I am back with you, friends, to again launch a defence of a much-maligned corner of the MCU – The Avengers: Age of Ultron. The difficult middle children of the MCU (Thor 2, Iron Man 2, Avengers 2 and possibly Guardians 2) are all generally looked down upon by fans as the black sheep sibling – only The Winter Soldier seems to have escaped this curse. However, these ‘sophomore efforts’ are frequently my favourite one of the trilogy – I’m not even a middle child myself (I’m the youngest of three), so I’m not sure why I feel such an affinity with these underdogs. One of the main reasons I love Age of Ultron so much is down to Joss Whedon, building here on the fantastic job he did in The Avengers. For me, his humour and style are very much on a par with Taika Waititi (who directed my favourite MCU movie), whilst also fitting the characters and the franchise as a whole.
The opening sequence of Ultron takes place in the snowy forest outside a Hydra compound and it sees all of the Avengers coming together, (particularly in that iconic slow-mo shot) which will always provide a thrill. I never get tired of seeing Thor throw his hammer against Cap’s shield or of “the sun’s getting real low.” This opening sequence also features the classic moment of Cap saying “language” to Tony – something which will haunt him forever more. At the compound, we are introduced to two new characters – twins Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). They have been experimented on, meaning that now “He’s fast and She’s weird.” I also really like the fact that Cobie Smulders is a more major part of this one.
After a victorious battle, we see a rare moment of “revels” – a short-lived but welcome respite, where the Avengers get to hang out in Stark Tower and relax over a drink or two. This leads to the famous scene where all the Avengers attempt to wield Thor’s hammer (unfortunately this is not a euphemism). It also has one of my favourite Stan cameos – where he gets drunk and is gently escorted out whilst slurring “excelsior.” Loki’s sceptre, which is off in Tony’s lab being tested, has a bit of a moment and decides to take over Jarvis (Tony’s computer, voiced by Paul Bettany) – it then mutates into Ultron (voiced by James Spader). Both Bettany and Spader’s performances – both as voice-over and later on, in their physical manifestations are two of the best in the MCU. Spader was initially hired to do voice-over only, but insisted he wanted to provide the motion-capture for Ultron as well. When Jarvis becomes Vision, Bettany infuses him with sensitivity and melancholy – you can see the weight of knowledge on his shoulders. He also spends most of the time bound up in existentially pondering the morality of his creation – yes, I believe superhero movies do wrestle with big ideas.
Banner and Tony’s meddling with Loki’s sceptre has caused the creation of Ultron and this creates conflict with Cap – which will have a direct effect on Civil War, in particular. One of the best aspects of the MCU (and this is why I have such a problem with Infinity War) is that characters’ development and relationships have demonstrable consequences that are addressed in each sequel. There is a cause and effect which you can absolutely trace back through the twenty films and I love that things matter and characters’ actions lead to both positive and negative results.
The sequence on the ship introduces Klaw (Andy Serkis) – an illegal vibranium dealer, who will later have a significant role in Black Panther. This is the setting for a big showdown between The Avengers and the twins. Scarlet Witch uses her powers to give the Avengers distressing visions and this is one of the best parts of the film. Cap’s involves him being transported back to the 1940s, where Peggy is waiting for him “are you ready for our dance?” (sob). While Thor, Cap, Black Widow and Hawkeye are debilitated by Scarlet Witch, Tony is attempting to subdue Hulk who has gone on a rampage in a nearby city. Tony calls on the services of the Hulkbuster, controlled by Veronica and this leads to an epic battle – again, up there with some of the best MCU set-pieces.
After The Avengers have been mentally and emotionally wiped out by Scarlet Witch, they need somewhere to recuperate. Where better than at a farm and with a family that Hawkeye has been keeping quiet all these years? Mrs Hawkeye is played by Linda Cardellini and she’s ready to give birth to baby Nat, named after Black Widow. Black Widow’s close friendship with several key Avengers is one of my favourite aspects of the MCU – we had Nat and Cap in The Winter Soldier and Nat and Tony in Iron Man 2. It is obvious she is close friends with Clint because she’s the only Avenger who knew about his family. The fact that she hasn’t had her own standalone film before now is criminal, however. An unpopular aspect of Age of Ultron is that a romance is tentatively explored between Nat and Bruce. The majority of fans of the MCU hate this and think there is no chemistry between the actors or characters and yes, it is kind of annoying that after depicting several close platonic friendships between Nat and the boys, it was felt necessary to add a romantic element. However, I am more kindly disposed towards this ship than most. I do like the fact she is only one who can calm and subdue Hulk and I really like how Ruffalo plays Bruce as a tortured soul, who wants a normal life (potentially with Nat) but lives in constant fear, guilt and turmoil because of The Other Guy. Seeing the Avengers perform mundane tasks like chopping wood and fixing tractors makes me yearn for a film or TV show following the Avengers on their downtime (we got a taste of this with the Waititi-directed teasers involving Thor and his roommate Darryl).
The climatic finale of Ultron is kind of stunning in its simplicity. The villain picks up a city so he can then drop it on earth like a meteor, with catastrophic effects. I love this finale – it has high-stakes, exciting action and features each of the characters saying and doing things entirely in-keeping with their arcs, whilst furthering their development. (Spoilers ahead) We’ve only gotten to know Quicksilver over the course of one film, but his death and its affect on Scarlet Witch, is one of the most heart-breaking moments in the MCU. Olsen knocks it out of the park in this scene, especially when she exacts her vengeance on Ultron “If you stay here, you’ll die.” “I just did [pulls out his heart] – it felt like that.” The dialogue is so good. The sequence which takes place around a fountain, where the Avengers collectively take on Ultron is thrilling. The rescue involving Fury, Hill and the Shield helicarrier is another great moment. The fact that the Avengers go to such pains to rescue the people of Sokovia, only for it come back and bite them in the sequels, lends an extra layer of tragedy to this finale. Watching some of the MCU films with the benefit of hindsight changes how we view them.
I love the first Avengers film, but for me, Age of Ultron is even more interesting, entertaining and exciting. I really like the introduction of the twins – firstly as enemies, then allies. The characters of both Vision and Ultron are two of the best in the MCU. The internal conflicts that arise in Ultron will have far-reaching consequences, through Civil War and beyond. The events of Ultron absolutely inform Tony’s ideology going forward and have a big impact on Cap and Banner as well. We also have (I believe for the first time) Thor talking about the mind stone within Loki’s sceptre (and later implanted in Vision’s head) being one of the Infinity Stones – I love that the groundwork for Endgame was being laid this early on. And of course, the post-credit scene is the second time we see Thanos (after him appearing after The Avengers) – but this time he gets a spoken line. Other than the criticism of the Nat and Banner “romance”, I don’t really get why people are so down on Age of Ultron.
It’s a funny, fantastic movie with all of the Avengers together, fighting a common enemy, whilst also dealing with internal conflict (not least the fact that Tony and Banner basically created said enemy). Also, it is a film which will have lasting and meaningful consequences, which is more than can be said for a certain movie that came out last year. But I will let Cameron take the reigns on that one…
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Paul Bettany