United We Stand

Avengers: Age of Ultron reassembled our heroes with mixed results. As the eleventh installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Avengers: Age of Ultron is objectively the weakest large scale crossover by default. Age of Ultron is the only Avengers movie I didn’t see twice in theaters. The Avengers was admittedly a tough act to follow. I don’t doubt that giving the 6 original Avengers enough screen time, introducing new superheroes, acknowledging events that came before, hinting at future projects, deciding on an Avengers level threat, and doing something different was a difficult task. Joss Whedon was a mess after filming and hasn’t directed an entire film since (for one reason or another). The Avengers is still my all time favorite Marvel movie, but that doesn’t make Age of Ultron a disappointment.

It’s a miracle it ended up as good, fan pleasing, and coherent as it was. My anticipation for the sequel increased as soon as the title was announced. Ultron is an evil artificially intelligent robot with a long history connected to the Avengers. Although a comic storyline titled Age of Ultron came out 2 years earlier, the movie follows its own continuity. Phase Two of the MCU can mostly be described as an experimental era. Producer Kevin Feige took a chance on different tones and genres. Age of Ultron was meant to be the darkest chapter yet. Even the trailer managed to make “I’ve Got No Strings” from Disney’s Pinocchio sound sinister. Although Age of Ultron does manage to tear the Avengers apart, it was every bit the joke heavy spectacle it was before…

22. Avengers Age of Ultron

Avengers assemble

Avengers: Age of Ultron opens with the new and improved Marvel Studios logo. Since there was only 2 hours & 22 minutes to tell such a complex story that took years to properly tell in the comics, Age of Ultron drops us right in the middle of the action. The first superpowered individuals we see are Wanda and Pietro Maximoff. I was beyond excited to discover the iconic twins would make their debut, but I wasn’t sure what it meant in the MCU. In the comics, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver were Romanian Mutants who first appeared in The X-Men #4. They were initially part of the Brotherhood of Mutants before joining the heroic Avengers in Avengers #16. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver were such a big part of both teams that 20th Century Fox and Marvel Studios had co-ownership of each character. X-Men could use the twins, but not mention the Avengers and Marvel could use the twins, but not refer to them as Mutants or acknowledge Magneto as their father.

The mid-credits scene form The Winter Soldier referred to them as “miracles” who volunteered for Hydra experimentation. Loki’s scepter seems to be the cause of Pietro’s superspeed and Wanda’s mental manipulation. Age of Ultron refers to them as “enhanced” and changes their home country of Transia to the equally fictional Sokovia. Although the Mandarin threatening the President, Malekith attempting to plunge the world in darkness, and Hydra targeting civilians using armed Helicarriers seem like Avengers level threats, it turns out to be Loki’s scepter in a secret Hydra compound. All Avengers assemble for another awesome group shot. The best thing about S.H.I.E.L.D.’s lack of involvement is that it gives the Avengers a chance to work as a well oiled machine. Tony Stark upgrades their tech with personalized gadgets, the newly rebranded Avengers Tower, and J.A.R.V.I.S. overseeing an army of robotic Iron Legion peacekeepers. Hydra agents are briefly seen sporting Chitari inspired uniforms. They’re no match for Thor swinging his hammer, Captain America throwing his shield on a motorcycle, Iron Man firing his repulsors in the Mark XLIII suit, Hulk smashing everything in sight, and Hawkeye shooting his arrows while Black Widow drives.

Despite his reputation in the comics, Baron Wolfgang von Strucker is very easily defeated by Cap. Hydra sends in the twins to slow the Avengers down a little. Pietro quickly takes out Hawkeye and Wanda messes with Stark’s mind after he finds Loki’s scepter. The first hallucination is extremely important with how it sets up the inevitable Avengers level threat. Tony sees his fellow teammates dead as the Chitauri invade the Earth. Cap’s broken shield was clearly meant to be a shocking image for the trailer. As Stark takes the scepter, the Avengers: Age of Ultron logo appears on-screen alongside a much more ominous score. After destroying all of his suits and removing his arc reactor in Iron Man 3, Stark is back to his old ways of making suits and trying to protect the planet as Iron Man. His Iron Legion doesn’t go over too well in war torn countries like Sokovia. After turning down the throne in Thor: The Dark World, Thor is content with living amongst mortals. Obtaining Loki’s scepter is the final piece of Asgard to give him closure.

