Avengers 2: The Age of Ultron Review – Putting the Comic Book in Comic Book Movies

Avengers 2 is a big, bold, fascinating mess, and it feels the most like the experience of reading marvel comics so far in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What does it say about the state of Marvel Studios that the movie most immersed in Marvel lore is pretty easily the most disposable of the last three years?

If we’re being honest, we all knew Marvel’s incredible hot streak couldn’t last. Marvel Studios has been playing like Klay Thompson in the 3rd quarter since 2012, with 4 stone-cold perfect movies (and also Thor: The Dark World, but who’s counting?). Joss Whedon’s original Avengers completely stuck the landing, setting up a slate of Marvel movies through the next millennium. From there we got a fantastic buddy comedy (Iron Man 3), a paranoid political spy thriller (Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier), and a gloriously comedic space opera (Guardians of the Galaxy) that thrilled fans and critics alike.

Eventually you have to come down from the mountain.

Age of Ultron design
Come on down, Ultron!

Purely in terms of assessment, I liked Age of Ultron. The downside is it feels transitory, like we’re moving from point Avengers to point Civil War, or as Comic Book Herald readers call it, reading comics. This is the comic book style we all love, where it’s not a beginning, it’s not an ending, it’s smack in the middle of a never ending story. This is more difficult to sustain in film. The movie itself arrives stumbling like a freshly conceived Ultron, no strings, and undeniably shiny, but entirely unable to support itself beneath the weight of its ambition and greed.

What I find most interesting is how fiercely committed Avengers 2 is to the comic book movie genre. Look at those previous three successes again, and you’ll see Marvel Studios playing with a variety of genres. The method has given us some great movies, but it has also operated as a semi-embarrassed cover for the fact that these are comic book movies. “It’s ok to like Captain America 2 because it draws inspiration from the spy cinema of the 70’s!” “It’s ok to like Guardians of the Galaxy because Indiana Jones in space!”

We can’t just like comic book movies for being reflections of the greatest storytelling medium in the world?

In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Marvel Studios executive producer Kevin Feige had this to say:

Feige pointed out that people have long predicted that the superhero bubble was about to burst. “As soon as there are a bunch of them that are terrible, that’s when it will end,” he said, adding that Marvel’s movies actually span a number of genres. “I don’t believe in the superhero-movie genre. With Guardians of the Galaxy, we wanted to do a big space movie; with Ant-Man, we wanted to do a heist movie; Winter Solider, we wanted to do a political thriller. I’m more entertained by all of those kind of movies when there’s superheroes in the middle of them, so that works out for me.”

This causes some raised eyebrows. Avengers 2: Age of Ultron is the most purely “comic book movie” in Marvel’s catalogue. The Avengers fight the hordes of Hydra at Baron Von Strucker’s castle, Wanda and Pietro Maximoff show up to challenge their power, Ultron is created in a lab and has fierce rage towards his daddy, we travel to Wakanda to steal Vibranium (hey Klaw!), and The Vision is deus ex machina’d right into climax of the film.

“I don’t believe in the superhero-movie genre”

And what, pray tell, would you call Age of Ultron?

What the what?!

Ultimately, it’s not hard to understand why critics and movie-goers would look at Avengers 2 and scream “enough with the comic book movies!” Avengers 2 is for people who like explosions and comic book fans, and the third-party saving grace present in flicks like Cap 2 or GoTG is simply not present.

Iron Man in his Hulkbuster armor
The Hulkbuster of course represents the “Busting Hulks” genre

More importantly, Avengers 2 just doesn’t work as a self-contained story. As a comic fan, I love the way it’s bouncing off the walls trying to tell the Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Ultron, and Vision story in a single movie. I love that Age of Ultron sends us to Wakanda and Sokovia as only the Marvel Universe can. I love that War Machine just shows up to destroy Ultron drones, because seriously what else would take priority? Hey, I even love that Ultron is 100% just James Spader’s Red Reddington from The Blacklist.

But you can’t just sit down and watch Age of Ultron as its own movie. You have to have invested in the Marvel Universe, whether through comics or the MCU to date. It’s almost cocky in that respect. The movie begins en media res, and the come down exposition arrives in the form of Thor and Iron Man discussing their girlfriends, MCU versions movie-goers haven’t seen since 2013. This is Marvel saying “We know you love it” and diving in headfirst, and either they’re right (Yeah, you got me) or they’re dead wrong (Jane who?).

So, truly, I haven’t lost any faith in the comic book movie genre. Tell a great, tight story, and that will win out. Avengers 2 is a pure comic book movie that simply suffers from an overly ambitious agenda and a plot that wasn’t tight enough.

