THE GREAT MARVEL MOVIE CATCHUP PART 11
Age of Ultron starts with yet another music video battle montage with all of the avengers from the first film on an unexplained assault on what turns out to be a hydra base where they have Loki’s sceptre (how? Black Widow has it at the end of Avengers) and also a leviathan from the attack on New York in Avengers and the twin mutants glimpsed at the end of The Winter Soldier all in one place. The fight is spectacular but, possibly suffering from watching all these films one after the other, it feels just like more of the same stuff we’ve already seen in Iron Man 1,2&3 and the first Avengers.
Like many other big budget action films like the Transformers reboots for example, the action here seems a little too smooth. The effects are good and I can actually focus on them unlike some of the earlier films but it is just lacking that edge of realism, everything is too slick, too smooth and too fast to be believable. This is probably a side effect of trying to compensate for one of my other complaints about the Avengers films which is that the team doesn’t get to be in too many scenes together. Perhaps there are some lessons to be learned from some of the earlier films where the effects blended into the live action a bit more effectively.
“Age of Ultron” seems like an unnecessarily dramatic title since Ultron doesn’t exist at the beginning of the movie and is defeated before the end. I guess it is used to tie in to the comic series in which Ultron has taken over the Earth.
There is a lot more banter and humour than in previous MCU films, even as the situation becomes more desperate. It seems like these films are taking a bit more of a fun direction than the (slightly) more serious earlier entries.
New enemies are quickly introduced: Scarlet Witch seems to be able to draw on your fears as well as read minds, manipulate large groups of people via telepathy, telekinesis, etc. The strength ans scope of her powers quickly escalates as the film progresses. Quicksilver…is very fast. That’s about it for his powers really. The pair are siblings who volunteered to be experimented on by mad scientists in the hope that they would develop powers that would allow them to avenge the destruction of their homelands. Scarlet Witch is obviously the favourite of the writers getting a much more robust character and more interesting powers than her brother Quicksilver.
There are some balance issues with the powers of the new enemies. One minute Quicksilver is being slapped around the screen by the Avengers and the next he is holding his own against Captain America and Thor. Likewise, Scarlet Witch is able to take all the Avengers by surprise, even Thor, and mess with their minds but Hawkeye defeats her easily. Ultron similarly seems all powerful one minute and goofliy inept the next. However these are all newly created enemies and are getting used to their powers and their opponents so a bit of variation in their abilities isn’t that unlikely but could have been handled with more subtlety.
Old enemies return too; Hydra and the Bad SHIELD organisation are working against the Avengers yet again(!) I know that they are among the mainstay evil powers in the Avengers stories but it is getting a bit repetitive now. Again this is possibly a symptom of watching so many of these films one after the other.
Tony Stark is still having issues with the alien attack and the wormhole situation from Avengers and feelings of inadequacy from having to work alongside people with genuine super powers. This leads to some spectacularly poor decision making and ultimately results in him actually creating their latest nemesis.
JARVIS takes a big role in this film which is nice. Having been an interesting supporting character in the original Iron Man, JARVIS has become more of a character in his own right over the next 2 Iron Man films but really comes to the fore here. Tony and JARVIS discover a “thinking” super computer inside Loki’s staff and decide to use it to control Tony’s legion of semi-autonomous Iron Man derived robots to protect the world from all sorts of aggressors; his long awaited Ultron project (which we have only just heard of right now!) Surprisingly to no one except Tony, this is a very bad idea and, in an incredibly over used plot gimmick, Ultron watches a bunch of you tube clips about war and takes the only sensible interpretation of Tony’s instruction to bring “peace in our time” and sets out to destroy everything.
Ultron is an interesting bad guy. He’s pretty whimsical and jokes around a lot and has very human mannerisms (more so than Thor or Captain America for example). He is single-mindedly bent on his one task of destroying the avengers but he often seems to be conflicted about achieving his goal though and often leaves easy opportunities for setbacks at the hands of the Avengers before finally committing to his task.
In order to help them combat the AI super villain that they created, Tony and co create AI super hero The Vision. The Vision is weird, not least because everyone seems to know its name without being told. It seems to be an all powerful super hero but gets a bit beaten up after his first victory and disappears from the story for a while before returning to the action to help with the defeat of Ultron.
The Hulk is raging again and this time it seems that only Black Widow can calm him down. Natasha seems to have feelings for Banner but Bruce seems, perhaps wilfully, ignorant of her affections. Hulk is so out of control that Stark has to use his hulk buster suit “Veronica” (another one of those long standing Stark projects that we have only just heard about) to fight him levelling large parts of a city in the process. Another spectacular fight scene that has no thought for reason or consequences. The hulk buster suite is pretty cool though. It drops in from orbit and wraps itself around Tony’s main suit. It also has sacrificial parts that self replace when damaged.
Why do they take Hulk on missions? We know that Romanov can calm him down and get him to turn back into Banner but no one seems able to control him while he is green. This makes him only of any use if they can drop him miles inside enemy territory and wait for him to smash his way out again.
It is a shame that so few supporting characters from previous movies get a look in here but I suppose there really are enough characters in this film already. Several female characters are especially notable by their absence. Pepper Potts has been Tony Stark’s constant companion across 3 Iron Man movies and the first Avengers but is barely even mentioned here.
Likewise Jane Foster, despite hooking up with Thor in Thor 2 is only mentioned in passing. The lack of Pepper and Jane is explained by them both being far too successful in their own fields to have time to hang around with their boyfriends/the avengers. Betty Ross on the other hand doesn’t get a mention at all as Bruce Banner’s girlfriend. It is a shame really as this could provide some depth to why he is so shy of the advances of Natasha Romanov.
On the other hand, Clint Barton and Natasha Romanov, overlooked a bit in the first movie do get to have more roles more equal to the more super members of the team this time. In fact at times it feels a bit like you are watching a Clint Barton movie. Despite not having a lot of screen time, it feels like he has a much larger role than in any previous movie. We get introduced to his family who we didn’t even know he had and he takes on the role of mentoring new members of the team and he even seems to take charge of the team from Captain America from time to time.
After an initial defeat, The Avengers go and hang out in a rural farm house. Going back to basics without SHIELD and without their fancy gadgets and tech to help them. It is nice to have a bit of calm in the middle of a sea of over the top action sequences. All too soon though Nick Fury turns up with a buttload of exposition to explain all the plot points that there wasn’t time to put into the movie because of all the choreographed overly slick action sequences.
Mind tricks and fighting drive the avengers apart throughout the film and they frequently fight each other foreshadowing Captain America: Civil War. But of course they must all learn to work together in harmony to save their friends!
The final fight is rather confusing; the avengers awkwardly divide their time between blowing the crap out of huge parts of the city and rushing to save civilians caught in the cross fire. Not only do they spend a lot of time saving civilians but they also spend a lot of time standing around herding them to safe places when they should let the police etc sort that shit out and get on with what they are good at which is destroying Ultron.
The theme of the infinity stones has been present but mostly hidden throughout most of the earlier movies. It was expanded on in more detail in Guardians of the Galaxy and is more detail here ahead of the upcoming 2 Avengers: Infinity War movies planned for 2018/9.
There is quite a bit more setup and exposition after the final battle is concluded that is obviously setting up for the next movie. It is nice to know that they have a long term plan but it is disappointing how often the films feel like they are setting the stage for the next one rather than getting on with entertaining us in a way that just happens to set things up for another.
Our friend Thanos makes a reappearance after the credits teasing a more central role in future stories.