Hello and welcome to In Too Deep Into Marvel, where I go through the Marvel properties over… however long I do this blog.
SPOILER WARNING: Go watch the film first before you read this. Normally I don’t say this, cos the release dates between a film and my blog are usually weeks apart, but considering I saw this before all of you I think it’s important to give the heads up. Plus you’ll want to see it in order to really enjoy this blog. Consider this one of the few times I’ve had justified reason to throw up a spoiler warning.
Well by the time you read this, it’d have been over a week since I saw Avengers: Age of Ultron. And while I could spend this time laughing away at how I called most of it right I want to instead look at the last Joss Whedon Marvel film and compare it to the first Joss Whedon Marvel film. Because the best way of describing Avengers: Age of Ultron is that there’s ‘more’. Everything that was in the first film is here, bigger, better… but at a cost? Is everything too big this time round? Is this film’s biggest strength also its biggest flaw? Well lets find out.
(and because I’m that boastful, lets see how much I did get right:
â€œSo what’s likely to happen in this film? Well it’s clear that Baron Strucker (the guy from the Captain America: The Winter Solider stinger) is using Loki’s sceptre to control Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. No doubt we’ll have the film’s first act/opening being the Avengers taking these guys down and having them join the Avengers. This leads to Iron Man to create Ultron, who in turn turns evil and fights the Avengers. Now I predict that the ‘mind stone’ in Loki’s sceptre will play a part in this, probably being the thing that turns Ultron evil. But the post-credits stinger will probably feature Thanos having the Infinity Gauntlet in some way, with perhaps one or more of the stones.â€
So aside from having the twins join the Avengers at the climax, over-estimating Strucker’s worth and not thinking to include the Vision, the rest was pretty much bang on the money. Go me)
But how to break all this down? Well the easiest way is, given that The Avengers is such a character-driven film, is to break down each character and examine what makes them tick. So, in no particular order…
Thor: The Avengers is a Thor film more than anything else. For starters, there’s Loki, the villain of the Thor film. He is the one who causes all the problems in it with his two Infinity Stones. He is the one who starts the alien invasion and helps bring the team together. Because that’s essentially what the Thor genre is: Alien invasion, and how the mighty must stand up and fight to protect the ones they love. To wit, the first Thor film deals with a giant destroyer hunting down Thor, with Thor having to stand up to it. The second deals with the Dark Elves and is even more blatant in its science-fantasy ‘magical beings coming to destroy the Earth’ (though where Tony Stark was during this, and why this isn’t part of his character’s story given everything that happened, is another thing entirely). The Avengers is all about stopping an external threat from destroying the world that the heroes care about. And there are parts of it here. The first act is about recovering Loki’s sceptre, and how it’s the mind stone in the sceptre that starts off Ultron’s existence. But, bafflingly, this is the first time between films that the spectre has come back up. For some inconceivable reason Thor seemingly hasn’t been bothering to look for it during all the partying and whatnot in Thor: The Dark World. It does feel like the other Marvel movies never took place, making it much more of a sequel to The Avengers more than anything else (whereas the Avengers felt very much like a sequel to Iron Man, Thor and Captain America). And even during this film, Thor’s biggest moment (his going to the waters of something to learn the truth) are cut from the film, leaving a gap that was probably suppose to explain what Thor’s greatest fear was. Though truth be told, this could just be rather badly done foreshadowing, so we’ll have to wait and see.
Iron Man: So it’s not a Thor-Avengers film, what is this film? Well, somewhat obviously, it’s an Iron Man-Avengers film. This film feels more like an Iron Man film than it does a Thor or Captain America film. To repeat the previous paragraph, the bad guy of this film is Tony Stark’s own creation. Sure, the mind stone plays a part in it, but mostly Ultron is all Tony Stark’s fault. Ultron is, in some ways, Tony Stark’s half-brother. They’re similar, and share much history, even if they’re not related. But lets look at the typical Iron Man movie: Man often falls victim to his own hubris, creating the very threat that he has to then fight. Tony (and his Dad at times) creates his own enemies in all three Iron Man films (with the third being perhaps the first time Tony had a threat from someone he hurt, not someone his father hurt or from his mere existence and success). Likewise, his enemies all come from the technology he created, by other creating copies of it or just stealing it outright (with once again the third film being against the norm, since the bad guy has his own independent technology separate from Tony). But at the heart of all Iron Man films lies the fact that man’s abuse of technology creates his own ills. Ultron is no exception to this. But there’s a third element there, one that you wouldn’t find in a Thor film: The snarkiness. Everyone in this film, be they good, bad, or minor, spend their time snarking it up and making it jokes. It’d almost be more justified to call this film a comedy than you would an action-adventure. Everyone is constantly trying to be funny and make light of the situation they’re in. When your main villain often groans with weariness about how the world is, or your heroes keep just making light of the situation… Yeah, the only films that happen in is the Iron Man films. No moment can perhaps best sum it up than perhaps one of the greatest punchlines in Marvel cinematic history. After a somewhat over-lengthy scene where Vision tries to justify his worthiness, it ends with him handing Thor his hammer. The audience let out a gasp over the significance of it (which was handily shown to us earlier in the film) and loud laughter over just how funny it was. It was the ultimate level of snark, which helped the film thrive. This type of snark was found in the first film, yes, but here’s it’s pushed right to the forefront. Every other line is a joke. And while it can be grating, it mostly works. But why is there so much humour in it? I’ll get to that at the end.
