By: Dan Tomasik
Where to begin? The history of Marvel, the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the history of Ultron, the history of the Avengers, the history of Joss Whedon, or the history of this movie? Let’s try something new; let’s act like all of that never happened and treat this as a film on its own.
Characters; our avatars within a film. Good characters don’t necessarily make a good movie, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a good movie without good characters. Every character is a story, and within a good movie are a dozen smaller movies. One of the most incredible feelings in the world is sitting in that editing room with hours of movie in front of you and organizing it into the story for each character. It requires a certain degree of know-how and a great deal of patience, but if the opportunity ever presents itself to cut a movie into a series of smaller movies for each character using only the scenes that directly involve them, I highly recommend giving it a try. If it works, you will never see movies the same way again.
Avengers: Age of Ultron is a movie fueled by characters. Joss Whedon is a writer/director who treats character above all else. Which is not to say he neglects plot, style, theme, etc (he doesn’t); but he devotes a lot more time into character than most filmmakers. If an ordinary film might be able to manage two or three fully-developed character stories, Joss Whedon’s movies generally have upwards of six. For Age of Ultron; he’s pulled off 11.
Tony Stark/Iron Man: A tale of caution. Equal parts I, Robot and Frankenstein. Fear, brilliance, and losing control.
Steve Rogers/Captain America: A tale of betrayal. Lays the foundation for Captain America: Civil War. Patriotism, honor, and naïveté.
Bruce Banner/Hulk: A tale of madness. As much Jekyll & Hyde as Wolfman. Loneliness, love, and sorrow.
Thor: A tale of destiny. Resemblances to Hellboy and Oedipus. Strength, resolve, and powerlessness.
Natasha Romanov/Black Widow: A tale of love. Bride of Frankenstein meets Casablanca. Redemption, despair, and letting go.
Clint Barton/Hawkeye: A tale of defiance. The story of the little guy and the everyman. Ingenuity, rivalry, and family.
Nick Fury: A tale of resilience. Steve Jobs combines with Unbroken, starring Samuel L. Jackson. Defeat, mystery, and resurrection.
Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver: A tale of revenge. Think Mad Max meets Equilibrium. Anger, confidence, and protection.
Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch: A tale of discovery. If Buffy the Vampire Slayer was any cooler. Frailty, inner strength, and rebirth.
Ultron: A tale of righteousness. A dark and compelling take on Pinocchio. Birth, creation, and destruction.
The Vision: A tale of hope. The last occupant of Pandora’s Box. Death, insanity, and peace.
Everything one could love in a Joss Whedon film is in here. Clever banter, clever writing, fun details within every scene, and it’s friggin’ awesome. Here’s the thing though, it’s not actually the perfect superhero movie. It’s strange, there’s so (unbelievably) much to love in this movie, but some of the strongest aspects are also the weakest aspects. The perfect example; Ultron. From the first words spoken by the cybernetic entity that is Ultron, he has you. You are hooked on this villain. The blend of childlike wonder combined with the deep, addicting menace of James Spader’s voice creates one of the most astounding and magnetic (no pun intended) villains ever put on the screen. It’s so bizarre then, that the problem with Ultron is that there’s both too much of him and not enough.
Ultron begins as a sentient awareness within Loki’s Scepter. An artificial intelligence Tony Stark plans to use as a peacekeeping program around (and beyond) the Earth. A defense system that can be everywhere like Tony and the Avengers can’t be. Ultron’s birth, however, is not as tranquil as Tony hoped, and the program lashes out at Tony’s computer system, JARVIS, in its fear and confusion. From there, it takes Tony’s goal, “achieve peace in our lifetime” to heart. Regrettably, Ultron’s version of peace requires the extinction of the Avengers. It’s fascinating the way Ultron’s mind sees things, which only adds to the draw of such an incredible character. The problem is that a fair amount of Ultron is never explained. His armor body, for instance. While its origins are in a secret HYDRA lab, the particulars of the armor are never put into any great detail. What it’s made of, what its weapons are, everything is left up to the plot requirements to decide. Then there’s Ultron’s legion of Iron Man suits, each of which is also Ultron. The suits are basically there to be destroyed in a hundred different ways by the Avengers. None of them bears even a sliver of the durability or might of Tony’s suit. Be it fists, arrows, or mortal instruments, almost anyone can turn these suits into scrap. They don’t carry any trace of Ultron’s gravitas either. They exist only to serve and be destroyed by anyone and everyone.
