Marvel films are an interesting phenomenon I enjoy taking apart and looking at closer. Many people may say “This is fun, this movie is not supposed to be a paragon of progress, it’s a summer blockbuster! Why are you so critical?!” and to that I say “Why not?” We as a nation feed off of the images we are given and I think we deserve great work. I loved Captain America. The original Avengers was fun enough. Winter Soldier is a totally different beast but boasts some of the most solid work Marvel’s done yet. How does Avengers: Age of Ultron fare?
First, it must be said upfront that opinions on Joss Whedon as a writer and as a director right now especially in regards to Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) are obviously a hot topic and hard to avoid. I have my opinions. I’ve seen a bulk of his body of work. Binge watching Dollhouse does things to you. And yes, Age of Ultron definitely fits into his established canon style, along with all the associated pluses and minuses therein. Yes he can do good stylish action and funny banter. He can write nuanced women. But he is also a longstanding problematic writer too, documented, often in cases regarding those same women. He is both simultaneously. Is he responsible for all of Marvel’s shortcomings regarding Natasha? Well not all, some are systemic to Marvel Studios in general as revealed by Wikileaks and the Sony hacks, and their personal choices and stances, but that doesn’t wash his hands clean either considering he was both writer and director (I’m well aware he and Marvel fought over certain scenes, especially the farm scenes and Thor’s prophetic water-dip) on this film.
So yes, hold him and the studio (and merch companies) accountable for things. Open up discussion. As for Black Widow I have read up on the arguments for both sides regarding her treatment and can interpret the film both ways. Both Bruce Banner and Black Widow aspiring for normalcy of some kind (more-so the choice to have it or not) when it is nearly impossible for them due to their own individual circumstances is a very valid plot thread. For Natasha it’s clear that her being a hero, being heroic, is atonement. She’s like a Lady Macbeth, a person who can never get her hands clean of the blood from her past in her own mind (meanwhile for others the water has already has run clean) and so she continues to do right in the chance it may wash off for herself. Did they convey this the best way they could have? Probably not. Was “I’m a monster” awkward and open to be misunderstood if it wasn’t about her inability to have children naturally and was instead intended as a blanket phrase regarding her past? Very. Would Joss have benefited from a co-writer? Yes. Did I like the romance? Sort of? Does Black Widow need her own film and should have had one by now? Yes. And that’s where I’ll end that.
As for the rest of the film itself; how well does Avengers Age of Ultron stand structurally as a film?
Fun at times, but flawed from an editing and directing standpoint. It hits a lot of sweet spots for what you’d want from a summer action film and its plentiful Marvel Easter eggs kept people, even myself, wriggling a little in seats. In that sense it’s not a dud. The film crackles with a degree of energy and puckishness, which, juxtaposed with the superhero-brand violence and physics continues a distinct calling card tonally for the Avengers and by extension the MCU franchise. Said tone was a bit all over the place here, but if properly balanced as it has been in other films, it will be useful in differentiating Marvel’s films from DC’s forthcoming grey and rain-drenched cinematic world which I believe will have much less room for “fun”.
Avengers Age of Ultron‘s opening in particular was a fun, verging on camp romp with it’s over the top action and choreography. The Hulk take-down was properly bonkers. But, ultimately after leaving the movie I found myself perplexed regarding if I really liked the film as a whole.
Distilled down into moments it was certainly entertaining. Most of anything Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnsohn) did made me laugh. The Mjolnir fly-by ponder and grab? Funny. Hulk Buster satellite and gear named Veronica (oh poor put-on-a-bus Betty Ross)? Perfect. Ultron targeting Thor because he’s a powerhouse and “annoying”? Gold. Ultron himself? I’m split. When looked at as a larger piece it is not as seamless as the other films as pacing is somewhat…off. The last quarter of the film in particular suffered a sense of discord all over. To hear that there is likely nearly an hour or more worth of scenes on the cutting room floor is not surprising; it felt like it. Additionally, at least in my full theater, there were scenes that were meant to be serious or dynamic but instead the audience laughed, clues to perhaps some misguided writing or directing (or maybe even a bit of both).
It’s not life changing cinema. It’s dynamic, it’s popcorn munching, but Avengers Age of Ultron ultimately got lost in itself.
However, it has a lot of good thematic nuggets in there. Perhaps a “director’s cut” version of the film could remedy a lot of the pacing and meat-y bits that I’m missing.
How could it have improved? Here are 5 tweaks and suggestions that could have made the film even greater.
1. Have a Black Panther Cameo
You have Hulk wreck havoc in Africa in proximity to what we can assume is near Wakanda (but is not in fact Wakanda). Damage is equivalent to a major terrorist attack if not more. A brief video of T’Challa appearing on a screen post Hulk-bust having a news conference angrily berating The Avengers and Tony Stark for leaving so soon and handing everything off (not knowing of the Ultron situation) would have been a nice surprise and also set up any possible tensions that could later blossom during his official “cape” debut.
2. More “Hulk-bust” fall-out // Up Ultron’s Scare Factor.
Spinning off of the above, a more visible global response to the Hulk and Iron-Man battle with faux news (har har har) reports, etc would have been good. More tangible backlash against them as a group might have been interesting as they try to hide from Ultron which could be a good foundation for the Civil War atmosphere. Ultron doing his part by further manipulating the media and people to turn against them would have been compelling.
