Saturday, May 2, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron SPOILERS Review

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This weekend—at long last—saw the American premiere of Avengers: Age of Ultron.  Earth’s Mightiest Heroes teamed up again, first to finally end the Hydra threat by cutting off the (as of now) top Head of Hydra, Baron Strucker, and then to combat the “mad A.I.,” Ultron.  Along the way, the heroes are pulled apart and forced to reunite.  They are tested and tried, and eventually come out on top, but not without great personal costs.  Having seen it twice now, here is my (spoiler) review.

The movie begins in media res with the Avengers already assembled and going on missions together.  It is not specified how many missions they have been on, but I suspect there have been a number.  In fact, the movie starts with them in the middle of a mission:  attempting to take out Strucker’s base and recapture Loki’s Scepter.  While doing so, they encounter Strucker’s “miracles,” Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, when the Twins escape to confront the Avengers.  Captain America comments that they have faced “enhanceds” before (note the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. connection; we had not heard anyone call super powered individuals “enhanceds” in the MCU before Simmons proposed it this half-season), but nothing like Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch.  I really liked the opening:  we got to see how well the team works together, one of the things we didn’t get a lot of in the first movie.  In fact, if they were to “fill in the gaps” somehow with the year between Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age of Ultron (say, with that MCU-continuity animated series that they teased), I would not complain in the least.  At the very least, that would help us see how they grew to work together so well.

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The opening sequence also showed us just how vulnerable they are:  Hawkeye gets hit by an energy blast after facing off against Quicksilver, and the Avengers almost instantly start to close ranks.  However, it did not going quite according to Strucker’s plan—he thought they would call off the attack or at the very least become vulnerable.  In reality, Romanoff left the fight temporarily to tend Barton; Thor gave Barton a “med-evac,” freeing Romanoff to return to the fight; and Iron Man, Cap, and Hulk all more or less “went nuts” on the Hydra thugs.  That a couple of their number are shown to be so vulnerable adds to the stakes in the movie, and Hawkeye’s injury actually makes him feel more important to the team somehow.  Over the course of the movie, Hawkeye moves from being the “former mindless drone with the arrows” that he was in the first movie to becoming the “heart” of the Avengers.  He is the most vulnerable of them, his primary weapon is a bow and arrow, he’s a family man, and yet it is his drive to do his job which inspires the others (specifically Scarlet Witch) to keep on fighting.  When everyone else on the team is down for the count under Scarlet Witch’s mind control, Hawkeye is the one who gets them all out of the situation and brings them to a “little slice of Americana” to remind them of the stakes they’re fighting for and help them recover from the beating they’d taken.  I was caught off-guard when Barton introduced his family, but almost immediately thereafter I had to kick myself:  the MCU draws much of its comic book inspiration from the Ultimates Universe, and Ultimate Hawkeye has a wife (Laura) and three kids.  Of the original Avengers, Hawkeye is easily my favorite (and not just because he’s left-handed).  It’s too bad they really don’t have much merchandise for him.

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Helen Cho’s introduction as a scientist who has the ability to regrow human tissue was a nice bit.  She doesn’t get much more of an introduction than that, but it helps to explain how the human Avengers (Barton, Romanoff, and Stark) are still alive.  If one gets seriously hurt, they can simply fly Dr. Cho in from Seoul and she will fix them up.  That would have been nice enough as a one-off comic book character introduction, but it was better that she became a key part of the story.  Her process was actually used to create Ultron’s final body—the body which eventually turned into Vision, one of the definite standouts in the movie.  Vision begins as JARVIS, who was all but destroyed by Ultron shortly after Ultron gained consciousness.  Then JARVIS resurfaced as bits of protocol that were blocking Ultron’s access to the world’s nuclear launch codes.  Tony pieced him back together, and he and Bruce imprinted JARVIS’ “brain” patterns into Vision’s body.  The scene when Vision emerges from the cradle, looks at his reflection, and starts changing his appearance is pretty cool; the moment when Vision picks up Mjolnir and hands it to Thor is absolutely awesome—made all the more so by the party scene earlier in the movie when all the Avengers tried and failed to lift it.  The marketing made it seem as though that scene was going to primarily set up Ultron’s monologue about destroying the Avengers; instead, it turned into the litmus test for Vision’s acceptance by the Avengers (and especially Thor).  The gradual introduction of his powers—first flight, then technological abilities, then strength, then phasing, and even shooting energy beams using the Mind Stone—was very well done and very cool.  I especially liked the scene with Vision shooting Ultron, joined by Thor and Iron Man:  that was pretty awesome.  However, Vision’s character arc in this movie is not very fleshed-out:  His “prime directive” is the preservation of life, and that doesn’t change at all.  Of course, being an artificial being, it will be difficult for them to give him character development (even though Star Trek managed to do it a couple times).

