avengers-age-of-ultron-alternateWas there any doubt that Avengers: Age of Ultron would be a fun movie? Was there any doubt that the existing fanbase would love it? Was there any doubt that the movie would be a hit success? No, indeed. The only doubt was how good it would be on a scale of 6 to 11.

Rest your doubts. It’s at least a 10.9.

Note: This is not a spoiler-free review. However, unless you’ve been avoiding the trailers, you’re safe until you come to the big spoiler graphic. After that, you’ve been warned.

Superhero stories have traditionally been plot-driven. Things happen in a particular way to have a particular end, and that’s the only important thing. We all know how annoying that can be. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s horrible. However, the MCU has mostly stayed true to character-driven stories. There have certainly been ones where plot mattered more (Thor: The Dark World and Agents of SHIELD season one come to mind), and others where character and plot intertwined to the point where you don’t care that a story had to go this way to set up something later, because the characters still had their day (Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier).

Of course, character-driven stories aren’t automatically better, because character without consistent plot is unsatisfying. Think of Iron Man 3, which was a fantastic movie from the perspective of Tony Stark’s character development, and rather sucky for the rest.

The first Avengers movie remained a shining example of a character-driven story, as Ross explained earlier this week. My biggest worry about Age of Ultron was that it might not live up to that standard. In point of fact, I think Age of Ultron actually exceeds its predecessor in that regard. While the movie actually lacks a little of the stand-up-and-cheer of the first, Age of Ultron is now a new go-to example for true character-driven stories. 

I also have to say, without getting into why just yet, I had absolutely no advance knowledge that my article on Thursday (“Raising the Stakes, with Superheroes“) would be so apropos for this movie. Even though it’s a save-the-world plot (you can see that from the trailers, after all), we actually get a lot about each of the characters. Even Ultron himself is more than just a plot device. That’s the sort of thing that can really bring the save-the-world plot home for the audience.

For those who aren’t able to see it and want to watch the next episode of Agents of SHIELD, I suspect that the tie-in won’t be very spoilery. It’s a guess on my part, though, because of the nature of what happened in the movie, as well as how shoehorned things were in the last episode. On the other hand, if someone were watching the show through DVDs at a later date, then going from that last bit to the next episode without addressing the seeming cliffhanger would be very poor writing. I have some tinfoil hat speculation, but I had to split that off into a separate post about the MCU in general, which will probably go live on Monday.

For now, the Spoiler Ninja would like to say hi first.

Spoiler Warning


Officially, Avengers: Age of Ultron is only the second-to-last installment in the MCU’s Phase Two; but, to be honest, I don’t see how Ant-Man is going to serve as a better endcap. This movie is the one that feels like a midpoint. You know, that point in the middle of the book when the situation changes, and you figure out that the problem you’ve been facing is actually part of something much bigger? Yes. That’s the end of the movie.

It’s not a cliffhanger, though. Far from it. That doesn’t mean you’re not going to itch for more while still feeling satisfied. If that seems contradictory, imagine you just ate an excellent meal and feel happily stuffed, and you’re disappointed that you won’t be feeling that sensation again for a while.

I’d actually recommend that you plan an MCU rewatch at some point. You’re going to want to do that, because this movie gathers together a lot of plot threads, even if only to say “Hey, remember this?” Each of the original six Avengers gets a callback to previous installments, and a look at what will happen in the future.

Yes, even Hawkeye, who has so far just been “that guy with the bow” (which he points out in a decently funny line, delivered excellently, at a perfect moment) and hasn’t had much to call back to in the first place. To be honest, Hawkeye seems to be the heart of this movie, and we get a look at his life that’s far beyond anything I expected to see in the MCU. I love it so much that I’m not even going to spoil it for you with another word.

Black Widow gets character development as well, and we see what I had been wanting from the original Avengers: Natasha and Bruce Banner. I thought the actors had great chemistry, and that the characters would work well together; this movie takes that and turns the dial up to 15. In context, them being in a relationship is perfect. She’s normally paired with soldiers and agents; instead, as she points out, she’s met a great guy who spends all of his willpower avoiding a fight, “because he knows he’ll win.”

That ties beautifully into her greatest fear, as shown in the movie and brought out by events: she’s afraid that she, herself, is nothing more than the assassin she was trained to be, at the facility (or the successor to it) we saw in Agent Carter. She genuinely sees herself as the monster on the team, while believing that Bruce Banner, who turns into a giant monster killing machine, is the best of them.

Remember Ross talking about how Hulk inverts things? That’s on full display here. I’m absolutely loving this, and I want to see more.

As I said, each character gets to see his or her greatest fears, thanks to Scarlet Witch. She shows what drives each of the original six Avengers. Each? Yes, each, even though Hawkeye escapes her wammie. He does it by showing a certain level of paranoia, counter-ambushing her with a taser arrow, and saying “I’ve done the mind-control thing. Not a fan.” He’s not the one guy who escapes his demons; he’s the one guy who already confronted them. It’s no coincidence that he’s the only guy with a functional family to return to.

