Age of Ultron

Avengers: Age of Ultron was released yesterday on DVD. First thing in the morning I went to Tesco’s and bought a copy. I used to pre-order them from Amazon but after the last Avengers film got lost in the post, on release day I go and buy a copy to have in my hand. It’s literally the one thing I don’t wait for, release day is the day I get the film and the day I re-watch it.

Yes – re-watch. I know I didn’t post a review of Age of Ultron back in May. I did see the film at the cinema but I was physically unwell at the time. By the time I felt better it had been a while since I’d seen the film and I couldn’t remember half of what I wanted to say. Therefore I decided to wait until I saw it again before writing a post.

Age of Ultron, the end of phase two, the end of the road that Tony Stark/Iron Man started us on. At the end of the film things are different, it’s evolved and it’s not going to be the same from here on out.

What did I think?

Real people, a note of realism
Something I like about the marvel films is yes they are about superheroes, but the people behind the suit seem like regular people to a certain extent. My favourite parts of the film, were the small moments between the characters. The party towards the beginning was a whole segment which I just loved. That was before it went into the “he who is worthy shall wield the hammer” competition, which was also made of pure win.

I’ve always been someone that likes background characters. Maria Hill was a firm favorite of mine, the second she burst onto the screen at the start of the first Avengers film. I confess I didn’t know who she was in relation to the comics at the time, but what I did know was that she wasn’t a cover star for the film. Therefore she could have been a casualty, the first time I watched The Avengers I spent the whole beginning begging under my breath for Hill to live. I thought she was awesome.

I still think she’s awesome and frightfully underused. Although with how huge the cast for the movies are, and their relatively short length compared to TV, no-one gets the screen time that they truly deserve. Now, the actress isn’t committed to ‘How I met your mother’ any longer, I had hoped she would become a regular on Agents of Shield. That dream seems likely to remain just that – a dream.

Anyway, back to Age of Ultron. The film started with a dramatic action sequence and to be honest I wish it hadn’t. I get that these are superheroes but the action had a fake CGI feel to it which I didn’t like. It was too choreographed, too slick and maybe too much green screen. I don’t know but it threw me out of my suspension of disbelief.

The strength of the first Avengers film lay not in the action sequences but in the character moments. Age of Ultron made everything bigger, there was more of everything but like the first film, it’s true strength lay with the characters.

On that note, it definitely didn’t disappoint.

More of everything
As I said Age of Ultron took the scope of the first Avengers film and cranked it to eleven. It raised the stakes, the fight went international, there were more people, more action, more everything.

Was that a good thing?

Yes, ultimately it definitely is. The message in Age of Ultron was that nothing can stay the same forever, that things have to change and evolve. Well the Marvel franchise can’t stay the same, The Avengers can’t stay the same. Change is good, change gives weight and meaning to the stakes, it raises new possibilities and it hopefully means that there will be marvel films for years to come.

However, at the same time, more of everything means less of everything. There was so much packed into the movie, that there wasn’t much of anything in particular. This is a fear I have about Captain America: Civil War, which given everyone who is involved might as well be entitled Avengers: 2.5, as pretty much all of the Avengers are reportedly involved to some extent.

I have always been more of a fan of TV than of movies. I love a good blockbuster because it’s so shiny and so exciting. It has a much bigger budget than a TV show – obviously, therefore they can push the envelope and deliver jaw dropping special effects. Now, I’m not saying that TV doesn’t do amazing special effects but it’s limited by money. If they do an amazing sequence in one episode, blowing the budget, then other episodes have to cut costs and it’s noticeable to anyone who pays attention to these things. However, the massive advantage TV has other movies, and why ultimately I’m a TV fan, is time.

The movie has to start, develop and then wrap up the story within it’s two hour-ish window. A TV show can develop a narrative over multiple seasons, sure the individual arcs will run for differing numbers of episodes. Ultimately though the fictional universe that the show exists in, has a lot more development time than a movie fictional universe ever gets.

