Or, alternatively, why Age of Ultron isn’t as good as the first Avengers movie. This is part 2 in my mega-review of Age of Ultron (part 1 discussed how Age of Ultron was better).
1. Hawkeye: The Sequel
Age of Ultron’s Hawkeye is vastly superior to the soulless doppelganger we got the first time around, but too much time is spent making him not suck that the movie as whole suffers. His family was a cute little twist, and not unwelcome, but once the team gets to his farm, it’s The Walking Dead: Season 2 all over again. The lesson, kids: farms are where intrigue and excitement go to die.
The biggest problem with Hawkeye is how much time is wasted setting up his death. Which, in case you somehow missed it, doesn’t actually happen! And if it had happened, it would have been so telegraphed that the moment wouldn’t have payed off emotionally. It unnecessarily clutters the movie for no real purpose. Better to spend all that time giving Ultron better things to do, I say.
2. Get Outta My Head
After both Avengers films have used mind control against the heroes, if Thanos comes down in Infinity War and starts playing puppet master I just might scream. I was cool with Loki’s mental manipulations the first time around because it hadn’t been done before, and anyway, he’s the trickster god. Warping perceptions is kinda what he does, it’s right there in his moniker. You can’t be surprised when someone like that plays you for a fool.
This time around we get the Scarlet Witch. I admit, I don’t know her skill-set. Does her base package come with that ‘Red Fog’, or was that a premium add-on Marvel grafted on? I don’t really care how or why she could manipulate their thoughts. Mostly I just got pissed that we were retreading old ground.
Mind control is a cheap trick, not just on the characters, but on the audience itself. If the best you can do against these heroes is turn their minds against them, that really says something about the caliber of your villain, doesn’t it?
Speaking of which…
3. Concerning Puppets
For all his talk of strings, Ultron is but a mad dog, slobbering and snarling at the end of a chain. He might scare you a little, but that chain is strong, constructed of the strongest material known to man. No, not Vibranium. Ultron’s shackles are made of the impervious, all-powerful thing called The Script. He’s artificially constrained, put upon for story reasons or, more appropriately, for future story reasons.
Think about it: for all Ultron’s power, all his juicy possibility, what do we get? He kills the 2nd-best version of Quicksilver and cuts somebody’s arm off (awesome moment, though). And… that’s it, I guess? We can assume there was a lot of collateral damage with that floating city trick, but I can’t recall seeing any of it.
Why does he spare Natasha’s life? There is just no logical reason to not kill her. It’s already been established that Ultron sees humanity as a plague, and now one of the Avengers – who have been a pain in his ass since the beginning – falls into his hands. Right after said Avengers just stole his mega-prime surrogate body. How does he not just rip her limb from limb in a fit of anger? The dude has major anger management issues.
Contrast this with Loki, the Avenger’s first villain. Loki’s not really the one-man killing machine that Ultron was supposed to be, but he had no problems getting his hands dirty. Getting a 3D render of that one guy’s eye is still a squirmy moment, and he killed Coulson, a character we’d come to love. And he legitimately tried to kill Thor when he dropped him from the helicarrier. In other words: he did not squander his opportunities. When I consider Ultron, all I see is wasted potential.
4. Weird Science
So I guess I was expecting something different when Jarvis evolved into an actual, physical, character. Vision has his moments, or rather a single moment, of awesome: casually handing Thor his hammer is such a simple yet effective way of indicating he can be trusted, and masterfully pays off the party-time hammer scene which had previously only seemed like a gag.
There was always a twinkle of warm humor as Jarvis interacted with Stark. It’s gone now, burned away by Thor’s lightning during that Frankenstein-esque birthing process. The purple guy that comes out sounds like Jarvis but is absent any of Jarvis’s humanity.
On the whole, Vision is just not that interesting. Maybe that’s because the other Avengers are all flawed in some way (or, in other words, human). Vision is setup as a perfect being, more godlike than Thor in some ways, and ultimately that makes him rather boring.
I miss Jarvis.
5. The Man in the Barn
Was Nick Fury hiding out in Hawkeye’s barn the whole time? Is that where he went into hiding after burning all his stuff at the end of Winter Soldier? What else was he hiding back there? Maybe a Helicarrier under a dusty tarp?
Joking aside, Age of Ultron was the first time it felt like Fury’s presence was not only unnecessary, but kinda unwelcome. He just casually pops in, reminds the heroes they need to do something, then brings the mothballed flying fortress in for the rescue. The whole thing reeks of Deus Ex Machina.
Which is a real shame as Fury has had some real standout moments of late. I loved how manipulative Fury was in the first Avengers, walking a duplicitous line, willing to bend the truth to see the greater good done. And that car scene in Winter Soldier was one of the best MCU action scenes so far. Age of Ultron sent him backsliding into Exposition Dude, there to state the stakes for the audience and then get outta the way. And that sucks.
