In my opinion, there isn’t a bad MCU movie, there are just less good ones. Yeah Thor: The Dark World isn’t as good as something like Winter Soldier, but I still don’t think it was bad. Even the worst entry in the MCU has its merits, and is still an entertaining, well-made piece of cinema.
Which is my long-winded way of saying I’m not mad at Avengers: Age of Ultron, I’m just disappointed.
There are just so many miscues from the very beginning of the film to its end. The action prologue has the Avengers wiping out the last Hydra stronghold. In Winter Soldier Hydra was established to have corrupted both Shield and the US Government, possessed Loki’s staff, and had begun making their own enhanced individuals. They seemed fairly formidable. Here they’re taken down in an action prologue. Hydra’s gone. Bye-bye Hydra.
The prologue also introduces us to the Maximoff twins, Pietro (Quicksilver) and Wanda (Scarlet Witch). And they’re…underwhelming. Their inclusion and immediate jump to prominence after one post-credit scene is weird. I think their inclusion was mostly motivated by Disney wanting to establish dominance over Fox. See, in the comics, Quicksilver and Scarlett Witch are mutants (they’re actually Magneto’s kids), which means technically their film likenesses should belong to Fox. However they’re also both longtime Avengers, which put them in this weird grey area, which is a long convoluted explanation for why we had two movie versions of Quicksilver.
Knowing about that meddling from the studio and that director Joss Whedon faced a lot of pressure from Disney and Marvel to not only repeat the success of the first Avengers but to also make the movie execs wanted, it becomes easier to understand why Age of Ultron is a bit of a misfire.
Holy crap I haven’t talked about anything really important.
But that, I think, is one of the film’s big failings: there’s too much going on. The Avengers defeat Hydra, and Tony gets a scary vision of the future, so he and Bruce Banner kinda use Loki’s staff (which actually contains the Mind Stone, one of the Infinity Stones) to create Ultron, an evil robot/AI who has hastily forgotten daddy issues, then we’re introduced to Wakanda and the Avengers and Ultron fight Andy Serkis for a bit, and then Iron Man fights the Hulk using the Hulkbuster armor, then we’re at Hawkeye’s magical family farm thing and everybody’s arguing, Thor jets off to some magic pool of water and next thing you know, Ultron’s destroying Korea, everybody argues again, and then Thor swoops in, makes Vision, and finally Ultron’s lifting an entire city into the air to drop as a giant asteroid to wipe out the human race, and then the Avengers win and Quicksilver dies.
There’s too much.
The first Avengers was about putting together a team of vastly different people and seeing if they could overcome their differences to save the day. This one is about having good intentions but accidentally creating an evil robot which drives a wedge between your friends? I guess?
But like I said at the beginning, I don’t think this is a bad movie. It does have redeeming qualities. The characterization of the Avengers and their supporting cohorts is strong as always. The conflict between Tony and Cap is a nice precursor to their all-out conflict in Civil War. Tony hides the fact that he’s been working on a replacement for the Avengers and it results in the creation of Ultron. Cap believes they’re a team, and that they need to be open about everything. Bruce Banner and Black Widow have a relationship for some reason, which is fairly distracting. It stinks to me of the writers not really knowing what to do with either character, but ultimately I think they’re bonding over being used by their government saves this aside from being wholly pointless. And Banner’s relapse into the destructive Hulk and his decision to leave the team is as heartbreaking as it should be.
Ultron…oh what could’ve been. Ultron is a classic Avengers foe, an evil AI with terrifyingly human issues and motivations. And those do come through for a bit in the movie. At first, Ultron is driven by wanting to be better than the Avengers, because at the end of the day, they’re only human, capable of the same mistakes and missteps as the people they’re saving. He also resents his “father” Tony Stark, which manifests in this homicidal inferiority complex. That is, until the third act, where he’s just a generic Marvel villain who has an expendable army of grey CGI lackeys and wants to destroy the world. And it’s a shame, because James Spader gives Ultron this emotional vulnerability that would be so unique for an evil robot, if it wasn’t just lost by the end.
Hawkeye still shoots arrows, but now we know that he’s also a neglectful husband and father who constantly abandons his family on some remote farm in the middle of nowhere to hang out with his super pals while fighting super-Nazis, space aliens, and killer robots. Honestly, this film has done a giant service to making Hawkeye interesting.
As for the new guys, Vision’s cool but bland and shows up really late in the proceedings. Although he does lift Thor’s hammer, which is a great character moment. Scarlett Witch survives to the next movie, and Quicksilver dies.
The post-credit Thanos scene is disappointing in all the ways that the first one was exciting and ambitious. By now, villain decay has set in, and Thanos has gone from looming over the MCU like some menacing puppet master to being some big purple lazy guy played by Josh Brolin. “Fine…I’ll do it myself,” he says smiling and grabbing an empty Infinity Gauntlet. Dude, you gave away the one Infinity Stone you had to an emotionally compromised Asgardian, and the other time you almost got one, you were betrayed by the religious maniac you hired to get it for you. I really hope Infinity War makes Thanos as scary as he deserves to be.
All in all, Age of Ultron just tries to do too many things. In many ways I think it has many of the same problems that plagued Iron Man 2. The plot wanders around, the villain has an emotional connection to the hero/heroes which is almost entirely forgotten by the film’s climax, and too much time is spent setting things up for a later day. But I still like Age of Ultron. I like spending time with the Avengers and seeing them in action. So this film was a misstep but one that I think the creative teams at Marvel have corrected.