What I loved about Age of Ultron is how much there was in it, so many details, so many people included, so much depth if you went looking for that. A complaint I have about the previous solo movies is “why didn’t the other Avengers show up to help out?”. Obviously they are solo movies so that’s why, but there was no in-universe explanation given as to why Iron Man had to fight Extremis with no mention of Shield backup.

There was no explanation as to why Iron Man, or Hawkeye, or even Thor (as Winter Soldier took place after The Dark World, so Thor was on earth) didn’t show up when Shield self-destructed due to Hydra. Well, here everyone was involved or at least mentioned. Pepper and Jane weren’t seen in the film but they were there in spirit.

What I didn’t like about Age of Ultron is how much there was in it, that there were so many people included. As I said above, the more there is of everything, the less there is of everything. Marvel’s big thing is that “it’s all connected” and I just want to see more of everything, and actually there be more of everything.

This is a common complaint of mine really, when I like something I want there to be more of it. Even with TV shows I complain if they have a large cast, as invariably that means less time for each individual character, for example this is the case with Once Upon a Time. I love it so much, I just wish there was more time to do each character, relationship, the justice they deserve. However, I suppose if they did that to my satisfaction, each episode would be an awful lot longer, or there would be a lot more episodes in a season. Something that just isn’t practical for a shooting schedule, given that the shows unfortunately have to bend to the realities of the real world.

Characters rule
I’ve already said the strength of Age of Ultron lay with the characters. When I watched the film the first time I was a little unhappy about how much screen time the romance between Natasha and Banner got. It wasn’t that I was unhappy with that development, even if I did find it surprising given that up till this film it had been established that Natasha was scared of the Hulk.

Given that Natasha hates being weak, hates being afraid, it partly makes sense that she has forced herself to get past that and perhaps in doing so, come to see the man beneath the monster more clearly than most would. However, it also would have made sense for her to have kept a normal reasonable distance, been team-mates but no closer than was necessary.

On watching the film for the second time, I guess perhaps because I had reasoned out why the romance made sense, I was ok with it but I still wasn’t thrilled. Don’t get me wrong if the film had been twice as long I wouldn’t have said boo, but it wasn’t. When I thought about what else could have been included, if they had done less of the romance, it was just a little irritating.

It appears I’m doing my usual thing when I care about something, I’m complaining about it. Please don’t misunderstand that, I thought Age of Ultron was a brilliant film. I could list every single thing I loved, but then I would probably list 95% of the scenes in the film. I think I’ve briefly mentioned all the awesome one-liners, but I can’t list them all because honestly I can’t remember them all.

I will have to watch the film a few more times before they all start to stick in my head, there were just that many. All the little cool moments, the looks between characters, oh merlin Tony and Bruce as science-bro’s, picking up on the promise of the end of the first Avengers film – all R&D, it’s like Candyland.

About the only thing that was sort of missing was Falcon in the end fight sequence. War Machine was there, I remember when I watched the film the first time I expected Falcon to be flying next to him. This was especially missed because when the new Avengers line-up was revealed at the end, Falcon was right there and he was the only one that hadn’t been in the fight against Ultron.

Oh as a random aside I wasn’t keen on the new voice of Jarvis, nicknamed Friday, the accent was nowhere near as smooth. Maybe they’ll change it, after all it could have just been a temporary pick given that Jarvis is now the Vision.

Making Hawkeye the heart of the Avengers was a good move. The team needed that, especially given that Coulson as ‘the glue’ is like the elephant in the corner. Loki killed him in the first Avengers film, he was brought back (with reasonable in-universe explanation) for Agents of Shield. However, his return to life wasn’t mentioned or even hinted in the film. Joss Whedon is on record as saying Coulson’s revival was a mistake, as it sort of undid the consequences, the gravitas of the finality of death that Coulson’s death scene brought to the first Avengers film. I disagree, purely because what’s done is done, he is alive again in-universe so having it unacknowledged is just awkward. Plus, if you want consequences Quicksilver died in action his first fight out as an Avenger.

