You all know what happened yesterday. Avengers: Age of Ultron, the latest epic superhero blockbuster in the series of low-to-middlebrow epic superhero blockbusters (and one weird little TV show) we know fondly as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, opened in the US. And I went to see it. I like the MCU, or most of it, anyway, and I went to this movie expecting to like it, and I did. If you are reading this to find a serious consideration of Age of Ultron as a film, in the context of the profound works the cinema as a medium has given to the world, please don’t bother. I don’t confuse liking a piece of pop entertainment with admiring a great work of art, but I do think there is a place for both experiences in the life of a reasonably intelligent person. So don’t harsh on my not-at-all guilty pleasures, man.
Some of the MCU series are better than others. I would argue that the first Iron Man and the period piece Captain America: the First Avenger are actually very good movies by any standard, assuming you have a taste for fantasy adventure in general. Many of the others (Iron Man 2, The Avengers, Winter Soldier, and last summer’s delightful oddity, Guardians of the Galaxy) are perhaps less essentially good but are still first class entertainments. I am not sure yet whether I will end up putting Age of Ultron on this second list, but it is a possible candidate with a fair amount of meat on it.
Before we get to the spoilers and MCU fan-fun, will this movie appeal it all to people who aren’t fans of Marvelworld and/or superhero movies? Yes, I think it will, to some. Fans of heavy action and special effects, especially motion capture, will eat it up. The Hulk is worlds better realized than he was the last time we saw him. Which leads to the second group of people who will want to see Ultron: fans of that very fine actor, Mark Ruffalo. The new effects enable him to play the Hulk as well as Bruce Banner, who he played so superbly in The Avengers. This double performance is by far the best thing in the movie. (Yes, previous installments have been all about Robert Downey Junior’s wonderful Tony Stark, and there is plenty of excellent Tony here as well, but his best scenes are all with Bruce and that’s Ruffalo’s doing.) Fans of Jeremy Renner and James Spader will also like this film. Renner’s solid and very human Hawkeye is the heart of the story. And James Spader playing a sarcastic robot who thinks he’s a god, and who may actually almost be one, is enough to make a dog laugh.
Everything else is behind the cut. Please, don’t click if you plan to see the movie and haven’t done so. It’s really better to be surprised by some of this. First of all, I am personally very happy because I got what I wanted out of Age of Ultron. Ever since I found out that the latest Avengers movie was going to tell the MCU version of the story of Ultron, I was hoping that meant we’d have the Vision added to the cast. The Vision is one of my favorite Marvel characters, and I’ve always wanted to see him interpreted in the MCU. And here he is. He is played by Paul Bettany, who has always voiced JARVIS, his makeup and costume are exactly right (very Kirbyesque), and he is just in general an excellent Vision. And it comes in handy to have him, since he’s about the only being who can stop Ultron.
Second, (and probably “finally”) it’s all Tony Stark’s fault. The whole world changing, city destroying, sarcastic god-bot Ultron mess is a direct result of one of Tony’s “good” ideas. We always knew that Tony was going to go too far some day with that prideful assumption of his that being a genius means he knows best.
Seeing it actually happen makes for a good story (RDJ wallowing in clumsily hidden angst = movietime fun for all). And then there’s the Hulk, who is always tortured by guilt by definition …this mutual angstfest is acted out in the best fight scene in the movie, the one in the African city between the Hulk and Tony in the Hulkbuster armor. But they do manage to find their way back to the classic “science bros” relationship that is a pillar of the team, and of course Tony manages to think his way out of most of it, with help of an equally tormented (and very sassy) Bruce.
Third, it’s impossible not to love Hawkeye in this. Not only does he give a young and frightened Scarlet Witch the all time great superhero peptalks, but he gives the whole story a second core by revealing to us (and all of the team except Natasha, his sister in everything but blood, who has known all along) his great (small) secret: a shabby-beautiful all American farm, and the family that lives there. There’s at least one member of the team who has something completely different from the team to go home to, and it changes things somehow
From the Age of Ultron notes:
- My regular moviegoing companion wanted me to point out that the first word spoken in this movie (by Tony), is “shit”—and Cap immediately corrects him for “language”. I agree, this is very amusing, and sets a certain tone.
- I never knew I needed to see Tony and Cap having a heart to heart while chopping wood in a farmyard, the old fashioned way, with axes. But I did, I did need to see that. Tony chops wood neatly and efficiently, like any good engineer, but Cap is really, really good at it.
- Poor Natasha. Really, how much can this woman take and still keep going? The answer is, a whole lot. The Black Widow is turning out to be as spiritually and psychologically indestructible as Cap, who she is beginning to strongly resemble. The super soldier serum will do that to you, apparently. (That’s if you, like me, favor the “the Red Room definitely used a Russian version of the Hydra experimental super soldier serum based on stolen samples of Erskine’s early work” hypothesis, which is definitely not reliable MCU canon.)
- In a related topic, come home, Bruce. Please. In a recent Rolling Stone interview, Ruffalo hinted pretty strongly that he would play the Hulk in a solo movie if offered the chance, and after the events of Ultron would be a great place to put it. The greying, aging Hulk that Ruffalo can play today (under the latest motion capture technology) is primed for his own story. Sentimentalists would like it to end in a homecoming.
- Wakanda! Fans of the whole Wakanda complex in Marvel’s comics will find plenty of hints that Wakanda stories are coming to the MCU.
- There is no greater cavalry to come over the horizon at the last moment than a SHIELD helicarrier with Nick Fury in the big chair and Maria Hill at the helm. And a full load of SHIELD flying evacuation barges. Of course SHIELD has flying evacuation barges.
- You’ll notice that my usual warning right above the cut to stay in your seat for the post credits scene is missing. The post credit scene in this movie is short and dull and not worth waiting for. 30 seconds of Thanos. What a snooze. A really good post credits scene (A shared leadership moment between Cap and Tasha? Clint at home? A hint of what is going on with Bruce? Something with Tony and Pepper?) would have polevaulted this movie firmly into that second tier list.