Warning: There are some spoilers in this, so proceed at your own risk!
Like millions of other people who went to see The Avengers: Age of Ultron this weekend, I was pumped for the Marvel sequel! Thanks to the Mysterious Mr. C’s efforts, I had seen all of the other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (several times, in fact), I knew the different characters’ backstories, and I was eager to see the Avengers team come together once again. Yet unlike most of the fans walking out of the theaters (or my friends who saw the movie about once a day), I found myself a bit disappointed with the final result. To be sure, many of the Marvel hallmarks were there – excellent casting, witty banter, and epic battle scenes – but I left with more questions than I was expecting.
First of all, at the end of 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, S.H.I.E.L.D. (the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division) had fallen and Steve Rogers (Captain America), Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), and Nick Fury – the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. – all went their separate ways. On television, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continued this storyline with most of the second season focusing on the team’s efforts to rebuild the organization. Though we have learned that there are more agents out there, the plot has thickened with the arrival of a rival group calling itself “the real S.H.I.E.L.D.” As such, I expected there to be some sort of explanation in Ultron about what was happening with S.H.I.E.L.D. and how the Avengers fit in, or at least who they were aligned with.
Instead, the film opens with the Avengers in action, fighting their way to a remote Hydra base in Eastern Europe. Though they seem to be on a mission for S.H.I.E.L.D., I could never quite tell which side they were working for or if they were just freelancing. (The after party at the Avengers Tower in New York City added to the feeling that this was something they were doing on their own.) And even though Fury eventually reappears and encourages a battered team to fight the eponymous baddie, it isn’t clear whether he is still the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. or not. Since he shows up near the end with a helicarrier, I’m guessing that he is, but I would have liked a little more information since S.H.I.E.L.D.’s collapse has been a major plot point in other Marvel ventures for the last year or so.
I was also a bit confused by the budding romance between Romanoff and Bruce Banner (Hulk). While I totally understand wanting to be with someone – like a fellow Avenger – who gets what you’re going through, I found their scene in Clint Barton’s (Hawkeye’s) farmhouse a bit awkward and unnecessary.
While some people have said that they liked this film’s efforts to humanize the world’s mightiest superheroes, I felt like that could have been done without having Romanoff give a monologue about how she’s been sterilized and can’t have children. Up to this point, she’s been the only female Avenger – a pretty badass one at that – and this just felt like a lazy attempt to soften her image.
The other big problem I had with the film was Ultron himself. Created by Tony Stark (Iron Man) as a global defense initiative, Ultron gains sentience when Stark and Banner upload an alien artificial intelligence program into Stark’s computer system (because nothing can go wrong with that, right?!). Taking on a robotic body, Ultron then sets out to wipe humans off the face of the Earth, all in order to save it. Artificial intelligence, a robotic army, and the possibility of human extinction – it’s a heady mix and entirely what I expected based on the previews. What I did not expect, however, was to hear Ultron delivering as many one-liners as Stark and the rest of the Avengers.
While the humor was fun – believe me, I laughed right along with everyone else – it wasn’t what I anticipated from a big, bad robot hell-bent on destroying the world. I guess I would have liked Ultron to stay a little more cerebral, sort like his portrayal in the cartoon version of the Avengers. I would have also liked a little more chaos, as weird as that is to say.
In the very first Ultron trailer, he declares: “I’m going to show you something beautiful: Everyone screaming for mercy.” That statement is then followed by two minutes of non-stop destruction. Yet in the movie, the action seems to be happening in a vacuum. There’s a fight on “the African coast” that allegedly turns people against the Avengers, but that news is only briefly mentioned by Maria Hill – Fury’s deputy. We see nothing like the commentary shown at the end of the first Avengers that questions the value of their efforts. And the vast majority of the fighting is localized in a fictional town in Eastern Europe or Seoul, South Korea. In today’s digital age, word of these attacks would have likely gone around the world, but the violence itself didn’t seem to be as widespread as the teasers had led me to believe.
If I hadn’t jumped so fully onto the Marvel bandwagon, perhaps I wouldn’t have felt so letdown by The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Though I did enjoy myself, the story just didn’t hang together as nicely as I would have thought. And while I am still excited for Captain America: Civil War and the two Avengers: Infinity War films, it seems that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is getting a little too large for its own good. With each movie, we are introduced to more characters, more sub-plots, and more special effects. The Marvel canon is large, interconnected, and impressive, but if it’s hard for fans to follow, it will be even more difficult for other moviegoers to enjoy.