It was rumored or teased, perhaps on purpose, that Hawkeye was the Avenger that was going to die. With the development he got, which was sorely needed given that he spent most of the first Avengers film as Loki’s mind controlled puppet, his death would have had a large impact. I didn’t know for sure who was going to die when I watched the film the first time. Seeing Hawkeye’s family made me scared it was going to be him, as it would have had a large emotional impact. Not that Quicksilver’s death didn’t have impact, for all that he was the new guy, sweeping in to save Hawkeye and the kid, then falling to the ground, that sacrifice resonated. Seeing the devastation from his twin sister, that helped it mean more too, as their relationship and it’s strength had clearly been demonstrated throughout the film.

The consequences
Age of Ultron changed the landscape of the Marvel films, the consequences of which the next follow-on film (Ant-Man doesn’t count) will have to deal with. The film also dealt with the consequences from the previous films, benefiting from the fact that this is a film series, to continue a narrative much like a TV show does.

“Ultron think’s we are monsters, that we are what’s wrong with the world. It’s not about beating him, it’s about whether he’s right.”

The destruction of the early phase one films was limited in scope. However, the first Avengers film devastated a lot of New York. Thor: The Dark World caused a lot of damage in London. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, more than anything set up the world that Age of Ultron continues with the destruction of Shield. It wasn’t just the hellicarriers falling out of the sky and destroying The Triskelion in Washington, the chaos spread to Shield facilities world wide.

All that death, all that destruction. The first Avengers film hinted about the coming conflict, some politician during the montage talked about holding them accountable, that this was their fight. Now, that battle was the Avengers saving the world from an alien invasion. No-one, not even Thor really, bore any responsibility for Loki’s actions or the invasion. However, the same can not be said for Ultron and his army.

Tony Stark created Ultron, or let him loose from the mind stone, he gave him form regardless. All the death, all the destruction that followed, is because of Ultron. I’m not blaming Stark, he was motivated by his fear, he had the best of intentions and it backfired. True he bears some responsibility but he is an innovator, and when creating something new there are always risks. If it had worked, and arguably when it comes to The Vision it did work in some respect, then he would have been celebrated for making the world safer. That was all he was trying to do, however badly it ended.

The same could be said for the rampage the Hulk went on due to Scarlet Witch’s mind powers. It wasn’t Banner’s fault, it wasn’t Tony’s fault either, for everything the two of them destroyed in their fight. However, the world in general just saw two superheroes battling it out, destroying everything in their path and risking the lives of all the innocent, ordinary people around them.

Actions have consequences, nobody is above the law. Someone has to pay, justice needs to be done for all the people that died or had their homes destroyed.

That’s the big picture but each character had their own journey. Back in Iron Man, Tony Stark became something more, he matured from the billionaire playboy and instead took responsibility for what his company had done without his knowledge. The villains of Once Upon a Time sometimes say ‘love is weakness’ and I think on some level Tony Stark would agree. He let Pepper into his heart, he loves her and so he fears losing her, the one thing he can’t live without. The end of Age of Ultron suggested that Stark would be taking a backseat in the Avengers for a while. He once said “I am Iron Man” and then at the end of Age of Ultron, he said about getting Pepper a farm like Hawkeye’s family has. I don’t think he meant that literally but maybe that he was ready to take another step forward. Maybe Civil War will mention Stark got married, or maybe we’ll have to wait for the next Avengers film for that.

Captain America, Steve Rogers, just always wanted to do what was right. He was a man out of time who joined Shield because he didn’t know what else to do. He acknowledges at the end of the film that he’s a soldier, that the man who wanted “stability and a family” went into the ice and didn’t come out. The sounds of training in the background when he said “I am home” just solidified it. I know Chris Evans has said he wants to move into directing, but given Cap’s character, I think the only way he’ll leave the team is if he dies. Until then, he’s the boss and Tony just pays for everything.