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The other new characters—Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch—had far more interesting character arcs.  Pietro essentially goes from a punk kid with a grudge against Tony Stark, the Avengers, and the West, to a kid who is willing to cooperate with the Avengers.  Wanda is a much more fascinating character:  she has the same grudge against Tony Stark as Quicksilver, but her reason for joining the Avengers is far more compelling.  She actually feels responsible for Ultron—for his creation and his near-success—because she allowed Tony to take the Scepter, knowing that whatever he did with it would lead to his ultimate destruction.  When she realized that Ultron’s plan was to cause complete human extinction, she felt that she had to stop him, even if that meant joining the Avengers.  By comparison, Pietro is almost just along for the ride with Wanda.  I thought that their story was as well fleshed-out as it could be given the time constraints.  However, it definitely deserved to be much longer.  Pietro in particular needed more fleshing-out for his final sacrifice to be as meaningful as it could have been.  He and Barton had several run-ins over the course of the movie, including their “You didn’t see that coming?” back-and-forth.  However, why would he sacrifice himself to save Barton and the kid?  If they had included even a couple more shots of Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, and Hawkeye fighting together against Ultron—maybe even Hawkeye saving Quicksilver—that would have given his death a more compelling reason.  As it is, his death was still meaningful, and led to Wanda’s decision to join the team—her breakdown after his death was pretty epic.  They can certainly bring Quicksilver back to life, but I’m hoping that he will stay dead (or at least assumed dead) for a while (at the very least).  If they just keep on killing characters and bringing them back to life, death loses its meaning.  I want to see more of Quicksilver—that’s the tragedy of his MCU death/“death”—but that “cut short before his story was finished” element actually gives his death more meaning.

Most of the other Avengers did not get much character development.  Cap in particular did not seem to change much over the course of the movie.  He is certainly acting like the leader of the Avengers, but right now that is his entire life.  He clearly misses the life he could have had with Peggy, but that plotline doesn’t really go very far.  It only leads to him essentially deciding that retirement and the quiet life aren’t meant for him anymore.  By contrast, Stark goes through more character development, particularly after the twin horrors of creating Ultron and losing JARVIS.  However, he did not learn from that mistake and instead decided to create the Vision.  In his defense, if Vision had turned out to be another Ultron, it would only have meant that the human race was annihilated 15 minutes sooner; if Vision succeeded, they might actually have had a shot!  Regardless, Stark is still pushing ahead with his actions, heedless of the consequences, just like before the movie started.

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Black Widow and Banner received quite a bit of character development, particularly together.  We learn more about the Red Room and its “graduation ceremony” of sterilizing its girls.  This makes Romanoff feel like as much of a monster as the Hulk—it makes her job (including the killing) easier by taking away the one thing that could be more important than the mission.  In the end, she seems to understand that they can both still do good—they can both be heroes—even though they are monsters.  However, Banner and the Hulk do not seem convinced of that.  The Hulk helps to save a lot of people during both fights, but Banner himself hates to fight and believes that he is only a danger to everyone around him.  This makes him pull away from Romanoff, even when she is making her intentions clear.  This makes him/the Hulk decide to run away to a deserted island somewhere and stay away from people.  He’s not gone forever, but he’s not going to be around for a while.

Thor was especially shortchanged in terms of story arc and character development.  His primary purpose outside of the fight scenes was to connect Ultron and the Mind Stone to the greater forces at play in the MCU.  His Witch-induced vision is of Heimdall warning him of Ragnarok.  When he leaves the Avengers to go off with Selvig, it is to look into the “Well of Sight” (suggested to be the “Infinity Well”) and learn about the Infinity Stones.  Both of these things make sense within the story:  They are all coping with the aftereffects of their visions throughout the movie; Thor does so by trying to learn more at the pool.  However, I thought that the pool scene should not have been cut short.  His explanation helped it make sense, but a longer explanation was in order for something so far outside the “normal” of the movie (#AoUDirectorsCut, please?).

All of this is not to say that the movie is worse because some of the characters got far less development than others.  With as large of a cast as Age of Ultron has, the movie probably would have suffered if Joss Whedon had tried to give everyone equal development.  As it is, he did exactly what he said he would:  he focused on the new characters, the villain, and the characters that did not appear in the rest of Phase 2.  And by doing so the movie was pretty good.

There were some places where it felt like information was missing or it could have been expanded further.  A couple I mentioned already—Quicksilver’s sacrifice and Thor’s pool scene.  However, the “Science Bros” montages of Stark and Banner creating Ultron and Vision could also have been expanded.  Particularly their conversations leading up to working on both projects could have been longer and gone into far more detail—really fleshed out their characters and their motivations for doing what they did.  Tony’s motivation is pretty clear all through; Bruce’s is much less clear.  In particular, it was too easy for Tony to convince Bruce to finish Vision with JARVIS’ “brain” patterns.  After Ultron, I expected Bruce to resist more.