(And that was fun. I want to see more of the Little Hawkeyes. If it weren’t for the stupid reluctance to cross over characters, the Barton family homestead would have been the perfect place for Skye to learn control on Agents of SHIELD. You don’t even need Jeremy Renner to show up on the show.)

Hawkeye also acts like the Hawkeye in the comics and animated shows: snarky. Not Spider-Man kind of snarky; no, this snark isn’t wielded as a weapon so much as a shield. A way for him to look around at the world and say “Seriously? This?” It was great, and made me finally like the character even before we got to his family; and that part of him only gets better in the third act.

Cap’s fear is an interesting one, and gives great insight into his character. I also think it’s connected to why (unlike in the comics) he’s unable to do more than budge Thor’s hammer a little. (Well, there’s a payoff down the road that requires him to not do more than budge it. Also, then we wouldn’t have that comical expression of “WTF?” on Thor’s face.) Cap’s fear-vision sticks him back in 1945, attending an end-of-the-war party where Peggy gets her dance. All around him are laughing soldiers . . . some of whom are shot, bleeding, and dying, even as they drink and make merry. Then, suddenly, he’s the only one in the room.

The lone survivor. The only man still standing. Everyone else made the sacrifice, and he’s still there.

Survivor’s guilt is a powerful thing, and he’s not used to it. How can he be worthy of the hammer if he can’t belong? The hammer only accepts those with a purpose beyond themselves, and Cap — for all his virtues — is still tied up in his own private demons.

That, I think, is where we get the tie to Captain America: Civil War. Granted, I don’t think enough groundwork has been laid for a proper Marvel Civil War storyline; we’ve got, what, ten superheroes so far? (Not counting the shows, because Marvel doesn’t want to reference the shows in the movies. Idiots. But I already talked about that this week.) And of course, Iron Man, War Machine, and Falcon are tech-based to the point that it almost doesn’t matter who uses their stuff, and Black Widow isn’t defined by her own tech.

But beyond the plot problems, we can see how Cap’s insecurities would feed into the need to be heavily-regulated, to prevent further disasters; while Stark’s insecurities would lead him to stand on the opposite side, as he’s convinced that the Avengers should only stand down if there is something better and more powerful to protect the world against more threats like the Chitauri.

Thor has a double insecurity. He fears the coming Ragnorok (which will get its own movie in a couple of years), but he also identifies the Infinity Stones as coming threats (underscored by the after-the-credits scene). Perhaps the two are one and the same; after all, Thor: Ragnarok immediately precedes Avengers: Infinity War, Part 1 on the MCU lineup.

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 will no doubt tie into this somehow as well. After all, we’ve established that the five of them working together can withstand the touch of an Infinity Stone, which makes them major players in this particular saga. When the original movie had been announced, I wondered how it would fit in. Now we know.

I admit, though, that I’m looking forward to Ragnarok on its own merits. I enjoy Norse mythology, and I find I like the MCU’s treatment of that subject better than the more cartoonish (no pun intended) version found in the comics. Actually, I enjoy almost any “reality behind the myth” stories, but I have a particular fondness for the Aesir and related material. (Also, the fantastic actors playing those parts really helps; and come on, four years to resolve the cliffhanger at the end of The Dark World? Bah.)


And, of course, we can’t do a post-game analysis of Age of Ultron without looking at Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Vision, and Ultron.

The Maximoff twins are really well-done. Quicksilver’s always been an annoying smartass, emphasis on the annoying. Maybe I missed some good examples, but I just haven’t liked him. This guy? I like. I like from the very first moment. That “You didn’t see that coming?” line? It’s even better in the film than in the trailer, and it’s a textbook-perfect example of setup/payoff techniques.

Scarlet Witch took a little longer to like, but by the climax of the movie I found myself so invested in her that . . . well. If you’ve seen it, you know. If you haven’t, you will.

Vision’s introduction was great. I found the character’s original introduction to be a bit odd, and I’ve always found him far too disconnected. This version is connected to everything around him. He’s a true living machine, not just a robot with fancy specs. He acts like it, too; and the moment the other Avengers begin to trust him was a jaw-dropping perfect payoff from earlier in the film. His last line in the movie was also a textbook piece of Joss Whedon humor, and I won’t spoil it for you even though it’s a great ironic summary of his character (and also proves that this Vision understands irony).

Ultron, though . . . Ultron was not what I expected, even from the trailers. The trailers showed us an AI with an understanding of humor, at least enough to crack dark jokes with proper comedic timing. The trailers have nothing on him in the film itself. Ultron bridges a fantastic gap between human reactions and alien comprehension. He’s actually emotional, and those emotions are very important to his actions. If the other characters weren’t done so amazingly well, Ultron would be the focus of every fan’s discussions. As it is, I actually found myself regretting his final fate . . . inasmuch as I can regret the loss of an evil intelligence completely bent on world destruction.

For me, the ultimate test of whether a movie is good or not is if I want to go see it in a theater again. Age of Ultron passes that test. I might even splurge for the full IMAX experience, just to see the difference. That, however, will have to wait, as I’m going to be busy for the next couple of weeks.

In the meantime, if you haven’t seen it . . . why did you waste time reading the full review? That time would be better-spent at the theater. Shoo.