Disassembled Final Thoughts on Age of Ultron

1) Congrats to Baron Von Strucker on winning 2015’s “There is no Mandarin” award for the Marvel character most thoroughly wasted in service of the plot. He unseats Ronan the Accuser, who also won unanimously in 2014.

2) I may be in the minority, but I actually prefer Ultron to Loki’s performance in Avengers. I think that by the end of Thor: The Dark World, Marvel got Loki right (impossibly ambitious and deceiving), but Ultron came out of the gates menacing and with a surprise charm the villain hasn’t possessed in any previous incarnations. Every Ultron scene is a lot of fun, and one of the primary reasons I may return to this movie.

3) I can’t be the only one missing the Jack-O-Lantern smile on the final Ultron design

4) Anyone remember the Ultimate Universe animated movies from the early 2000’s? This could have been one of those, and I mean that in the best possible way.

5) Why change Slorenia (the country decimated by Ultron in “Ultron Unlimited“) to Slovokia?

6) Congrats to “He’s fast, she’s weird” for the best 4 word summation of two extremely complicated characters. I thought Age of Ultron did a pretty phenomenal job with Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, and I would have liked to have seen more.

7) Avengers Tower went up in the time between Avengers and Age of Ultron, and nobody on Agents of SHIELD mentions it? Huh? What were the Avengers doing all that time? They seemed to be practicing and functioning as a team, but… where?

8) It didn’t feel as egregious as romantic Gamora (*shudders*), but the damsel in distress turn for Black Widow was disappointing, and I really don’t think it served the plot in any meaningful way. I don’t really have any issue with a Banner / Widow relationship (haven’t seen it before, so why not?), but Ultron couldn’t have captured Cap? Had to be the tied up lady?

9) Avengers 2 felt like the first time I was just in the Marvel Universe, and not the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is fun for fans as they start breaking down more barriers and opening up the possibilities (they’ve slow-played traveling to Wakanda for years!).

10) It just me, or did the Avengers have a little too easy time straight up exterminating Ultron? This is a huge debate in the recent OGN “Rage of Ultron.”


What do you think? Another great entry in the MCU, or a step back? Do what feels right to you in the comments!

18 Replies to “Avengers 2: The Age of Ultron Review – Putting the Comic Book in Comic Book Movies”

  1. Regarding Point 7: Avengers Tower is just Stark Tower with the S-T and R-K letters having been knocked off previously (though I can’t remember if the A looked like that before or if they changed it for this movie).

    Regarding Point 8: Yes, I agree. I don’t think you can never put a female character in danger or anything, but her character definitely took a step back from how awesome she was in Avengers 1 and in Winter Soldier. The movie would not have been lessened if Widow had never been captured and the Avengers had tracked Ultron to Slovokia some other way.

    If you’re going to change Ultron’s origin anyway, I would have preferred having Hydra build Ultron, and then the rest of the movie plays out basically the same (including Stark and Banner working on the Vision). My S.O.’s only two criticisms of the movie are that the Avengers basically were just cleaning up the mess they created, and that the Black Widow came off as weak, and I think she’s right. Though I would throw in “Thor’s side-story was completely incomprehensible”.

    Overall, I still had a ton of fun with it, but it’s got issues.

    1. Ha I think I wiped the Thor side-story from my memory. That’s a great point. “Hey we better get the Asgardian expert and Stringer Bell in this movie.” I mean, I’ll never complain about Stringer in a movie, but huh? I guess ultimately it did lay the groundwork for Infinity War.

      If knocking the ST-RK out of STARK is how we got “Avengers Tower,” then that’s pretty clever and I’m on board.

  2. It’s amazing everyone is already talking about the end of comic book movies just because one movie was merely /good/ and not amazing. Come on guys. This was still way better than Thor 2 or Iron Man 2, and the franchise survived those movies too. I had a ton of fun.

    It’s not surprising to me that Avengers gets to be the pure comic book movie. After all, it’s the team-up movie. What possible other genre is there when you bring all of these characters together? It’s the same as events in the comics. Various series pooling together for lot’s of explosions and mayhem, while the best stories are still told in the individual character’s runs.

    1. I think I’ve developed “comic book fatigue” fatigue. Pretty tiresome, and way too many reviews about “too many comic book movies” could have been written with Age of Ultron sight unseen.

      That’s a good point about Avengers always playing to the comic book genre. Only suitable replacement I can think of would be Ocean’s 11 style, which for the record, I would support 100%.

  3. Agree wholeheartedly about Point 8, although she did also get what for me was the high point of the movie (her flashbacks, punctuated by the line “You think you’re the only monster on this team?”)

