Coming of 'Age'1 of 12Avengers: Age of Ultron begins screening in North America at 7pm this evening, and since we’re all comic book fans, no doubt we’re going to want to talk about it just a soon as we’ve seen it.
So for Newsarama readers coming out of the early showings, and for your international readers who have already seen it, here’s our first pass at 10 observations about the film and the Marvel Cinematic Universe in general in wake of its release.
For you readers who haven’t yet seen it, we urge caution. There are spoilers ahead. C’mon back and join the discussion later tonight, tomorrow or over the weekend.
Marvel’s Precarious Position2 of 12Marvel Studios enters a strange phase of their existence, If Avengers: Age of Ultron is anything less than a world-dominating all-time box office record-breaker, it'd be considered a crushing disappointment.
And you can see the burdensome weight of those expectations in the DNA of Avengers: Age of Ultron. There’s a lot going on, and the film was clearly engineered to one-up Avengers, perhaps to its ultimate detriment.
As one astute maybe-12 year-old girl observed at the end of the screening we attended – “In Avengers they fought thousands of mindless aliens, in this one they fought thousands of mindless robots. It was exactly the same."
She said it without a hint of disappointment, but … indeed.
CIVIL WAR – CAP 3 or AVENGERS 2 1/2?3 of 12Speaking of the weight of lofty expectations, if any film is in more of an unenviable position than Age of Ultron, it’s next May’s Captain America: Civil War.
Ant-Man will likely benefit from the fact few know what to make of it and many are likely expecting a commercial hiccup. But will the more sure-thing Civil War be expected to play like a Captain America third leg, or more of a bonus Avengers installment?
With Robert Downey Jr. signed on, the debut of Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther, the reported returns of newly-appointed Avenger the Falcon, Black Widow, Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch, and the potential MCU debut of Spider-Man, it’s awfully hard to make the argument this is a “solo” Captain America film anymore. Even if not in name, it looks like it’s going to play more like Avengers-lite … and not all that “lite” at that.
Despite the breakout success of The Winter Soldier, there’s still a world of difference between its $715 million global box office gross and the $2 billion Avengers: Age of Ultron may approach. Not to mention the $1.2 billion of Iron Man 3 in 2013.
Can a movie not called “Avengers” live up to Avengers-like expectations? Or could Marvel split the difference and officially re-title the film the somewhat unwieldy “Iron Man & Captain America: Civil War”? Warner Bros. is doing that effectively with March's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
ULTRON’s Just a Regular Dude4 of 12The creative decision to have Ultron go toe-to-toe with Tony ‘Snark’ in the quip department was curious one. Sure, you don’t want to waste the talents of James Spader on a non-descript, earnest, blandly-malevolent black-hatter like Malekith or Ronan, and Ultron has Loki’s devilish charm to compete against/replace in the dynamic, but Joss Whedon might have gone a bit too far ‘humanizing’ the big lug.
Trading witticism with Iron Man was one thing, but Ultron referring to Wanda and Pietro as “guys” in the last act was a bit jarring, we’re just saying…
Marvel.Needs.Gwyneth.Paltrow5 of 12Robert Downey Jr. is an actor of enormous charisma and charm so you can forgive a lot just to see his on-screen magic, and we want to see Age of Ultron again to confirm this impression, but Tony Stark comes off as kind of a d**k in this movie.
There, we said it.
While his heart’s in the right place, he’s become sort of Marvel’s own post 9/11 Dennis Miller - a sharp mind that was completely reshaped by a display of potential greater terror coming.
Tony comes off here as manipulative, particularly of Bruce Banner. Even for the first Avengers, Stark seems to regard Banner as someone he can bend to his agenda. Banner dances to Stark’s music.
As Thor puts it, Stark may have proven to be ultimately correct to have flipped the Vision's on button, but his methods were still highly questionable.
At least with Pepper Potts and even Happy Hogan to protect, he’s humanized. They ground him and keep him humble. Without them, Downey plays Stark as above everyone else, even and especially to a fellow scientist as accomplished as he. And that may be a accurate adaptation of the comic book character, but it plays a little thin here.
The ‘Surprising’ Death6 of 12The fact there was a death in Avengers: Age of Ultron is no surprise. With the exception of Iron Man and Iron Man 2 (are we counting The Incredible Hulk?), every Marvel Cinematic Universe film has featured a prominent death or apparent/faux death (actually, most of them are the latter). The heart-stringy demise or perceived demise of Odin/Thor/Loki, Bucky, Coulson, Pepper, Frigga/Loki (again), Fury, Groot and now even J.A.R.V.I.S., respectively, is a part of Marvel’s house style.
So while it’s no surprise another character was killed in Avengers: Age of Ultron (this one looks for real, unless they pull a ‘Coulson’ on him), the fact that it’s Quicksilver is something of a surprise … or is it?
One has to wonder if Fox’s use of the character in the X-Men movie universe contributed to Marvel offing Pietro after one film and about 20 minutes of actual Avenger-ing?
And speaking of which, who noticed the name given to Hawkeye’s newborn baby son in the end credits? In case you missed it – Nathaniel Pietro Barton.