6. Hero Bloat
Avengers was perfect because it didn’t need to setup any heroes, or even the villain for that matter. All the players had been established in prior films, allowing us to get right to the story. In contrast, Age of Ultron brings back the OGs, adds in a few sidekicks, and then further proceeds to introduce three entirely new characters, plus the villain who’s name is on the title card. We end up with a watered-down version of the Avengers as the ACTUAL Avengers are forced to share screen time with everyone else. What a disappointment: I came to see Thor and Hulk, Iron-Man and Captain America, Black Widow and the Improbable Archer.
And don’t even get me started on the “New Avengers”, seen assembling at the film’s end. Let’s see: Captain America and Black Widow (awesome), plus War Machine (okay), Falcon (meh), Scarlet Witch (bleh), and Vision (eck). I get it: the Avengers are not a static group. But they were only the Avengers for maybe 1.5 movies, and already we’re crowding out the old hands with these new characters that I don’t care about.
I have to admit I’m kinda hoping Thanos comes down and just wipes the floor with them. Kills everyone save Cap. Then the original team can come back together one last time, probably muttering about being too old for this shit.
7. For Heaven’s Sake
Or, Why Ultron Sucks: Part 2. Not only did Ultron not put the hurt on the heroes nearly enough, but he goes out like a complete pansy.
Forget his metal army for a minute, its just cannon fodder anyway. Why does Ultron put himself in a situation where all his eggs are in one crumbling, city-sized basket? You can say he underestimates the Avengers and I can buy that to some degree. But in that case, why doesn’t he upload a copy of himself to the internet, like some kind of sleeper virus when things start going sideways? Are you telling me that for all his technical acumen, he doesn’t have wifi?
From his previous encounters, Ultron should know the Avengers are a tough draw when assembled. Why not change the game then? Keep replicating all over the globe, ala Agent Smith, causing mayhem, and force the team to split-up? How does the team fight something that lives on the internet, replicating faster than they can destroy, something that literally can’t be fought?
Likewise, the world is crammed with smart devices. What if Ultron turned everything into a surveillance device, or caused plane crashes or hijacked military equipment? In short – why doesn’t he up the chaos factor and at least distract the Avengers from his endgame?
He has access to all of human history. Might that not mean he’s an expert in strategy and tactics? And perhaps even what buttons he can push to rile these guys up? For someone supposedly intelligent beyond human understanding, someone capable of getting whatever resources he needs with relative ease, Ultron ultimately goes pretty quietly into the night.
8. Hot Spring Time Machine
I like seeing Norse gods take baths as much as the next guy, but what was this scene about again? Other than setting up future movies, I mean. It completely disrupts the narrative flow of the movie, fattening an already sagging middle until all narrative momentum is squandered. Given the choice, I’d rather spend more time at the farm.
As a complete but interesting aside: the spirit quest clearly shows the gem from Loki’s specter, the same one that ends up lodged in Vision’s forehead, is one of the infinity stones. Will Vision dissolve when Thanos rips it from his skull to complete the set? Will we get Jarvis back if that happens???
9. Uneven Flow
The first Avengers movie starts slowly, gathering together the pieces one-by-one. Assembling them, you might say. These scenes are like tiny vignettes, summarizing each character’s state of being at the beginning: Cap alone in the gym, Banner hiding out, Stark being Stark, Natasha working (my personal favorite). Tension is steadily stirred into the pot with each successive scene: arresting Loki; Shakespeare in the park; arguing on the helicarrier; the group unraveling; joining forces in New York. Avengers is truly the best comic book movie ever made, perfect in scene construction, tone, and treatment of the characters.
In comparison, the sequel is like a younger brother brought up in the shadow of an over-achieving sibling: much of what is wrong feels like a response to the first movie (ahem Hawkeye). Age of Ultron has flashes of brilliance that eclipses anything in the first movie (that first act!), but it ultimately disappoints because it never realizes its great potential.
The movie starts with a bang and masterfully segue ways into that awesome Avengers Tower party scene. But then it stumbles. The Scarlet Witch-induced visions dampen the pace, and if that’s not enough, we get to revisit Thor’s vision a second time. Too much time is spent at the farm, and precious screen time is wasted setting up Hawkeye’s “death”.
The best action scene comes about the 2/3 mark, when Cap goes up against Ultron on the highway. Then we get that clunky Vision birth scene, and move into the climatic show-down, which is full of amazing action and laughs but ultimately falls well short of the mark because the stakes don’t feel real. Ultron isn’t going to win, that much is clear. That’s not really a surprise – the conventions of the genre are clear and you know what to expect going in. But the victory still feels too easy, too clean. A truly heroic, sacrificial death by someone that matters to us would have gone a long way here. If you keep raising these impossible stakes but ultimately there are no consequences, all the tension goes screaming out of the balloon.
And when the movie ends, the Avengers just kinda disband? Thor’s return to Asgard is a given, but Stark’s peace-out is a surprise, and I guess Hawkeye was given his walking papers because he’s nowhere to be seen. We’re left with a hodge-podge collection of secondary characters, ending the film on anything but a triumphant note.
I’ve shared why Age of Ultron is the superior flick and also why it’s still the apprentice. In the last post, I’ll rank it alongside the rest of the MCU films. Tune back in to see where it lands.