Written by Joss Whedon.
Avengers: age of Ultron kicks-off Phase Three. Not Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but of this blog, as I explained in the previous post. That means I now credit writers, not just screenwriters, and posters are used in place of title cards.
But Avengers: age of Ultron does serve as the penultimate installment of Phase Two. Why Marvel chose to make Ant-Man the finale is a complete mystery, but I’m sure we’ll find out.
And that’s the key point with Avengers: age of Ultron. Some view the Avengers as the main events of the series, others as fun get-togethers after every few installments. Whatever they are, Whedon’s treating this one as a briefing on the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s current state. There are a lot of things to tie together of Phase Two, and lots of things are set in place for Phase Three. It’s the task here to provide each Avenger with some character development, and then give them a reason to depart, remain in or join the New Avengers, who are established at the end.
In Marvel’s the Avengers, the Avengers consists of Iron Man, Hulk, Black Widow, Thor, Hawkeye and Captain America. By the end of Avengers: age of Ultron, the New Avengers are Captain America, Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, War Machine, Falcon and Vision. Plus, there’s the villain, Ultron. So that’s a lot to talk about.
It’s really Ultron that binds these characters together. The most important thing in a sequel is an antagonist that’s more personally connected to the protagonists, in order to impact them more and give them the most character development.
Ultron’s created through a combination of things which aren’t that thematically important, but the result is those things creating a solution to the world’s problems: a diagnosis. Nobody really knows what they’re doing, and an understanding of why could help the world. Unfortunately, Ultron decides that helping Humanity means giving it a boost; creating an environment of Darwinist competition to help Homo Sapiens evolve in a survival-of-the-fittest type scenario. After the Avengers help keep the world’s nuclear missiles from launching, Ultron figures that the next best way of evolving Humanity isn’t by turning their own technology against them, but by causing a global natural disaster.
Which is where the pacing issues come into it. Ultron takes a LONG time to get to this stage, but none of it feels like it’s there for a reason. He only starts to execute his idea at the end, but nothing in there actually shows why it took him so long. Or, indeed, why he was able to build his weapon so quickly. A device which can lift an entire city into the sky. It was glossed-over and exactly how he did that was never explained. And the final confrontation felt overly long, with the constant bombardment of Ultron Sentinels eventually being too present to notice anymore. After a while, it just becomes more action and it no longer has the emotional effects that it could have done.
Emotion is what Whedon’s best at. He understands these characters, and it’s obvious. The conflict between Iron Man and Captain America works because you find yourself genuinely struggling to decide who’s argument holds-up the most. But a problem with that is that it never plays into anything, it’s just there as setup for Captain America: Civil War. And it does become important when Iron Man creates The Vision, but the background behind that is also very rushed: Scarlet Witch’s mind-meld has given Thor a dream about the Infinity Stones, even though I thought only the Guardians of the Galaxy knew about them? When did Thor become aware of the Infinity Stones, exactly? Is it an Asgardian thing? Cause that would have been some nice, relevant information. Thor then figures that the Tesseract and Loki’s sceptre are also Infinity Stones, like the Aether. And so Thor finds Erik Selvig very quickly, who knows exactly where to go find mystical water that can help him understand these dreams. Meanwhile, the rest of the Avengers are busy fighting Ultron, who’s taking a very long time to do something. Iron Man then figures that if Ultron was programmed by the sentient core of Loki’s sceptre, which contains the Mind Stone, then he should use that to create a purer Ultron, The Vision. But how was Ultron programmed by the sceptre without directly using the Mind Stone? And how would the general audience recognise Selvig? And how does he just happen to know about the “waters”?
But The Vision is a very interesting character, and it’s nice to see Paul Bettany putting flesh to the role, even if the character’s only there to introduce another Infinity Stone. After Guardians of the Galaxy, I thought they’d only be brought-up when Thanos actually makes an attack on Earth – his plan’s developing even slower than Ultron’s. But that mid-credits tag was a cool highlight. It didn’t feel like a sequel until that happened. Although where he got the Infinity Gauntlet is another question that needs asking and answering.
Plus, S.H.I.E.LD. How did Nick Fury just happen to save some helicarriers, and why couldn’t they have shown-up earlier? Why did he choose to only appear when the Avengers were effectively hiding from the enemy to reveal himself? Cause it would have been useful!
Ultimately, all of this plays to a very repetitive action sequence that lasts for too long for it to be effective, with all of the character stuff like Hulk and Black Widow’s romance and Hawkeye’s family suddenly disappearing behind what can only be described as a slug-fest with maximum Ultron. Whedon clearly wanted to make this a sequel, but didn’t realise that the conflict only has to be more meaningful. Instead, it’s just “more”. What’s the point in giving these characters the most development they’ve ever had, only to make the finale something that does the exact opposite?
Really, the problems are length and content. The original cut was nearly four hours long, and a lot had to be cut. But perhaps the cool moments should have removed instead, allowing us to really dig deep at the heart of what’s really going on here, which is essentially a story about political paranoia, societal hypocrisy and morality and responsibility using a robot as an analogy. If tangential elements were cut-out, and that subject given more screentime, this would be almost flawless.