After S.H.I.E.L.D. fell in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Steve Rogers shifts his focus to leading the Avengers. Maria Hill is also working for the team as part of Stark Industries and Natasha Romanoff tries to atone for past mistakes. Apart from falling asleep in the Iron Man 3 after-credits scene, the Incredible Hulk hasn’t been seen since the first Avengers. Bruce Banner only Hulks out for Code: Green emergencies and it starts to take a toll on his psyche. Clint Barton hasn’t even been mentioned in 3 years. They really lean into Hawkeye being a useless member of the team, but Age of Ultron gives him a lot more attention than you’d expect. A new character is introduced in the form of Korean scientist Dr. Helen Cho. She uses her Regeneration Cradle to rebuild Barton’s damaged tissue. Stark making terrible decisions that create enemies isn’t exactly new, but he does it again when he convinces Banner to help him build Ultron. In the comics, Hank Pym is the one who creates the maniacal mechanical menace. Despite Ant-Man being only a few months away, Tony Stark is now responsible for Ultron’s creation. I suppose it makes sense considering Stark already developed artificial intelligence with J.A.R.V.I.S.

The scepter’s mind altering energy gives Stark and Banner another brain to work with. Ultron is meant to act as a suit of armor around the world to protect the Earth from the endgame (remember that!). Like most evil robots, Ultron turns on his creator, views the Avengers as a threat through the internet, and destroys J.A.R.V.I.S. in an unexpectedly abstract sequence. Meanwhile, the team celebrates a job well done at Avengers Tower. As cool as it is seeing the Avengers fighting together, it’s just as fun to see them in their down time. The party was the best place for Rhodey and Sam Wilson to make an appearance. Pepper Potts and Jane Foster’s absences are explained in a girlfriend measuring contest between Tony and Thor. At least Stan Lee gets his cameo as a veteran who can’t handle Thor’s liquor and says “Excelsior.” The night concludes with the best non-action scene in the movie. As the entire team attempts to lift Mjolnir in a variety of humorous ways. Barton can’t pudge it, Tony and Rhodey can’t lift it with their armor, Banner jokes about Hulking out, and Natasha declines the offer. The only person to make Thor’s hammer move is Cap, but he doesn’t lift it (remember that!).

Ultron finally makes his presence known in a damaged Iron Legion body. His motivations are creating peace by ensuring the Avengers extinction. A dramatic fight breaks out between Ultron controlled robots and the Avengers in their civilian attire. As Thor destroys the last machine, Ultron’s consciousness survives in Strucker’s Sokovian Hydra base. It’s there that he builds himself a more formidable body. Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch honor their villainous roots by teaming up with Ultron instead of Magneto. Their goal is to destroy the Avengers since a Stark Industries missile is responsible for killing their parents and nearly costing the twins their lives. Stark’s secret creation of Ultron begins to unravel the team, but they work out a plan of attack. Banner mentions Wakanda for the first time in the MCU as they track Ultron to Johannesburg. Ultron talks business with South African arms dealer Ulysses Klaue in order to obtain Vibranium. The most impactful Phase Two dismemberment comes when Ultron chops off Klaue’s arm in anger.

The Avengers assemble to face Ultron, but Iron Man spends most of the time fighting his creation. Meanwhile, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, and Hawkeye fight the Maximoff twins. Pietro runs circles around the team, but gets taken down when trying to grab Thor’s hammer. Wanda gains a lasting advantage by messing with the minds of Thor, Cap, and Romanoff. Hawkeye incapacitates Wanda since he’s already experienced mind control. Each hallucination is crucial for uncovering a characters past or setting up a future storyline in the MCU. Black Widow sees her Russian born past as she’s trained to become a deadly assassin in the Red Room. Cap sees the life he could’ve had in the 1940’s when Peggy Carter asks him for a dance. Thor is visited by a blind Heimdall in an Asgardian celebration that ominously sets up Ragnarok. Although Iron Man’s high tech fight with Ultron ends in his favor, Stark’s problems are just beginning when Wanda unleashes the Hulk. Easily the best one on one fight in Age of Ultron is between Hulk and the Hulkbuster. All the chaos and mental manipulation is enough to bring the Avengers to their lowest point in the sequel…

