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Back in 2012, the impossible happened by not only creating an Avengers film—which was stemmed from several other films—but was both commercially and critically successful. Over the course of these last two years, Marvel has been expanding their Cinematic Universe, taking careful steps in preparing their fans for what’s next to come. Even before Age of Ultron was released, it is in the public knowledge of what is expected in the future. As the film stands, Avengers: Age of Ultron gives you everything that you expect from a Marvel film, let it be for better or for worse.
Minor spoilers below.
While many appreciate the franchise for its long running story, it is important to remember that these are action-blockbusters at heart. Right from the get go in Age of Ultron, we see the team in action, attempting to retrieve Loki’s scepter from a Hydra operative. Through this opening action, we also are quickly re-introduced to the heroes, being reminded of why we love them in the first place. The film is filled with big action scenes, and while that can be jarring at times, they at least make sense in terms of the story that is going on. They’re not just big, action set pieces that the plot revolves around, but the opposite. Like in most Marvel films, the story comes first, and while it is convoluted at times, it stays with the continuity of the series.
What is very interesting is that this time, the main villain of the story was brought on by one of the Avengers, Tony Stark, trying to keep the world safe. When the idea of Ultron is brought up, which is a self-thinking robot that is meant to protect humanity and replace the Avengers, it’s relatively easy to figure out where the story is going. It’s a story that paints it makes humanity the source of the world’s issues. It’s obvious that the AI is going to turn on Stark, and say that the only way to protect humanity is to destroy it. What keeps it from feeling generic is Ultron himself, who is characterized as being very cunning and not another carbon copy of the Hal 3000. He truly is a living being and actually feels like a threat to the Avengers.
Digging deeper into this, one can draw parallels with Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein. They share many surface details, such as the creature being created out of their creator’s hubris, the creature’s love and hate for mankind, and a constant search for companionship. These surface level comparisons help look into what the film is really trying to say. It goes far beyond “Man should not play God”, and brings into question man’s pride and how we face the consequences of our actions.
The Frankenstein references don’t just stop with just Stark and Ultron. Throughout the film, many of the main characters go through an emotional crisis of who they are and calling themselves monsters. One of these comes subtly with Captain America/Steve Rodgers, where we get a chance to see his biggest fear courtesy of The Scarlet Witch. While his “nightmare” is strikingly different than the others, it slowly unravels itself and reveals a side of Cap that many wouldn’t expect, and allows for further development in future films.
Age of Ultron is definitely a film that is slathered in fan service, which is a double-edged sword that bring on many (granted, small) issues. For one thing, it is not kind to those who haven’t seen all of the films that have come before it. It keeps with its continuity and doesn’t slow down for those who don’t understand. It even beings in elements from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which while is a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it never felt like required-reading to understand the rest of Phase Two.
As well, there are several winks and nods exclusively for those who know the comics, and it’s not just small name drops like in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. This mainly comes in the last 20-25 minutes of the film, where it feels very out of sync with the rest of it. Everyone knows that Marvel has several sequels down the pipeline, and these last several minutes feel like a commercial of what is to come instead of wrapping up the story that is in front of them. It feels like something only those who have read the comics would understand and appreciate, but leaves the general audience in the dark and feel very lost. It takes away from what should be a fantastic climax to what has already been a great film.
Even with these minor complaints, Avengers: Age of Ultron is honestly a great film. It goes beyond the standards of what a summer blockbuster is supposed to be. It’s filled with balls-to-the-walls action, great writing, and gives you an adrenaline rush that will stay with you hours after viewing. While it does require you to really be in tune with the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it has something that can please every kind of movie-goer, especially with a crowd that is excited to have fun for two-and-a-half hours.
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