Captain America: So we had the Thor-Avengers film, we had the Iron Man-Avengers film, when are we going to have the Captain America-Avengers film? Well there are two options. Either one, Civil War. Or two, Infinity War. Notice the connection there? Captain America is primarily a war drama, with his first film being pro-American war propaganda or sorts, and the second being an attack on the very machine that makes said propaganda. So it’s not surprising that Captain America is going to be the lead in films that feature war right there in the title. But what about his role in this film? Well there’s not a lot here, his big moment coming from his telling off Tony’s swearing in the first act, and how that bites him later on. Again, it’s a funny moment. And it keeps being a funny moment. It also helps flesh out who the character is really well. Because Avengers: Age of Ultron can be split into two halves: The character parts, and the action parts. The first Avengers film had that in it, but here there’s even more. The action is even more spectacular, the character interactions even more dramatic. Everything from that last film is here, bigger and better than ever before. Everything is just so much bigger… while at the same time being more aware of itself. Poking fun of Captain America’s old-timey attitudes is a wink to the audience about how the character is seen in the social media circles. He’s seen as this clean-cut good guy, so seeing him made fun of because of it does seem a bit… fan-pleasing. But Cap doesn’t have a lot to do in this film, so moving on.
Hulk: I’m splitting Hulk and Banner into two characters because I want to bring up a few things about the Hulk specifically. First, in relation to what I was saying about everything being bigger, there’s a complete copy+paste of two funny jokes from the last film. Before I saw the film I was going to joke about how they shamelessly copied the Hulk smash Loki scene… which they kinda did, only with Iron Man being the one that smashed the Hulk instead. Likewise, the scene where the Hulk gets punched surprisingly by somebody is the exact same scene as when he punched Thor surprisingly. But on top of that, his destruction in and around Africa does have vibes of 9/11 to it, at least at the end where they destroy a tower. Whether Joss Whedon was deliberately making a commentary on 9/11 and America’s expansionist movements with the last decade and a half, I don’t know. He could have just been going for realism instead. But the Hulk gets to wreck things up far better than he did in the previous films, again echoing the motif of everything being bigger.
Bruce Banner: A common joke on social media was making Tony Stark and Bruce Banner ‘science bros’ and having the two of them interact in a funny way. It seemed like nothing more than just a joke… until this film came along. Because this (and one other aspect) seems to be pandering solely to the fans more than anything else. It was a little joke within fandom that has now become somewhat canon. It works, and the two play off each other very well, but one can’t help feel that it was included more because that’s what the fans wanted more than anything else. It wasn’t so much what the audience in general wanted, but the fans in particular. Whether this was deliberate on Whedon’s part, where he looked up the trends when he was writing the script, or whether it was just great minds thinking alike, I do not know. But this does seem to be a very big nod to the fandom out there.
Hawkeye: And speaking of big nods, hoo boy did Tumblr get their panties in a twist about there not being enough Hawkeye stuff. Everyone kept bitching and moaning about how he didn’t seem to be big in the promotional materials and all that… and I’d be damned if the film doesn’t pre-emptively address these complaints before Tumblr could even raise them. Because the reason why Hawkeye got so shafted and pushed so far into the background is because, surprisingly, he has had a family the entire time. On the one hand this makes sorta sense, there’s no reason why he wouldn’t have a family (if only to show that he and Black Widow can just be friends and two people of opposite genders don’t need to bone each other), and on the other it does show why he wasn’t in more promotional material. He doesn’t really want to be a constant member of the Avengers, not when he has so much else going for him back home. He fights to protect those he loves above all else. It works as a character beat… but a beat felt very much inspired by what the fandoms views on Hawkeye were. Once again, a meta nod to the fandom at large.
Black Widow: Black Widow is given a love story with Bruce Banner that’s… well, I can’t tell if I like it or not. I’m not sure how much Black Widow needed her own romantic sub-plot, given how the first Avengers film didn’t feel the need to have it. But this, with many things, seems like an awareness of the fandom, who regularly ship her with Steve Rogers or Clint Barton. It seems more of a reference to that side of the fandom than anything that really works in the film. The fact that she is used as the one to calm down Bruce when he transform into the Hulk makes sense, given their relationship, but still comes a bit out of nowhere. Still, she kicks all kinds of arse, which I suppose is all that matters at the end of the day.
