While our official, spoiler-free review went up last weekend, we thought that we’d take the opportunity to discuss Avengers: Age of Ultron as a group, now that the dust has settled and we’ve all had some time to think about it. I’ll be your moderator, and my panel (or Ultronsemble, if you will) consists of Deadshirt staff writers Sarah Register, Max Robinson, and Patrick Stinson. Spoilers on, true believers!
Dylan: First off, let’s establish a baseline. What’s each of your favorite and least favorite Marvel Studios movie so far? (Including this one.) What makes them good/bad?
Patrick: My favorite is The Winter Soldier. My least favorite is The Dark World.
Max: I agree with Patrick.
Sarah: Captain America: The Winter Soldier is my favorite by far. My least favorite might be The Incredible Hulk, but I didn’t exactly love Iron Man 3.
Dylan: How does Age of Ultron stack up, for you? Has it learned the right lessons from the series as a whole? Or is this a step in the wrong direction?
Patrick: I think it’s a very strong sequel to The Avengers and The Winter Soldier. Where it seems to fall short is in integrating various other elements from the other films, such as Iron Man 3 (Tony’s arc is recognizably advanced and yet has only as much to do with himself in IM3 as Avengers’ Hulk had to do with Norton’s) and the TV series. What this movie tells me is that we may be hitting the upper limit of the complexity of the “main” line of films, and it’s time to start branching into other paths like Daredevil and Guardians.
Notice how I’m mostly talking about other movies and series? Yeah me too. I enjoyed the shit out of this movie, but I have real reservations about recommending it as a standalone experience. I think we have reached the peak of the kind of cross-referenced filmmaking that The Avengers pioneered and The Winter Soldier advanced, because the cameos and nods were just this side of endearing…one more and they would have been aggravating.
Max: AoU feels like the point where Marvel Studios is going to reassess how they’re making these progressively bigger movies. This movie was bloated, especially compared to The Winter Soldier (which itself was packed with too much stuff) and even compared to the prior Avengers movie, that had some sense of economy to its action.
Sarah: AoU felt like a culmination of, well, everything. Every other MCU film was addressed in the dialogue or minor character cameos, and it began setting up elements for Civil War and furthering the Infinity War plotline that has threaded most of Phase Two together. The film trusted audiences to understand the inside jokes, which I appreciate, but god help any viewer that isn’t well versed the in movies to keep up with the plot. Despite being packed to the brim with action sequences, the film felt very character-driven and this was helped by the fact that the actors seemed very comfortable with their characters at this stage. As far as this film being a step in the right direction, it felt like such a mash-up and set-up that it wasn’t much of a step in any direction. The film did not suffer much from this, however, as it was still hella fun.
Dylan: In your opinion(s), what are the strongest and weakest elements or moments from the film?
Patrick: Strongest element was Vision vs. the last Ultron at the very end. Two sadly underdeveloped new characters somehow found time for a perfect moment that thoroughly earned the past two-plus hours of shenanigans and was a thoughtful, not-entirely-ripped-off rumination on what AI might think of us.
Weakest was Scarlet Witch’s various emotions at the end, that led to decent scenes in and of themselves (especially with Hawkeye) but were not telegraphed whatsoever by the last hour and a half she spent as a sneaky but hands-on villain.
Runner-up: Widow’s kidnapping was remarkably sterile as far as story possibilities went, since she had no connection to Ultron at all and was only “free” to be nabbed because she wasn’t needed for the first Vision scene. I wonder if a little rejiggering could have had Stark or Witch be the victims instead? Otherwise the scene should have been dropped.
Max: Strongest parts of this movie for me were Spader’s Ultron and Bettany’s Vision, absolutely. Spader playing Ultron like this psychopathic toddler version of Tony Stark was an interesting interpretation of a character who is often kind of generic. Ultron was also one of the few instances where Whedon’s insistence on quips worked. As Patrick said, his final scene with Vision was a really lovely moment. I wasn’t expecting to dig Vision but Bettany extrapolating his Jarvis performance in a natural way was so cool to watch. I also loved Andy Serkis’ Klaw (Klau? Klaue.), he makes the most of his short screen time and just commands that freighter/factory scene.