23. Avengers Age of Ultron

Hulk vs. Hulkbuster

Avengers: Age of Ultron may take more liberties with its source material, but it’s just as comic book accurate as what came before. Joss Whedon managed to juggle so many plot threads without sacrificing his intended vision. Age of Ultron deals with heavier themes and has the darker color palette to match. I am gonna miss Whedon’s directing style, but his persistent humorous dialogue started to go a little overboard. Buffy Speak worked for the more lighthearted first installment, but now characters quip every chance they get. Cap saying “Language” in the opening scene is referenced at least a dozen times throughout the movie. It’s funny, but Cap swears in every movie he’s appeared in up to that point. Ultron is one of the more terrifying villains in the comics. There’s always something unsettling about an expressionless android. Although James Spader can be perfectly threatening, Whedon knew he could be just as funny. Ultron’s CGI design makes him a physical match for the Avengers, but I was never crazy about his expressive face. Ultron’s god complex is fitting, if a little overdone. I expect those kinds of Whedon trademarks, but giving Hawkeye the spotlight was an odd choice.

Hawkeye was first introduced as an Iron Man villain in 3 separate Tales of Suspense comics. Joining the Avengers made him a steady presence on the team, but never anyone’s favorite. Jeremy Renner does show a lot more charisma and an occasional sense of humor that Barton had in the comics. His best joke is acknowledging the fact that he only has a bow & arrow in a fight against robots. At least most of them are trick arrows. Although he still doesn’t have a mask, Hawkeye’s dark purple costume is better with a more archery inspired look. Fallout from Hulk’s rampage leaves the team in need of a place to lay low. Barton is surprisingly revealed to have a family on a secret farm that Nick Fury set up for him. Like most of his character traits, Laura Barton is from the Ultimate universe. Linda Cardellini plays Hawkeye’s supporting wife and mother of two with a third on the way. Age of Ultron gave Scarlett Johansson a chance to explore Nat’s affectionate side. Understandable considering Johansson was pregnant while filming. Black Widow is still a skilled fighter with a similar short haircut, electrified catsuit, and widow’s bite batons, but she’s also a caring Aunt to Barton’s children. Which is traced back to her tragic past in the Red Room. All assassin’s are sterilized to become more efficient killers. I just wish the reveal didn’t factor into what is arguably the worst part of the sequel for me.

I absolutely hate the Black Widow and Hulk romance. I don’t care if they’re the only single heroes on the team, Bruce Banner is supposed to be with Betty Ross. Without her, Romanoff is the one calming the Hulk down with the now iconic “Hey big guy, the sun’s getting real low” lullaby. Steve is the first person to approve of the relationship since he’s gotten a lot closer to Natasha since their time in The Winter Soldier. Without a solo movie to tell his story (thanks a lot Universal), all of Banner’s inner turmoil has to be shown amongst his fellow Avengers. Mark Ruffalo more fully owns the role with more of the Hulk than we’ve seen before. This is the first movie to begin and end with the Hulk, but he doesn’t have a single line for some reason. The Hulk’s CGI appearance is about the same as before with Stark’s contribution being a pair of purple stretch pants. Although Andy Serkis was strangely cast as the non-CGI Ulysses Klaue, he did help Ruffalo with his motion capture. Like before, Banner’s best interactions are with Stark. Whether they’re performing mad science together or fighting on the streets of Johannesburg.