Natasha, Black Widow, considered giving up the fight in Age of Ultron. In the first Avengers movie, Loki referenced her past and Natasha said she had red in her ledger. In Winter Soldier she said that Shield saved her, or at least she thought she’d swapped sides and was doing good rather than evil. The Avengers, fighting to save the world, paid off that debt but ultimately she couldn’t walk away. Whether that’s because of the ties she felt to her team-mates, or because she felt a responsibility to do the right thing, or just pure self sabotage giving up her chance to be happy, I’m not sure. However, when she pushed Banner to make him turn into the Hulk, she chose the fight over any other future. For all she seemed to regret that at the end of the film, coming to face the four new recruits, I think she’s at peace with who she is and the choice she made, for all that she might wonder about the path not traveled.

Banner is full of self loathing because the Hulk is a killer and he’s not. If he loses control then he’s lost, he doesn’t want to hurt anyone but he is part of The Avengers because he wants to do the right thing. He knows he can help, so for all that it costs him, he suits up as it were until he couldn’t take it anymore. The end of Age of Ultron had him in a jet, had the Hulk seeming more sentient and smarter than we’d previously thought, leaving the Avengers for parts unknown. No idea when he’ll show up again, though at the very least I think he’ll appear for the next Avengers film. What, if anything, he’ll have to say to his team-mates and especially Natasha I don’t know. His time away will certainly give him time to think about the future.

Thor, is also taking a break from the team. This isn’t because he’s choosing to leave the team, more that he has trouble of his own on Asgard to deal with, plus he’s still working for the team while gathering intelligence on the infinity stones. Hawkeye is also on a leave of absence, again I think purely temporary because he’s just become a dad for the third time. He deserves some time off, to spend time with his family, but he’ll be back before Thor is. In fact I think he’s in Civil War, so his absence from the new Avengers line-up at the end of the film, is more an absence of body than of spirit. The team, is definitely seven members strong. Tony might have left, Hulk might have left and Thor has gone “extremely far” but that’s all.

The new Avengers, War Machine has been bucking for it since he promised “next time” at the end of the first Iron Man film. Fury offered Falcon a position at the end of Winter Soldier, he declined to work with Fury but only in favor of joining Cap on his personal ‘missing person’ quest, so joining up with his buddy is a no-brainer. The Vision sort of has to be an Avenger, it gives him some sort of status to protect him from the wolves of the world who would want to take him apart to see how he worked. As for Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye told her that if she walked out of that door she was an Avenger, she made her choice.

There has definitely been a shake-up, consequences indeed.

The film was awesome, I could spend forever and a day rambling on about it but I won’t. I know I’ve missed saying lots that I wanted to say, probably gone on a bit too much about certain points but the upshot is, it was a damn good film.

When I watched the first Avengers film I said it was my favorite, possibly one of my favorite films ever. Winter Soldier took the award for being my favourite Marvel film when I first saw it, I think it was the Shield angle, I would love to see more spy/action Shield. I want more Maria Hill, I love Agent May on Agents of Shield, I love Bobbi Morse and Hunter, more old school spy stuff and action fights from the agents. Unfortunately Agents of Shield often lets me down on this, making it the Skye show, something a certain friend of mine probably loves but that I really don’t. However, season two was much better, much more in line of what I hoped the show would be originally but it still isn’t the cool Shield from Winter Soldier.

That’s a bit off topic but what I mean is I loved Age of Ultron, it definitely ranks up there as one of the better Marvel movies, I would definitely put it equal with the first one, but newer in this case doesn’t mean better. It’s just as good, not better and Winter Soldier might still hold the rank of all time favorite, I’m not sure. Age of Ultron did have so much to recommend it, I think if it had been twice as long then hands down it would be my favorite. What holds it back is not enough of anything in particular, more development of everything please.

Oh and one last random note – James Spader as Ultron. I would be remiss in not mentioning this because it creates a small link between two of my favourite franchises, Stargate and Marvel. True James Spader was only in the original Stargate movie, not the TV franchise which I love, but a link is a link. With it being twenty years between the two movies, it was just really cool.

Anyway, how to end? Perhaps I should complete the last line of the movie – Avengers Assemble.