I thought the Black Widow/Bruce Banner romance was the worst single thing to come out of any of these Marvel Studio films. A clever idea that was executed in literally the worst way possible. It wasn’t compelling and it wasn’t earned. I’ll leave this movie’s… we’ll say “less-than-charitable” depiction of female characters to better minds than mine, but boy was that a waste of Linda Cardellini as Hawkeye’s barefoot ‘n pregnant hide-a-wife. The biggest issue with this movie is how much wasted time there is. The farm sequence, Thor in the cave, the party scene. I kind of wish there had been more studio interference.
Sarah: I agree with Patrick and Max that Vision and Ultron were some of the strongest elements. Ultron’s quirky personality surprised me, and Spader’s delivery was spectacular. The Vision was everything. EVERYTHING. Paul Bettany could not have been more perfect, in form or action, though I wonder if viewers unfamiliar with the character really “got” him. I love that he generated a cape for himself after admiring Thor’s, and, oh my god, the thing with Mjolnir.
The weakest element for me was the treatment of Ultron. The film had a chilling and robust antagonist on a silver platter, but everyone was so focused on the infinity stones or Black Panther bad guys or Ragnarok or whatever else the MCU is building to, that the movie’s actual villain seemed less urgent. Ultron was created and dispatched in a way that felt wasted.
Dylan: I don’t know about you guys, but one of my favorite things about Age of Ultron was how much focus it put on the Avengers working to actually save lives, rather than just fight villains.
Patrick: I found this to be, ironically, a cynical response to Man of Steel. I appreciate the plot whereby the Avengers had to EARN their hero cred back, however, the idea that Captain America and Fury could just sort of will everybody to safety is wish-fulfillment of the highest order, and it didn’t really cost the heroes enough to half-ignore an army of killer robots. Moreover, it served as a distraction from the fact that Scarlet Witch murdered half a thousand people with the Hulk during the previous reel.
Max: This kind of felt like the action movie collateral damage equivalent of Whedon’s self-proclaimed feminism. Lots of scenes of characters TALKING about evacuating cities but no one seems to care that the center of
Latveria Slorenia Sokovia is like….gone? And it’s explicitly Tony Stark’s fault? It felt hollow. It was still 9/11 destruction porn, it was just slightly self-aware of it. I will say Fury rolling up in the Helicarrier was a great moment, I wish they’d kind of just kept that as their major “Avengers save everyone” moment. Instead, we got boring b-roll of fake Eastern Europeans walking and sitting.
Sarah: Wait, was this not a direct jab at Man of Steel? Even in the first Avengers movie, the team was focused on saving people, especially Cap, but this time it’s in their strategy and dialogue for every major fight. Sequels going bigger always means more destruction, so at least they tried to address the issue?
Dylan: Age of Ultron was preceded by one of the longest, most aggressive marketing campaigns in recent memory. Was the Marvel hype machine its own undoing?
Patrick: No? The previews were great, they showed just enough and held back just enough. Peoples’ own expectations, those create backlash.
Max: I was hyped based off of the trailers. The trailers didn’t feature people sitting around a fucking farm and talking about having kids for what felt like an eternity though.
Sarah: Honestly, the premier date kind of sneaked up on me, so I must have missed out on the aggressive marketing campaign.
Dylan: There are so many characters in this film. Who stood out? Who felt like dead weight?
Patrick: Peggy’s cameo left me cold. I love the character and what she was doing there, but it pushed over that line of “WATCH MY SHOW ON ABC” to me. War Machine was great though–he had a part that he should have had in The Avengers, and if anything, I wanted to see him and Falcon MORE in this movie.
Quicksilver needed more to do. And Witch was always around, but we still didn’t see enough of her to explain all her different actions and facets. Was the point that she was crazy? Cause we didn’t even get THAT.
Max: My immediate thought walking out of Age of Ultron was that it was like the Marvel equivalent of Too Many Cooks. Whedon introduces or uses SO MANY characters and the movie suffers for it. What did Captain America have to do this movie? Baron Von Stucker serves zero point. They had to come up with a Thor mini-plot and, thanks to how much was cut, it didn’t make any sense. I felt like I was losing my goddamn mind watching this movie.