Given the way Iron Man 3 ended, I honestly never thought I’d see the Hulkbuster armor on the big screen. The Hulk vs. Hulkbuster fight is everything a Marvel fan could ask for. The Mark XLIII armor is about the same as the red & gold suits that came before, but it can also operate inside the Veronica. The nickname is a nod to Archie comics and the closest we may ever get to Betty being acknowledged again in the MCU. The Mark XLIV Hulkbuster suit is beyond awesome with a logical amount of contingencies to fight the unpredictable Hulk. A satellite hovers around to deploy an electrified cage and spare parts for destroyed limbs. All the unintended destruction is enough to give Banner a reason to leave. Robert Downey Jr.’s contract was up as soon as his trilogy was completed. Fortunately Marvel kept him on board, since Iron Man is simply too important to the story. Downey Jr. is a bit more serious with Stark’s need to build Ultron, but he still cracks jokes along the way. Stark and Cap’s conflicting ideologies begin to show again as they chop wood on the Barton farm.

Their civil war will have to wait for Nick Fury to reamerge with a pep talk for the team he helped form. Despite S.H.I.E.L.D. being no more, Samuel L. Jackson needed to appear no matter the size of the role. Cobie Smulders had a chance to show Maria Hill’s humorous side before she rejoined with Fury. Steve Rogers is still a perfect soldier, but Chris Evans definitely shows more of Cap’s fun side. He’s more comfortable on a team afterall. Hayley Atwell’s mid-Agent Carter cameo is Steve’s only link to the past. After the response to his previous Avengers costume, Captain America returns to a padded suit with a darker red, white, & blue with brown boots & gloves. Stark’s contribution is an electromagnet that summons Cap’s shield the way Thor summons his hammer. Cap and Thor continue to get along well with their own set of takedowns involving the hammer and shield. The only Avenger absent from the safehouse is Thor. He flies off for a majority of the film to get answers regarding his vision. Chris Hemsworth is now more in tune with Thor’s humanity on Earth. His long hair and outfit is about the same as previous designs since there’s no fixing perfection.

This was Thor’s first time not interacting with Loki, since Tom Hiddleston’s cameo was cut. Idris Elba as Heimdall and Stellan Skarsgård as Dr. Erik Selvig are Thor’s only link to his supporting cast. Selvig helps Thor in a confusing Norse water ritual that reveals the emergence of the Infinity Stones. Although it was probably an excuse to get Hemsworth’s shirt off again. Fury’s most valuable piece of information is discovering Ultron is unable to use nuclear launch codes thanks to an unknown firewall. Tony uses the Nexus internet hub to track the source and Banner only contributes by realizing Ultron may go after Helen Cho in Seoul, South Korea. Claudia Kim does well in her small role that sees her mind controlled by Loki’s scepter. The Maximoff twins switch allegiances when Wanda senses Ultron’s ultimate goal for global human extinction. Cap has his shield losing one on one fight with Ultron as Barton and Romanoff take Cho’s Regeneration Cradle containing Ultron’s incomplete “Vision.” Romanoff is taken, but Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch prove their loyalty by saving passengers on a runaway train.

The most bizarre thing about the twins is that they were played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen one year after playing husband and wife in Godzilla. More bizarre is the fact that Taylor-Johnson and Evan Peters (who plays the Fox Quicksilver), both appeared in Kick-Ass together. Although I appreciate Marvel Quicksilver’s comic accurate accent and blue running sequences, there’s no denying Fox did a better job. Their version wasn’t overly accurate, but he was fun and super powerful. This version is mostly protective of his sister and wears a blue tracksuit. The closest he comes to a personality is his repeated line “You didn’t see that coming.” Olsen on the other hand, was genius casting with no competition from Fox. Little did we know her big screen career would one day surpass her famous twin sisters. Wanda is unhinged, super attractive, and more powerful than she realizes. Her vaguely magical powers are visualized with red energy. Instead of full witch attire, Wanda dons a short black dress and scarlet jacket in the final battle. The Avengers’ only advantage is Ultron’s “Vision,” but they all fight over how to proceed. Vision is undoubtedly the one Avenger I never expected to see a comic accurate portrayal of on the big screen. Yet he was too important to Ultron and Scarlet Witch to ignore.