    I feel that this movie seemed very sloppily thrown together in comparison to the first one. I wasn’t surprised at all when the story broke about Whedon and Marvel Studios clashing on certain scenes (and I can only imagine what other things they clashed on which are as yet unrevealed.)

    I hated this Ultron with a passion. I’ve never been a major Ultron fan (although I love his Silver Age appearances), but I felt that Spader’s performance was all smug, wink-wink pseudo-irony.

    Avengers Ocean’s 11 style as in Peter David’s X-Factor or Ocean’s 11 style as in Keith Giffen’s JLI? If it’s the former, I’m in favor. If it’s the latter, I’m not.

    1. Spader’s got one speed, and that speed is smug. It’s a weird fit for Ultron on paper, but personally I liked the flavor it added. Plus, I’m a Spader fan from Blacklist, so I was prepped.

      … Peter David’s X-Factor. Definitely.

      1. Honestly, I’ve read every ultron story, except for the bendis post civil war one, and I really thought spader was amazing. Maybe the best example of “bringing a character to life from the pages” that I’ve seen. He was almost better than in the comics

        1. This Ultron is extremely fun, I totally agree. Ultron in the comics is tough to pull off. The best villains have some charisma, and that’s difficult with cold murder robots. Or so I hear 🙂

  4. Living outside the US i had more time and watched the movie 3 times.

    “Hey, I even love that Ultron is 100% just James Spader’s Red Reddington from The Blacklist.” This was the thing on my mind all the time and It was awesome everytime.

    Next business…

    Think Ultron is too big for right now in the movies, he felt weak. He deserved a bigger scale on the balance of power.
    They tried to tell too much in a short of time.

    The 7) bothered me, more because of the TV Show, it was fun to see for the third time the movie after watching the las episode of Shield, the idea of the mission was good, and that like only Coulson knew “the stuff behind the curtain”.
    But the Avengers should be common knowledge in the same universe as the series, all the changes and activities. Maybe in the future.

    Now we wait, i believe that the next movie that will add anything to the main story is going to be Dr Strange or Ragnarok.

    We cant expect to be the same as the comics, but im enjoying myself with all everything they are trowing at me. So keep it coming.

    1. Agree they shot for too much in too short a time. Seems to be one of the biggest pitfalls of the genre, as X-Men: The Last Stand and Spider-Man 3 (*shudders*) can attest.

      It will be interesting if Ant-Man really develops the universe in any meaningful way. People have to start powering up for the next Cap movie, meaning maybe this focuses on powered technology, a la Pym Particles and Stark armor?

  5. Wakanda was mentioned, but we still haven’t been there in the movies. The battle with the future Klaw were not set in Wakanda, but a generic location on the African coast. He had smuggled the vibranium out of Wakanda.

  6. I loved it. Cap’s “language”, Veronica, Quicksilver (would really liked to have seen more of him, he was great), everything Hawkeye, my heart breaking as The Hulk sat in the jet flying away, Spader was amazing, The Vision makes me super excited for more Avengers, The Hammer/party scene and the massive payoff with The Vision, “If it’s too heavy you lose power on the swing”, Andy Serkis stole the scene he was in.

    I had a great time. If I had any complaints it’s that I’m sick of the Tony/Steve butting heads (ironic considering I’m excited for Civil War), I think it would have been a much bigger emotional pay off to kill Hawkeye (plus I wanted to keep Quicksilver around) and I Nick Fury going from “in hiding” to “I have a helicarrier” was a bit jarring.

    I think I have the advantage of only recently (six months or so) starting reading comics. Much like Game of Thrones, I think people that know the source material enjoy it less.

    Anyway, seeing it again this weekend and devo that we need to wait so long between movies!!

    1. Andy Serkis was really good! That’s a takeaway a lot of people missed, but I”m excited to see him again in this universe.

      I actually think knowing the source material made this movie more enjoyable for me. If Game of Thrones introduced Ultron, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Vision, and “ill-defined expert geneticist doctor” in one episode, I’d lose my mind 🙂

  7. Maybe i’m seeing the Black Widow from another perspective, but I think she’s still a badass because she’s the only one that has the courage to have the Hulk in front of her, without an armor, and trying to calm him down. Also when Banner wants to escape from the battle she says “I adore you… But I need the other guy” and forces Banner to transform. I think she’s the same badass, only found someone she can trust because she feels like a monster too.

    Also, great review!

  8. I loved the movie, but i think they should have at least split the movie into two parts. There were a lot of new important players introduced without much depth.

    They also made Wanda look like a regular mid-tier hero. I hope they explore her powers more.

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