Most of the movie’s cameos were a waste, although I was happy to see Mackie back as Falcon for a few minutes and Cheadle’s consistently fun War Machine. The first Avengers movie did a decent job of exploring how these wildly different people would interact, AoU just felt like a movie full of people who hate each other trapped on a bus. I like the lineup suggested by the movie’s ending, where there are actual non-white people and more than one woman on the team. I’m hoping the Russos pick up that ball and run with it going forward.
Sarah: I already addressed the characters who stood out (VISION is EVERYTHING). I wouldn’t say anyone felt like dead weight, per say, but it did feel like they were struggling to find stuff for people to do. Thor’s plotline was hurting for a little more development, and I don’t feel like I ever really got a bead on Witch’s personality. There were probably about a dozen known characters that just cameoed in and out again just as a treat for the audience and not necessarily to further the plot.
Dylan: A debate has been raging online for the past week regarding the portrayal of Black Widow, her romance, and her tragic backstory. Some critics say that it’s grossly counter-feminist, while others defend her as being the kind of complex female character audiences are so often denied. Where do you guys land here?
Patrick: I have no answer I can compose to this that will not get me yelled at by either a close friend or a family member. So…maybe that’s my answer. I will say that I was pleasantly surprised that we got Romanoff scenes that were Romanoff scenes, not just her working Stark or Rogers for some noble goal.
Max: ScarJo’s Black Widow barely feels like the same character from movie to movie, and this was her worst appearance by a wide margin. The party scene where it’s all like psuedo clever banter between her and Banner was excruciating and didn’t jibe with everything we’ve seen before? And, like, look, I realize that these movies are first and foremost made for adults, kids second but I think forced sterilization as a plot is uh…maybe a bit heavy for this kind of material? The last thing I’ll say is that having Black Widow, the team’s super-spy, be unable to escape an iron bar jail cell is hilariously bad writing.
Sarah: I feel as though I fall on every side of this argument. I didn’t mind Natasha and Bruce having a thing as it felt reasonably justified in their interactions, even sweet, and I’m not even the type that enjoys love stories. Black Widow is the only Avenger other than Hawkeye who didn’t have a romance before this film, so I didn’t feel like she was forced into the plotline because she was the only woman, plus both she and Hawkeye got to have relationships, so everyone gets someone I guess? I also appreciate that she got to have platonic relationships with guys like Clint and Cap before this film that didn’t feel the need to become romantic.
I completely understand both sides of the argument around the sterilization thing, so I won’t try to unpack it (although I agree with Max that it felt a little heavy for the genre). It all boils down to the problem of Black Widow being the only female Avenger. Viewers seem to want her to be so many things but not things that feel too stereotypically feminine because they want her to be an equal, so it’s a difficult burden to bear for a character. Tony can be an asshole and Cap can be kind of a prude, and no one cares because they aren’t the only team representative of a certain group and are therefore not under the same kind of scrutiny that Natasha is. The poor timing of the debacle that is the Jeremy Renner press tour and the continuing complaints over the lack of Black Widow merchandise did not help.
Dylan: There was more than a little set-up and world-building for future films in Age of Ultron. After seeing AoU, are you more or less excited for Phase Three? What’s on the top of your excitement list right now?
Patrick: Maybe a bit less for now, just because we hit a peak and I expect things to get a little quieter and a little weirder (Ant-Man). I’m very hype for Civil War, but I have less of an idea or expectation about Infinity War.
Max: I’m still very excited to see more and more corners of this universe. The glimpses of the Black Panther mythology have me salivating. I’m just glad Whedon’s walking away from these movies, this was the MCU equivalent of Temple of Doom.
Sarah: My heart went pitter patter the second someone said (or mispronounced) “Wakanda” on screen. I actually surprised myself at how excited I got for the Black Panther movie. And after such a crowded, plot-tangled Avengers movie, I wasn’t exactly amped for the sequels until they revealed the new lineup, which I’m assuming will be the team in Civil War. I can’t wait to see Sam and Rhodey in the air together, and I needs more Vision.
Those are some of our thoughts, what did you think of Age of Ultron? Comment below!