That’s one of the issues with a blockbuster like this; if there wasn’t so much pressure to have an epic battle scene that features the Avengers kicking butt against overwhelming odds, more focus could have been placed on Ultron himself. Ultron’s most terrifying trait is his tenacious clinging to life. Being cybernetic, he can back himself up anywhere, no matter how many times he is destroyed. Which is not to say that destroying him is even a remotely easy task given his constant desire to evolve himself. But here, destroying him feels so easily accomplished, it removes a great deal of the menace. Iron Man can break him, Thor can break him, Scarlet Witch can break him, he doesn’t even try to get close enough to the Hulk to give it a shot at breaking him. Ultron is fragile when he should be invincible.
The action scenes are where the movie’s main faults lie. There’s so many and so much pressure to keep them fresh, creative, and a step above anything from the rest of the Marvel universe, that they’ve lost their personal touch. Captain America is mortal (if the toughest mortal ever), meaning he sustains injuries just like anyone else. Stuff hurts him. Not much seems to hurt him here. Same goes with Iron Man, who, despite the armored suits, never comes out of any battle without a thoroughly mangled suit. By necessity he’s using a new outfit every fight while the old one is getting repaired. Which model is this? No idea, it’s just another suit in Tony’s (really big) closet. The only armor worth mentioning is the Hulkbuster, aka “Veronica”.
That’s a lot of negativity, let’s talk more positives. The clash between the Hulk and the Hulkbuster is what sells this movie. It’s on a huge scale, yet also extremely intimate between Tony and Banner. It’s a worst-case scenario come to life, and Tony must walk the microscopic line that is incapacitating the rampaging Hulk without killing him, making him even madder, dying, or getting more people killed. With so much to juggle, it’ll be a miracle if he can manage any of them.
The new characters of Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Vision are phenomenal. In the ongoing debate about which Quicksilver is better, the X-Men: Days of Future Past Quicksilver or the Avengers: Age of Ultron Quicksilver; let’s put the argument to rest. They are both awesome. X-Men Quicksilver has a cooler fight scene, but Avengers Quicksilver has a great deal more screentime and development. And a cool accent. As for Scarlet Witch, she is the coolest version of Joss Whedon’s favorite character; the weak girl who finds inner strength. Vulnerable, sinister, unstable, helpless, and incredibly powerful, she’s friggin’ awesome. I am currently crushing on her extremely hard and will be watching every Elizabeth Olsen movie ever made. With Vision, the only way to describe his introduction would be breathtaking. It’s one of the quietest scenes in the whole movie, but there’s so much you want to know about this guy. He’s captivating, certain to leave you speechless but compelled to try and understand him. The exact nature and details of his powers are also left unexplained, but he’s so cool you won’t even care (much).
How about the old characters? Remember Hawkeye? Remember how much people make fun of him? He’s about to become your favorite Avenger. “What?”, “How?”, “Why?”, “Really?”, “Ugh, Hawkeye?”, “You just ruined Avengers for me!”. Shut up, see the movie, join the Hawkeye fanbase, pray forgiveness for every bad thing you’ve ever said about the guy. Thor is finally doing something interesting. For as long as we’ve seen him his issue has always been “am I worthy?” questions of powerlessness. Now he’s faced with a new question, “what does worthy mean?” with very sinister implications. Questions of destiny and whether or not he may be the instrument of his people’s destruction. Given how forgettable Thor 2 was, Thor 3 may actually be the best film in the series. That’s rare. Mark Ruffalo is finally getting the chance to depict Bruce Banner in his darkest moments, which without realizing it, we have desperately needed. Ruffalo is a great Hulk, but for the first time he gets to be a great Banner. Maybe the reason a Hulk film has never worked out is because it’s trying to put so much focus on a character who just wants to be unnoticed and left alone. Hulk and Banner work best as the outsider of the group, always hanging back and afraid to get too close to anyone.
As for Ultron’s grand scheme, I think Ultron himself puts it best, “when the earth starts to settle, God throws a stone at it”. The only other thing to be said is “wow”.
There are going to be many, many repeat viewings of this movie.