Ultron in general was surprisingly limited and small scale considering he was literally able to infiltrate the internet. He didn’t mess things up enough. While his giant rock pummeling into the earth causing mass extinction is insidious and mega-bad, he felt a lot smaller of a threat than the alien hoard flying out of a portal in the sky or an entire secret government task force being revealed as corrupt Neo-Nazis with killer big brother satellite intentions. Once the rock started to fly, yes that’s scary, but there wasn’t any other sense of pomp or chaos. Ultron’s constant quipping, which made great use of James Spader wasn’t given enough of an outlet. There are hints of Frankenstein’s monster and of course, Pinocchio in his desire to get a new body, to be “real”, but the torment of the former eloquent but murderous literary figure who is alone and aware of his unnatural-ness and alone-ness isn’t fully realized. We get a shade of that, when he tells Natasha he’s lonely, but it’s never quite fully explored from there outside of Vision confronting the last Ultron-bot.
3. More Ladies, More Representation
The lampshade joke regarding the lack of women and way too many men at Tony Stark’s party as quipped by Maria Hill in my theater was met with half laughter and half groans. It comes off as “Oh hey we know it’s really bad demographics wise, see we’re self aware!” and think that’s enough to skid by. It would be different had they had then solved that problem later in the film and perhaps revisited the comment to essentially render it moot.
It’s bad enough Betty Ross was seemingly wiped from Hulk’s canon. I know Hulk is not as popular (I certainly haven’t seen his film) but the glaring omission of her character as an established love interest and a connection to Bruce as someone emotionally invested is a lost opportunity on multiple levels considering her role in the comics. Small cameos from Pepper Pots (Gwyneth Paltrow) and or Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) would have been appreciated as their absences were unnatural given the circumstances (no angry video calls from Pepper?) and further lamp-shaded with awkward banter from their respective boyfriends.
While Agents of Shield features the first leading and supporting Asian women in the MCU universe, Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) and Skye (Chloe Bennet), Helen Cho marks the first entry of an Asian supporting lead in the films. She’s pretty important. Not only does she bear the name of Amadeus Cho’s mom from the comics, but she’s also instrumental (albeit while brainwashed)
in the creation of Vision ( (Paul Bettany). However, I wish she had been given a few more scenes. I also wish, and this is entirely self-serving, that she was the MCU’s Wasp, following the “Ultimate” universe version, adding two possible women of color to the roster of Avengers caped main players in this film (Wanda and Helen).
The problem with Helen Cho in Age of Ultron is that she just…vanishes. The last we see of her is after she was throttled for sabotaging things post-mind control. The Avengers come to her aid, she tells them where to go, and she is just gone from thereon out. Helen is, from what I can recall, not shown again until the end, when all is well and she’s working at the new Avengers headquarters. One of the people I went with, in which our screening was her second viewing, was flabbergasted after noticing Cho at the end and realized she had actually survived the film; she thought she died the first time she saw it. Where did she go from there? She helped create Vision. She’s just like Tony Stark in that she had a hand in creating an entity unique to itself.How did she feel about that? It’s a Dr. Frankenstein moment fueled by Thor thunder. Shouldn’t that have been explored more?
4. Make the small stone church featured a small synagogue.
Marvel has gotten a lot of flack for not casting a Jewish, Roma, or Jewish-Roma actress for Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) nor making mention of the twins ethnoreligious backgrounds in the movie. Since Quicksilver’s actor Aaron Taylor-Johnsohn is Jewish (many reviewers are scathingly erasing this fact and calling him gentile) an easy fix aside from actually casting an Eastern European Jewish, Roma, or Jewish-Roma actress for Wanda, they could have, at the least, made the church featured in Age of Ultron to be an old small synagogue instead. A simple comment from one of the twins while inside the building for the first time could then infer their backgrounds. It would have been an easy swap and a subtle way to add diversity to the roster even without access to Magneto.
5. Give the big finale (hey, how about the whole movie) to Scarlet Witch
Ultron states he has no strings to hold him down, but the real plot of the film are the strings that bind the Maximoff twins becoming undone. I think they should have opened AoU showing Wanda and Pietro’s experience in the war in their country and seeing STARK on the weapons. Then cut to the Avengers’ siege on the stronghold during the current day as they had it.
Tony also shouldn’t have been the one to deliver the final blow to the giant rock/city. Sure they gave Scarlet Witch the big “heart” ripping out scene, but the film would have reached a pretty iconic moment had they given her the ending entirely. They did a mini-outburst showing what she can do powers-wise when upset, but that wasn’t enough.
Scarlet Witch is supposed to be powerful. Very. Powerful. Imagine, Tony’s beam fails and all seems lost, but then Wanda, in a fit of rage and emotion (in response to what occurs towards the end) finally shows the extent of her abilities and wanting so bad to find justice, engulfs the entire city with her powers. She then literally STOPS the city from impact and sets it down back to where it was, or crumbles and tears it apart herself. Given Ultron’s Pinocchio obsession, the theme of puppets is also fitting for Wanda. She had been used as a puppet for so long first by Hydra as a guinea pig and then by Ultron and for her to have a “There are no strings on me” moment would have been such a great counter to Ultron’s own assertions of the line (which are in my opinion a false one, as he is following Tony’s zealous but flawed programming thus indeed has a string), since Wanda would in comparison truly have been string-free at that point, and then saves the city by controlling it herself, the way a puppeteer controls a marionette; the puppet becomes the puppeteer.
The film is an ambitious one and juggles a lot of characters so it’s not surprising things got pushed to the side and it got disorganized and tripped over itself in the process. However, it sets up some good things; the new Avengers roster consisting of Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, War Machine (Don Cheadle), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Captain America (Chris Evans) and the cyborg Vision is more diverse than the prior team.I think ultimately the best thing about Age of Ultron is the discussion it’s causing. Its making people talk, and talk a lot. Our pop-culture won’t change otherwise. I think that in itself is pretty…super. Talk with us. What did you think?