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.
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.
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!