy to uphold. Especially with Vision as their strong man and Wanda as their energy manipulator, they’ve got a powerhouse team to replace the original squad. Seriously, just Google Vision or Scarlet Witch and you’ll realize that from a power perspective, they’re probably more powerful than before.
You know the original squad will be back because for the Avengers Infinity War Part 1 and 2, as they’re going to need all of the big guns they can get.
The Post-Credit Scene
After the initial credit scene we see Thanos (Josh Brolin) pretty much call off having intermediaries do his dirty work, Thanos dons his incomplete Infinity Gauntlet and declares, “Fine. I’ll do it myself.”
BATTEN DOWN THE HATCHES! HIDE YO WIFE! HIDE YO KIDS!!! THANOS IS A’COMIN’!!!
I guess now we’ll start to see Thanos get more directly involved in the collection of the Infinity Stones and pity the poor victim that stands between him and his prize.
However, it does beg a question or a few. In terms of the Power Gem in Guardians of the Galaxy, we know that he was directly involved with trying to procure that stone. We also know that Loki became one of his emissaries in the first Avengers movie, so the Mind (Loki’s scepter) and Reality (Tesseract) Gem was obviously in his possession. However, how was he involved in the discovery of the Aether (Reality Stone) in Thor Dark World? Was he the architect of the potholes in reality that led Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) to stumble upon the hidden artifact? Did Thanos have some hand in the Ultron A.I. program finally gaining the ability of sentience? If so, what was the end game? To have Earth destroyed because they dared to stand up against his forces and just claim the gem at a later point?
These are just some initial thoughts, but in truth, I’m sure the connections are nothing more than my own mind trying to find reasons behind actions that are mostly unrelated and just a story developing as it goes along. That’s okay because this has been a great ride, so far.
What a ride. In terms of starting MY summer movie season, The Avengers Age of Ultron set the mark fairly high. Now, I have to admit again that I wasn’t AS enthralled with this movie as I was with the first flick, but I find that to be acceptable. Mostly because I really didn’t know what to expect in the first film and I guess my “awe” was muted by having probably having significantly higher expectations for the movie than what actually occurred. Now, what occurred was significant and great, but I think due to a few lukewarm performances and a couple of unnecessary tangents, it didn’t have the same luster and sheen of the first movie.
However, I’d see this movie a second, third or fourth time if I had the time. This is why I go to the movies. If you are a DC Comics fan, a Marvel Fan, an Image Comics fan or just a comic book fan in general, this is your Golden Age. Enjoy and support ALL of the movies regardless of the studio or property because when it’s over – it’s going to be over for at least another generation or two. Ease your partisan positions and lock arms as the brothers and sisters of comic book geekdom.