Ultron: Hoo boy, Ultron. Ultron, Ultron, Ultron… I honestly can’t tell if they made the greatest decision regarding Ultron, or a terrible, terrible mistake. Because Ultron is an oddity of a character. He has all the wit and humour of Tony Stark, and in theory this should make him more intimidating, but… It’s hard to really take the character all that serious when he seems to be a bit all over-the-place. He’s not dramatic enough to be a dramatic villain, likewise he’s trying too hard to be silly to be a comedic villain that it doesn’t really work. But this is the first Joss Whedon bad guy that wasn’t inspired by anything else. While he inherited Loki (and add his own little touches, sure, but Loki was still much the same), he invented Ultron. Ultron is, in many ways, the ultimate Joss Whedon bad guy. He has everything that Joss Whedon loves to put into his characters. He shows off both the strengths and weaknesses of the man’s writing. Now had he been the sole snarky thing in the film, sure, that might have made him more memorable. But the film is so overloaded with snark that Ultron’s one character trait (he makes a lot of sarcastic comments) is diminished, and the villain that remains is… confusing, to say the least. He has no real clear motives. He seems to think that destroying all life on Earth will somehow make humans better, or that he could be the one who thrives. But even then that makes no real sense, since his method of doing so is way too over the top. Ultron is insane for no good reason. His plan makes little to no sense, he keeps getting unfocused, and he seems to solely exist to make jokes. A very weak villain in that he seems to be what the audience expects from its villain. A very meta villain in that the audience would love to see a villain like that. It’s Joss Whedon as a bad guy.
Vision: Lets use Vision to address the geeky side to all of this. There is a lot here for comic book fans to love. There’s all sorts of little in-jokes and nods to things that only ‘fans’ would get. Hell, I even punched the air when the mind stone was all but confirmed to be in Loki’s sceptre, proving a guess that I had made years ago to be right. But Vision is very much a geeky comic book character idea. The entire movie is a build-up to his introduction, at which point he’s present as a Dues ex Machina of sorts. He is both the McGuffin and the central character of the whole piece. He and Ultron are the same sides of different coins. While he does look a bit fantastic, he is a somewhat obscure superhero. At least in that, unlike some of the other big names, the Vision has always been a bit less well-known to the public. He never had his own TV show or animated series before. He’s a big name in the comics, but less so in the realm of popular media. But in many ways it shows the direction Marvel is going in, taking more of its less-popular characters and turning them into huge sensations. But Vision is a sort of fanboy nod to anyone who follows the comics, because of course it’s about time that Vision got brought into the fold. It’s how I can repeatedly make such accurate predictions about where the story is going to go months before I even see a trailer for the film. Avengers: Age of Ultron becomes too Meta in that any ‘hardcore’ fan has figured out what all the references mean, so they’ll be let down by what comes next. There’s less surprise in the future, not when you’ve already read ahead (and this is without me reading a single comic). Marvel is keenly aware that it can no longer surprise its hardcore audience with twists, so instead it’s somewhat going through the motions. That said, the end credits scene really proved me wrong.
Quicksilver/Scarlet Witch: Nothing really to add here, just a nod that a majority of this film is not set in America. Once you get past the Avengers tower scenes, a majority of this film takes place overseas. I don’t know if it was deliberate, as a way of extending the Avengers and by extension the Marvel cinematic universe outside of its little pigeon-hole (and I hope it is, by having the Black Panther film set in Africa and the Doctor Strange movie hopefully set in Europe), but it’s a nice touch nonetheless. Hopefully we start having Marvel films moving away from being confined solely in America and start doing more of an international perspective. Then again, it could just be because they didn’t want to blow up another part of America after last time, so taking on some other little country makes sense cos it makes them feel less guilty about it. But this in of itself is another meta nod. They knew they can’t blow up New York twice, so they went somewhere else to do it instead.
But at the end of the day, three thousand words ago, I asked if Avengers: Age of Ultron was too meta for its own good. It clearly does have more than its fair share of winks not just to comic book fans, but fans of the cinematic universe in general. It suffers from having an almost over-load of snarkiness, to the point where it’s hard to take much of what is going on seriously. When there is discussion about Mjolnir being put in an elevator to make it worthy, or literally smash cutting to the end so that Captain America can’t say the catchphrase famous for the Avengers, or pretty much every scene has to have some sort of joke in it… End of the day, Avengers: Age of Ultron is very much a product of the person who made it. And the person who made it loved meta-humour more than the average writer. If you can live with the characters constantly making fun of the tropes and clichÃ©s of the film genre they’re in, as well as the film they’re in, you should be fine. If not… Then yeah, it can get pretty distracting at times.
So there you have it. My look at Avengers: Age of Ultron. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.