Avengers: Age of Ultron is the controversial entry on this list. I’ve had to accept that I get more out of it than most, who generally think of it as being too generic a blockbuster to stand out from its genre contemporaries. So allow me, then, to explain why I’ve listed it as the 7th best comic book film of the 2010s.
It’s because, despite most of the film being one, long action scene, in and amongst that is one of the more personal, character-based films about superheroes. Every major character has some sort of emotional subplot that plays a much more significant role in the main narrative, rather than being an afterthought as usual.
For instance, Tony Stark’s self-obsessed curiosity is followed-through to its logical conclusion with the creation of Ultron, who acts as a cracked mirror for his own internal struggle between taking great risks with the best intentions. Barton’s character is developed more than anyone else’s in a way which reminds the audience that these heroes do have families and homes, their own lives outside of their super-heroism. They are real people. The Maximoff twins, who only have each other and hate Stark for how his imperialist past has directly affected them are the outside perspective providing as much of a critical look at the Avengers as Ultron.
Perspective is also the key word here. Ultron is a mistake made with honest intentions, the Maximoffs’ hatred of Stark is justified by what he’s unknowingly done to them and, after being created by Stark, Ultron decides to side with the silent majority and stand against the Avengers. It’s a simple equation but it’s informed by what we know about these characters and their experiences: Stark on one extreme, the Maximoffs on the other and Barton in the centre as the every-man just doing what he can to keep his family safe. There’s also Banner, who, after initially helping him create Ultron, comes up against Stark when only he realises the true extent of what they’ve done – but still agrees to help him create The Vision, despite the same risks applying.
Banner’s relationship with Romanoff is a microcosm of the Avengers’ whole team dynamic; they’re all trying to be better people than who destiny has made them and that’s what brings them together. They choose to believe in the optimistic alternative to Ultron’s algorithmic philosophy because they’re the human element – something the Maximoffs eventually come to realise.
At times, the scale does seem overwhelming but beneath the surface is a drama about what it takes to be these characters, who they are and what their motivations are. This is not the best Avengers film but it’s the best example of each character working together as a team. Out of all four Avengers films, this is the one that doesn’t just have them in it but is also primarily about them.