By now I’m sure the majority of you have seen and dissected every grain of celluloid this latest Marvel entry has to offer. Adrenaline has taken over and your thoughts are likely consumed with the storytelling possibilities of the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War. I, for one, know how easy it is to give yourself over to a franchise sequel without judgment. After all, we’re all just happy the sequels exist in the first place. That should be enough satisfaction…right? RIGHT?! Er…I wish that were true, but as responsible fans it is our duty to rejoice the good as well as point out the flaws in order to have some semblance of power over what’s to follow for our dearly beloved franchise. Therefore, I bring to you a special edition of Sci-Fi Fridays, one that behaves as an extended review of Avengers: Age of Ultron, broken down into three sections discussing what works, what busts and what I want to see in the third Avengers flick. Be forewarned, there will be spoilers!
It’s essential we begin with some good news. As far as entertainment value is concerned, Age of Ultron sits right up there with the best of the MCU and kicks to the curb every action spectacle I’ve seen thus far in 2015. Faster and more furious than Furious 7, Age of Ultron offers a considerable amount of variety with its action sequences. We have close-quarter combat encounters, open field brawls, one-on-one duels, and an iconic slow-mo panorama of each hero doing what they do best: pummeling the crap out of their opponent. MCU films have been rightfully taken to task for their repetitive, uninspired final acts of pure mayhem and citywide destruction, and I’m happy to report Age of Ultron undoes this folly by having its villain craft an ultimate weapon that terrorizes in ways we haven’t seen before. The idea of leveling an entire city, lifting it into the air…only to then have it come crashing down with the entire population trapped inside with nowhere to run to except their shambled homes is terrifying to imagine, let alone view in widescreen format. This cruel method of using human evolution against the species for the purpose of extinction makes the cunning Ultron even more menacing than initially realized.
Speaking of the film’s titular villain, I quite like the idea that he’s sort of the bitter, crueler, more sardonic version of his creator, Tony Stark. Sure, it does play into the technothriller trope of machines overthrowing their human architects, but the personal connection between man and machine in this instance enriches that central conflict. It also espouses the idea that advocating the advancement of weapon technology as a means of preserving peace almost always backfires, as is evident in Age of Ultron. I have to say, seeing these altruistic heroes make insurmountable mistakes that nearly bring Earth to ruin is both ironic and highly fascinating. Tony Stark is the root of every catastrophic event that occurs in Ultron, and he continues to aggravate by nearly making the same mistake twice out of stubborn pride. Of course, The Avengers prove to be Earth’s greatest saviors by film’s end, though perhaps if they took a less active role in preempting war, there might actually be less, you know, war.
Oh boy, where do I begin? Above I spoke about how the concept of Ultron as a villain is brilliant in theory, and yet what transpires in execution doesn’t come close to such potential. Ultron is basically born evil, with a single-minded goal of evolving the human species by completely eradicating it. I’m pretty sure Ultron’s motivations are shared by Megatron, General Zod and every other franchise baddie with devious dreams of a new order on Earth. Points deservedly subtracted for unoriginality in this department. Besides Ultron’s rushed characterization and hackneyed arc, The Vision – who easily has the best character design of anyone in the entire film – is horribly underutilized and seems almost an afterthought immediately following the drama surrounding his creation. Half artificial intelligence, half sentient alien, Vision is supposed to serve as the ultimate weapon wielded against Ultron since his power is derived from the Infinity Stone gem that sits right in-between his eyebrows. If this is truly the case, why do the Avengers even need to become involved? Surely Vision alone could take care of Ultron and his army of brainwashed robots. Vision’s showdown with Ultron is anticlimactic, and the only reason he seems to exist at all in the film from a narrative standpoint is to bookend their tied storylines. Yes, Vision represents the “good” triumphs of human technology, but I don’t need an on-the-nose physical embodiment to shed light on this daily fact. Joss Whedon majorly drops the ball when it comes to fleshing out this fan favorite character, using him more as a plot device instead of delivering us a hero with the personality and power to comfortably stand alongside the Avengers.
Also problematic is the heavy-handedness of Black Widow and Hulk’s romance. I understand the mutual attraction between two emotionally scarred individuals with brutal pasts, but Scarlett Johannson and Mark Ruffalo have zero chemistry to sell such blatant affection. Their kiss after Hulk rescued Widow from Ultron’s temporary lair felt so forced and unearned that I almost guffawed in embarrassment. It’s almost as though Whedon and the other MCU screenwriters don’t even believe in their own dialogue. The first Avengers film suggested a potential romance between Steve and Natasha, which blossomed to delightful flirtation in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Now in Ultron, Whedon is backpedaling by shoving the Hulk/Widow romance down our throats when the carefree banter between Widow and Captain America during every interaction clearly states which coupling should occur.
Although I actually quite enjoyed the new additions to the Avengers team, Maximoff twins Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, I found it irritating that their development was only used as a means to an end. Anyone watching could see Hawkeye’s storyline was drenched in faux foreshadowing of his death, and so to then kill off Quicksilver in a “gotcha” self-congratulatory manner felt crueler than the tragic demise itself. We barely got a chance to know Quicksilver despite his speedy abilities serving as a terrific source of humor, which actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson handled with aplomb. Quicksilver felt more like a scene-stealer than a deeply realized and invaluable member of the Avengers team. Elizabeth Olsen’s Russian accent work left much to be desired, but she conveyed genuine emotion spectacularly well, though I can’t help but fear that the void caused by Quicksilver’s death may in fact diminish the strength of her character. Their sibling dynamic was a highlight during this somewhat bumpy ride.
What I Want to See Happen in Infinity War:
Since I’m not really sure what to expect in the upcoming two-part sequel other than a massive intergalactic showdown between puppet master Thanos and Earth’s mightiest, this last section will just feature a brief rundown of what I feel should occur in order to bounce back from the mildly disappointing (though still highly engaging) Age of Ultron. First order of business is to kill this silly Hulk/Black Widow romance in its tracks before it starts spiraling into Anakin/Padme epic levels of cheesy awfulness. The best way to do this is to…wait for it…kill off the Hulk. The Avengers need to experience real loss from within their own team, and considering Hulk’s instability has left him on the outs with mankind, perhaps a courageous sacrifice would repair the fearsome reputation he currently carries around. Since a Hulk standalone movie isn’t in the works, what would really be lost with the death of Hulk other than a character with nowhere to really go but ballistic green? If anything, his death might affect Black Widow in ways that would allow us to get deeper glimpse into the sensitive and broken individual she’s burying inside.
I would also enjoy seeing the Guardians crew make an appearance by fighting alongside the Avengers since the former has firsthand experience with Thanos’ minions. It would be interesting to see a budding yet friendly rivalry develop between the two groups, and paired side-by-side see which crew is more effective at saving the galaxy. Seriously, who wouldn’t want to see Star-Lord and Iron Man sling witty barbs back and forth? It would be a hell of a lot more preferable to the rote attempts of humor in Ultron, which surprisingly came off disingenuous and largely predictable except for the hilarious bit surrounding Thor’s hammer. In any case, I’m hoping Infinity War provides both the high stakes and the drama required to keep us invested in what often feels like invincible protagonists onscreen.
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