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In contrast to the characters with weaker arcs—and to other MCU villains—Ultron seemed like a relatively-well fleshed-out villain.  The method for his creation seems a bit suspect, though—did the bonding process succeed because of the Mind Stone?  Was Thanos directly involved in it somehow?  Was it just trial and error; “77th time’s a charm”?  We may never get a satisfactory answer to that question, though if Thanos was indeed involved, then we might eventually.  Once he was created, however, he was very interesting.  In contrast to most “evil robot” villains, Ultron is not fully logical.  He intends to give humanity an opportunity to evolve or else wipe them out, but he gives them all of half a week to do it.  How did he go from “evolution” to “the only thing left living will be metal”?  He behaves erratically.  He sermonizes like a Baptist preacher—did anyone else notice just how much religion crept into his speeches?  In contrast to Vision’s constant emphasis on the beauty and sanctity of life—however fleeting it may be—Ultron does not care about anything but himself.  I don’t know if Ultron will be back, but it wouldn’t exactly surprise me if he makes a reappearance down the road.  After all, in the comics whenever the Avengers think he’s beaten, he shows up again a few years or issues later.

The movie ends with all of the pieces in place for the rest of Phase 2 and then for Phase 3.  Barton is back on the family farm, but I’m sure he will be on call in case the Avengers need him again.  Thor is heading off to Asgard to find out who’s after the Infinity Stones.  Banner is completely off the grid, but if something major happens he’s sure to pop up again.  Tony is off doing his own thing, leaving Cap and Romanoff with a new team of Avengers at the “New Avengers Facility.”  I like the new team that they’ve put together:  Cap, Black Widow, War Machine, Falcon, Vision, and Scarlet Witch.  There’s a good mix of new characters, old characters, and formerly-secondary characters.  However, the one thing they are missing is someone like the Hulk who can take and deal a ton of damage without getting hurt.  Vision can probably fit the bill if he’s close to his comic book counterpart, but I’d expect them to have one more member like that.  I hope that we will get a chance to see this new team in action next year in Captain America: Civil War—if not before (how that would happen I don’t know, but I want it, darn it!).

The one thing I’m not as sure about continuity-wise is the “New Avengers Facility” and Fury’s helicarrier rescue.  Is all of this evidence that Fury’s had another group all along in addition to Coulson’s S.H.I.E.L.D.?  I don’t think so.  I’m not sure where the helicarrier came from, but I suspect that Fury the Pack Rat had it stored away somewhere—maybe even had Coulson storing and maintaining it for him.  The helicarrier crew looked to primarily consist of loyal S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who came together for “One last ride.”  The only two I recognized were Hill and the S.H.I.E.L.D. technician who refused to launch Project Insight in The Winter Soldier, but the others could easily be ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. personnel.  I doubt that many—if any—of them are from either of the S.H.I.E.L.D. groups that are fighting it out on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.:  they are probably too busy with their own matters right now to come out of hiding and help Fury with his helicarrier.  However, this week’s episode of AoS could very easily show them to be doing something very different from their infighting during the Ultron attack:  they could be sending quinjets full of agents to help man the helicarrier, or they could be protecting Lai Shi (“Afterlife”) from Ultron bots.  And as far as the New Avengers Facility is concerned, the two best explanations I can come up with are that either it is “Theta Protocol” or Tony Stark is bankrolling it.

Ultimately, this movie does not have the same tight character development and shocking revelations as The Winter Soldier, and the team-up isn’t quite as groundbreaking as it was in The Avengers.  Neither of these things is bad; Age of Ultron is an awesome movie in its own right.  It balances the different characters well, introduces some exciting new heroes and a fun new team, and offers an unforgettable villain.  The different fight scenes are absolutely incredible in their scope and intricacy and in how they showcase the heroes’ abilities.  The 3D version is well worth the extra cost—there are a few places where I felt disoriented, but most of the movie was enhanced by the experience.  The mid-credits scene with Thanos putting on the Infinity Gauntlet was an awesome way to usher in the Age of the Infinity War.  I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t an end-credits scene (maybe something with the Barton family?  The new team in action?  Hulk (not Banner—Hulk) sipping a martini on a beach?), but Joss Whedon did warn us, so…  Overall, it was an amazing movie, and I’m looking forward to seeing it again (and maybe catching Barton’s mumbled complaint after Quicksilver leaves him in the dust!).

What did you think of Avengers: Age of Ultron?  What was your favorite moment?  Who is your favorite new character?  Do you think Quicksilver is going to stay dead?

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  1. Great movie. I was overwhelmed by it and confused by all the naysayers on screen rant. I mean, WTF. This was better than the original Avengers by a good margin because there was more "story." It wasn't just about the action. There were things they had to discover and move toward. Very, very well done. Cap II is still my favorite, but this ranks right up there with IM 1, Thor 1, and GOTG.

  2. I have seen it twice and loved it more the second time. I can't wait for the home video release later this year when I can watch it on conjunction with the relevant AoS episodes.

    1. Me neither! I really want to watch it at home so I can stop it and rewind to catch everything.

  3. I have seen it twice and loved it more the second time. I can't wait for the home video release later this year when I can watch it on conjunction with the relevant AoS episodes.