THE HULK, Same As He Ever Was7 of 12Age of Ultron is the 'Empire' of the Avengers‘ quadrilogy’ so it had to end on a dour, uncertain note for a least one character (the Han Solo role). That character was the Hulk, who we suspect will be keeping a very low profile until he makes a triumphant return in Infinity Warm PART 2 (Yes, that’s a prediction, more on that in a few moments).
But what was so fun about the first Avengers was Banner exerting some control and yes actually enjoying being the Hulk during the tour de force third act. The Hulk sucker-punching Thor is perhaps the singular highlight of the entire MCU canon. It was also the moment Marvel got the Hulk right - when they recognized he is, in fact, an everyman. Full of seething rage all bottled up, yearning for an outlet.
So it was somewhat surprising to see Whedon reverse course and return to the tortured ‘werewolf’/’Banner wants nothing less than to change’ dynamic that well, really isn’t all that fun or relatable.
Again, we suspect when the Hulk returns, Banner will be more-in control than ever (Infinity War, Part 2 will have to have the happy endings of all happy endings) but that’s a lot of years to wait for the pay-off.
ANT-MAN Shrinks From View8 of 12Anyone else surprised Ant-Man didn’t get any Avengers: Age of Ultron love at all, like a Hank Pym namedrop ala Stephen Strange in Winter Soldier? There was enough robotic/bioengineering pseudo-science going on to make a shout-out pretty easy to slip in.
And there was no end-credit teaser (at the advanced screening we saw at least), which would have been exceedingly simple to tack on. Marvel seems to be distancing Ant-Man from the main franchise, and maybe that’s not such a bad thing...
...and yes, that’s a transition...
‘Put Your Hands On You Head and Move Away From the Stones’9 of 12Part of what makes Age of Ultron not quite as light on its feet as the original is the copious amount of MCU world (really, sequel)-building going on. Thor’s role in the film is almost entirely foreshadowing to Thor: Ragnarok and even Avengers: Infinity War and you have to wonder if the Scarlet Witch was given her mind-f**k power for no other reason to set up Thor for his sequel and Iron Man for Civil War and beyond.
What made Winter Solider so refreshing in part was that it didn’t force feed any more larger MCU exposition, and while Guardians of the Galaxy did partake in some of that, it was far enough removed from the Earth-bound Avengers mythology that it wasn’t burdened by it.
Here’s hoping Ant-Man, Civil War, Doctor Strange, Guardians 2 and of course Spider-Man are given a furlough from the service of the overarching shared continuity of Thanos’ impending incursion on Earth before things presumably get very dark and continuity heavy for Thor: Ragnarok and Infinity War, Part 1.
Yes, the shared universe is a big part of the success of the MCU, but the Marvel Studios brand is probably established well enough now that the films don’t all have to play like a chapter in one larger story. Moviegoers get it. It’s all connected. Avengers: Infinity War is coming. Marvel likely doesn’t have to be so overt about that anymore.
Rolling Stones10 of 12So before we get to Infinity War, here’s a quick Infinity Stone audit. Tesseract (Space) on Asgard. The Aether (unknown?) presumably still with the Collector. The Orb (Power) is with the Nova Corps on Nova Prime, and the Mind Stone (formerly of Loki's staff) is with the Vision. That sound right?
And did anyone catch Thor telling Cap four of the Infinity Stones were in play recently and that it was no coincidence? That means Thor is aware of the events of Guardians of the Galaxy, which isn’t too much of a surprise as it was established in The Dark World that Asgardians are aware of and interact in the Marvel cosmic-verse at large.
Now you can only play out the implications of a shared universe so much in the time a couple of movies a year allots you, but soooo much of what Marvel is establishing is the Avengers and particularly Tony Stark fearing and preparing for unknown alien threats. But Thor could probably help Tony do so much more to actually prepare Earth for what and who is out there.
And can a ‘futurist’ like Stark resist knowing there is technology out there centuries ahead of what even he is capable of building? Wouldn’t he begging Thor to take him out into space to get a look at warp technology up close?
Again, that’s one of those things you just sort of have to stop your brain from fixating on and accept as a premise, but still…
INFINITY WAR11 of 12Now having seen Age of Ultron, here are our updated expectations for Infinity War.
- It’ll be some form of crossover with Guardians of the Galaxy. Has to be. Don’t let anyone at Marvel try to make you believe otherwise.
As mentioned earlier, two Infinity Stones are in the Guardians corner of the playing field, and Infinity War, Part 1 looks to be Thanos assembling the Gauntlet. There’s no way the MCU's first and final battle with Thanos happens under the Guardians' noses.
- Don’t expect the original Avengers line-up to re-assemble until Part 2, which again, might be the next time you see the Hulk. By storytelling rule, part 2 is going to require a cavalry, and reunions play big in final acts.
- There’s really no reason why Infinity War won’t feature appearances from everyone – from Ant-Man to Doctor Strange, from the Defenders to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. , to Loki and the Guardians, it’ll likely be all hands on deck for at least Part 2.
To bring things full circle, the weight of expectations are growing and will dwarf even Age of Ultron's by the time Infinity War rolls around, which carries the extra weight of having two films to sell. Infinity War, Part 2 will also be the second part of the third act of Phase 3 which itself will be the third act of entire MCU filmology… yikes. It’ll have to be the pay-off to end all pay-offs and almost out of necessity probably mark a significant ending point while Marvel gives itself a breather makes a clean narrative break in some form or another for the start of Phase 4, Act 1.
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