No Strings on Me
Man creates peacekeeping robot. Robot realizes man prevents peace. Robot vows to wipe out humanity. It’s a trope we’ve seen over and over again, but Joss Whedon does a good job keeping things fresh.
Making a sequel to “The Avengers” is no easy task. After all, it’s one of the most favored, and the highest grossing, superhero movie of all time. If you walk in to the theater thinking you’d be watching a similar film, you’d be mistaken; and you’d likely have the same reaction as many of the critics, who were hoping for another light-hearted, movie magic, popcorn flick. Marvel and Whedon took the film in a much different direction, and the only similarity between the two movies being the principle cast and the title card. Whedon promised us early on that this was going to be a darker film. Marvel promised us early on that it was going to be far more interconnected than its predessecor. Both parties delivered on this, and other, promises.
I would be remiss if I didn’t immediately dive into the portrayal of Ultron right away. While I didn’t necessarily doubt Whedon that James Spader would be perfect choice for Ultron, I wasn’t 100% on board with the casting decision as it was announced. And since trailers tend to suture different lines from the film together for the purpose of exposisition, I continued to reserve judgement. Within the first moments of Ultron’s introduction, I was completely sold. He was intimidating and humorous; ambitious and cynical. He commanded the screen in a way that bery few characters have thus far in the MCU. He delivered some of the best lines, both dramatic and comical, and was one of the standout members of the cast.
This is not to say that the other members of the cast were sub-par…they delivered on every level, just in ways that you would expect. Since we’ve seen these characters before, they behave in a very familiar manner. Newcomers Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch were welcomed additions to the cast, as well. I was enthusiastic about Scarlet Witch, as she was unlike anything we’ve seen on the silver screen thus far…Quicksilver was a different story. It will be impossible for most moviegoers to NOT compare the “Age of Ultron” version to the “Days of Future Past” version…after all, it was for me. This version of Quicksilver is a better character…he is used in a way that better serves the plot, his origins and motives are fleshed out in a much better manner, and the actor does a better job bringing the character to life. That being said, DoFP’s Quicksilver took better advantage of his speed, showcasing the slow-motion effects and lighthearted pranks that made the X-Men character’s scene so much more fun overall.
We are shown some things in slow motion during the action scenes, of course…and not always from Quicksilver’s perspective. Every action scene was beautifully choreographed and shot in a way that showcased the action in a really crystal clear way, whether this was done via slow motion or long tracking shots. No matter how it was done, there is no denying the action is bigger and the spectacle is more grand. As this is an action movie, I never felt the action to be over the top or drawn out. On the contrary, Whedon did an amazing job at creating a different flavor for each of the major sequences. While the Hulk vs. Hulkbuster was the battle most heavily advertised, the final battle was a unique sensation. Despite raising the stakes, Whedon delivered a sense of claustrophobia with the final battle, which crafted a sense of tension the likes of which I’ve never felt before in a movie of this size. I, like the rest of the Avengers, felt the struggle, not only against Ultron and his drones, but in the greater conflict at large. Like the first film, the last forty-five minutes or so are non-stop action, but this film doesn’t have the same inspiring vibe that the original had…and I think that is for the better.
The film differentiates itself from its predecessor enough to avoid auto-typecasting, or auto-typeproducing as the case may be. Because the of the different emotions fans will feel when watching film, Marvel and Joss Whedon has effectively found a way to prove that The Avengers can be either “X” or “Y” and still be the Avengers. This, of course, means that we as the audience must manage our expectations wisely. The film was not “X,” it was told to be “X,” and it was never advertised as “X.” Those who went into the film expecting that will likely be disappointed. It’s important to remember that Marvel is creating a rich tapestry, with threads flowing in and out of each film. Because we are now, in essence half-way through the MCU’s road to the Infinity War, it’s almost to be expected that this movie would serve as a crossroads the for the many stories we’ve seen so far and the many stories that have yet to come.
Because of this larger framework that exists, it’s also important not making sweeping declarations on its place in history quite yet. A handful of critics have given the film below average reviews, and internet speculators have already lifted their picket signs saying “The End is Near” for superhero films. This is a foolish path to take, both for the previously mentioned point regarding framework, and because it takes time to digest a film. Upon exiting the screening and taking out my phone, I had dozens of texts from friends asking me if it was better or worse than the original. I refused to answer that question, because I didn’t have the answer. After all, I’ve seen the original film multiple times, but I’ve only seen this one once. This one is fresher in my mind, but the original is more deeply seeded. If I have one piece of advice to give regarding this film, it’s to avoid such comparisons. It will be difficult, of course. But don’t see it as a sequel to “The Avengers”…see it as the eleventh chapter in a continuously unfolding narrative. Because that’s what it is. At the end of the day, it still was a great film. It delivered exactly what I wanted, how I wanted it. I saw all the things I hoped to see, felt all the emotions I hoped to feel, and even got a few extra things thrown in as well. Oh, and Joss Whedon was not lying when he said there was not going to be a post-credits scene. There really isn’t anything.
I wanted to touch back on the point regarding the newer characters. By and large, the thing I was most pleased about was Vision. I was very glad to see that Marvel went all-in with his appearance, and tried not to downplay the unique look of the character. He was brought to life by Paul Bettany in a perfect way, and I could not have been more pleased with his appearance, his demeanor, and even his matter-of-fact sense of humor. Quicksilver, as I mentioned earlier, was also handled very well. Unlike his Days of Future Past counterpart, I felt like this character had real emotions. An overwhelming animosity towards Stark, and the other Avengers, for the havoc they had wrought on Sokovia and an overwhelming sense of protection for his twin sister played far better for me than “Oh, he’s a prankster and likes to mess with people.” His antagonistic-turned-competitive relationship with Hawkeye worked out quite well, and his final sacrifice to save Hawkeye did not feel contrived or forced once it occurred. No, I really didn’t see it coming. While I don’t want to say “I’m glad he’s dead,” it does the MCU its first real, meaningful, and hopefully permanent death, because while none of the Avengers know that Coulson is still alive, it gives special weight to the team, knowing that even an “enhanced” like them can fall victim to the whims of, as Dr. Banner puts it, “murderbots.”
I must say I was also rather surprised by Captain America’s relationship with Iron Man by the end of the film. I thought they were on surprisingly good terms. For a team that is about to feel the impact of a Civil War within its ranks, Stark’s retirement from the team seemed less like a shameful, guilty retreat and more like a chance to take a well-deserved rest. After all, this whole movie was his fault; why does the team seem so…relaxed? I guess we’ll need to wait for the war to actually start until we have that answer.
Oh, and for my favorite line of the film? While there were many great quips, my favorite line is a real simple one delivered by Ultron. During the final battle, Hulk jumps into the open hatch of the Quinjet and moves to cockpit, disappearing from view. While we look out the rear of the ship, we hear Ultron give on brief “Oh, for God’s sake” before being kicked from the craft. Short, sweet, and full of mechanical exasperation. Well done.