So recently, I went back and watched Avengers: Age of Ultron. It might be a strange choice but I was doing some research. Anyway, there was something fascinating about rewatching the film as some kind of inkblot test for the MCU as a whole. After two films and three years of evolution for the Avengers and the MCU, what can Age of Ultron illuminate? It’s all a bit said and done about this film, one might think.
Now, here’s the obvious. There are a couple cracks in the form that resulted from the intense pressure of a follow-up to the pillar of the MCU to that point, The Avengers. There was conversation at the time centred around a few points of the film’s development. Whedon was bowing out after this film due to the pressure of an Avenger’s film. Studio mandates called for the cave scene or to lose the farmhouse. Finally, there was lots of disgruntlement with Natasha’s romance with Bruce. I’ll discuss all of these and offer a perspective based on how things feel on the other side of Phase 3 as it were.
Let’s start with some base level. The handling of Captain America in this movie is weird. Early on in the film, Cap expresses a new-found puritanical spirit in regard to swearing. He is lambasted about this for the rest of the film. It feels like a certain version of the character that the Avengers films have him play. His understanding of the Maximoff twins is a nice call back in that they share story elements. As the focus shifts to Hawkeye’s connection to the Maximoff’s however, that gets overturned a little. However, it does do some heavy lifting to show the role that Steve would play to Wanda in Civil War.
Next, the big twist of the film at the time of release was the death of Quicksilver. Quicksilver occupied a space where the X-Men movies and MCU shared custody of the character but not the same version. A major setpiece in X-Men Days of Future Past was firmly in audience minds, going into this film. Now, watching this film again, you can see Whedon playing coy with this twist. Hawkeye fits the narrative for characters who bite the bullet in other Whedon properties. Whedon tends to put a narrative focus on those who will soon be shuffling off this mortal coil so that their death can hurt more.
However, in the filmmaking, Whedon telegraphs Quicksilver’s death repeatedly. The repetition of the back-and-forth quip ‘You did not see that coming,’ builds in three parts, which is a convention of storytelling at this point. Quicksilver says it to Hawkeye in the first act, Hawkeye says it to Quicksilver in Act 2, and Quicksilver repeats it when he is gunned down in the third act. There is a frustrating meta-element to this. It feels like Whedon is speaking to the audience at that moment. The two other moments that play into the foreshadowing of Quicksilver’s death are pretty obvious. In the climax, Sokovian soldiers stop firing when Wanda and Pietro step between them and the Ultron bots. However, one soldier fires a round that nicks Quicksilver on the arm. A nod to how he will die and that he can still be killed by conventional weapons. Next is when Cap gives a speech to the Avengers. As he says ‘If you get killed, walk it off,’ it cuts to Quicksilver. His whole power being movement-based, there’s a couple layers to this foreshadowing. Like I said, super obvious in retrospect.
There’s an interesting thing happening in this movie when it comes to Hawkeye. Over the course of the film, Hawkeye becomes the ‘one last mission’ guy. A trope usually reserved for the character who bites it. However, it’s revealed that he plans to retire to spend more time with his family out of the spotlight. There’s an interesting parallel to Whedon in that both of them want to step away to spend time with their family. At the time, it seemed like the perfect narrative. However, knowing now what we know, the world is never so simple.
Whedon was a philanderer. For as long as he was in the public eye, he maintained a certain image and practised a hypocrisy behind the scenes. Like many revelations of the #MeToo movement, it is a terrible thing. You feel complicit because you enjoyed the work of someone who did horrible things to the people in their life. I might write a future piece about how we tackle this complicated feeling of enjoying a work and reviling the creator. To make a complicated topic slightly shorter, those accused of abuse of all forms should lose the place they have in society. Now, let’s look at some lighter fare.
This is perhaps Tony’s darkest moment in his journey to stopping a second alien invasion. His extension of the concept of Iron Man to a ‘suit of armour around the world’ is an interesting place to take the character. His remorse here does play a lot into his motivations in Civil War. I think the decision to have Ultron be the villain of the second film works because of the following movies and the fallout from that. Ultron was created by the Avengers and so, there is a certain guilt that carries through Civil War and Infinity War.
I enjoy Ultron. I get that not everyone is a fan. James Spader is doing a wonderful job, which does go a long way. He does suffer a bit from Whedon quipiness but I like how that element is born from his creation at Stark’s hands. I wonder if Ultron suffers because Marvel at that time was swimming in underwhelming villains. Ultron looked like he might buck that trend but for many people didn’t. Taken for what he is, I enjoy him.
Now let’s get to the thing I really don’t enjoy about this film. Joss Whedon can’t write Black Widow. Black Widow in Age of Ultron suffers a bit too much from “Strong Female” character disease in this movie. Her relationship with Bruce is frustrating on one level because it feels like its borne more out of Bruce’s character than Natasha’s. I think there’s a way to write Black Widow as Bruce’s love interest that is slightly interesting. I’ve always viewed Widow as somewhat of a chameleon. She is quippy, vaguely flirty and deadly because that’s what she’s been raised to be. There could be an interesting arc where no-one can tell who the real Natasha is because she’s always playing a role. However, there is a softness to Bruce Banner that could allow her to share her vulnerabilities with him, share trauma with him.
There is an element of that in this film, but it gets lost underneath a frustrating part of the story. Part of Natasha’s trauma is that she is unable to have children because of her spy training and procedures done there. There are some interesting ideas there. However, Widow has never struck me as a character who linked her femininity to a capacity for having children. (Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong). However, it feels like that is a character aspect that was thrown onto her because it fits with Bruce’s arc. Annoyingly, at the farmhouse, Natasha compares her lack of having children to Bruce’s having the Incredible Hulk inside him. She calls herself a monster which throws many women who cannot have children or do not want children for their own personal reasons under the bus. Natasha’s arc could have felt more natural opposite Hulk’s if her arc was about her vulnerability being a perceived weakness because the world needs saving. Black Widow and Hulk can save the world while Natasha Romanoff and Bruce Banner have to pick up the pieces. There’s something in that worth exploring.
Finally, I want to talk about the two new Avengers who made their debut in this film. Vision and Scarlet Witch. Having Infinity War’s climax centre around their relationship, it is interesting that they were only introduced three years ago in this film. I enjoy Vision in this film and in all his film appearances. I get that not everyone shares in my enjoyment of the character. Vision is all about seeking a greater understanding. Perhaps I like his story because it is a story about empathy. Scarlet Witch spends most of this movie connected to Quicksilver so it is interesting that part of her story in this film is about the trauma of losing her brother. In Civil War, she has to grapple with her mistakes and people’s fear of her. In Infinity War, she has to grapple with destroying her love for the greater good. It is a bit of a trauma parade for her. I think that her brother’s death in this film does give her arc in Infinity War more weight. She already lost Pietro and is now being asked to give up Vision as well. As Vision says ‘It’s not fair. It shouldn’t have to be you, but it is’. So it might be enjoyable to watch the ‘Scarlet Witch and Vision’ trilogy of Age of Ultron, Civil War, and Infinity War in future. It is an interesting watch of how the Avengers are divided and the journey of Vision and Wanda through that.
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