Vision made his first appearance in Avengers #57 created by Roy Thomas and John Buscema. Stan Lee’s only contribution was making him an android instead of an alien. Vision was highly logical like Spock and had a series of advanced powers like flight and intangibility. The movie somehow manages to make his red face and silly green & yellow costume work. Vision comes together in a highly convoluted way that actually makes a lot of sense. Ultron uses Vibranium in Cho’s Regeneration Cradle to construct the body. Revealing the blue energy from Loki’s scepter that really contains the yellow Mind Stone. My theory was correct, but I think the color choice was an accident. Stark and Banner attach J.A.R.V.I.S.’s A.I. to the Mind Stone and Thor brings Vision to life with his lightning. Paul Bettany had it very easy voicing J.A.R.V.I.S. ever since the first Iron Man, but now he gets into the action by playing Vision. The technical makeup retains his classic colors with a costume that synthetically forms around him. Vision assures the team that he’s on the side of life and proves he’s worthy by surprisingly lifting Thor’s hammer (a first in the MCU).

The Avengers assemble to rescue Natasha and save the world from extinction. Ultron makes himself a stronger new body, aligns himself with an army of robot drones, and plans to wipe out all life using a Vibranium infused Sokovia as a meteor. Stark permanently replaces his A.I. with the less memorable F.R.I.D.A.Y. and dons the sleeker Mark XLV armor. Iron Man keeps Ultron busy while Cap and Thor tend to civilians. Meanwhile, Banner rescues Black Widow from her underground prison. They only share one kiss before she unleashes the Hulk. Although Hawkeye is very much a loner on the team, his best interactions are with Wanda and Pietro. Barton gives Wanda the pep talk she needs to become an Avenger in a particularly badass sequence. Thor has his one on one fight with Ultron when he’s taken to the center of town. Fortunately Vision arrives to swing Mjolnir and wipe the internet from Ultron’s mind. The Avengers assemble in another awesome group fight that gives every hero a chance to show off their unique skill set. Iron Man, Thor, and Vision use their range attacks on Ultron while Hulk smashes him.

With Sokovia flying in the air, Nick Fury arrives with S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarriers in a deus ex machina to evacuate civilians. Don Cheadle is the only supporting superhero with a substantial role. Rhodey redons a sleeker Mark II armor, tries to tell a War Machine story, and helps destroy flying drones. Whedon’s incessant need to kill beloved characters comes when Quicksilver takes several bullets for Hawkeye and a child. I don’t think I’ll ever truly forgive the controversial decision. Hulk throws Ultron out of the Quinjet, a traumatized Wanda rips Ultron’s heart out, and Iron Man destroys Sokovia with Thor’s help. Vision saving Wanda from the wreckage made me so happy, because I knew what that meant for their future. Vision has an intriguing philosophical conversation with the last Ultron drone before destroying him for good. In the aftermath, Hulk exiles himself using a Quinjet set to stealth mode. Clint retires with his family and names his baby Nathaniel Pietro Barton in Quicksilver’s memory.

Just like the comics, a new Avengers compound is built in upstate New York with most of the team leaving. The Marvel trinity say goodbye with Thor seeking answers in Asgard and Tony leaving to get his life straightened out. Black Widow and Captain America stay to train a new team of Avengers. My excitement was through the roof as soon as I saw Wanda in an all scarlet costume surrounded by Vision, War Machine, and Falcon in his redesigned uniform. Anthony Mackie briefly appears to discuss Winter Soldier matters with Cap, but he had to be digitally replaced at the end. Age of Ultron ends in a previously frustrating way with Cap shouting “Avengers!” before “Assemble” is cut off. The after-credits scene continues to hype up Thanos as he dons the Infinity Gauntlet and promises to find the Stones himself. Phase Two expanded the MCU in such a big way. TV was suddenly crucial with episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. directly tying into Age of Ultron. Daredevil also premiered on Netflix, but it didn’t tie into anything. Avengers: Age of Ultron is more game changing than it’s given credit.

24. Avengers Age of Ultron

Ultron strikes

Preceded by: The Avengers & Followed by: Avengers: Infinity War

2 thoughts on “United We Stand

  1. Yeah I think looking back this movie looks better. It set up a lot of good threads and brought in some character that it took years and more projects to put to good use but they did pay them off… but still it was all over the place and I cringe at some of the humor like Tony’s law of first night joke at the party.

    Liked by 3 people

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