“We can bust arms dealers all day, but that up there. That’s the endgame.”
Hindsight has been incredibly kind to Age of Ultron. Around the time of its release; there was an underlying rumbling of disappointment with the movie. After two incredible successes in Winter Solider and Guardians of the Galaxy, the followup to what had been the biggest comic book movie ever at the time left everyone feeling pretty deflated.
Part of the reason for this may have been early marketing for the movie leading the audience into believing it was going to be something much different than it ended up being. Early trailers painted Ultron as a sinister, commanding presence whose unnerving reciting of a song from a classic Disney movie created a sense of dread that was absent from Loki’s more lighthearted presence in the first Avengers.
The Ultron we ended up getting was the exact opposite of this, jarring many movie goers and creating a sense of disillusionment amongst the fanbase that ended up enveloping many of the other great aspects of the movie.
The Promise of “Avengers 2”
The opening act of AoU (Age of Ultron) is fantastic, establishing a more adjusted Avengers unit. However, an early run in with Wanda Maximoff reveals the fears that have been bubbling away inside Tony’s mind since the battle of New York; that humanity is under threat, not from within, but from pretty much everywhere else. Hence the scene where Tony points skyward and tell’s Cap: “That’s the endgame”.
Tony’s actions and beliefs during the early promise of the the movie paint him as the unsuspecting villain of the movie, an arc that will continue right up until his eventual death: His willingness to sacrifice the personal freedoms of the people if it means their safety. It’s an early sign of his philosophy becoming diametrically opposed to Captain America; who values personal freedoms above all else. Spending years of your life fighting Nazis will do that to you.
Thus the literal personification of Tony’s desire to protect humanity manifests itself, quite literally, in Ultron. Who himself is your standard Artificial Intelligence gone rogue story trope. Created to safeguard humanity, he is immediately is driven insane by the paradoxical nature of the task. His solution; you guessed it, is what we’d be better off dead.
Heroism in a grounded world
Thus Tony creates the greatest threat to humanity (so far), in his attempts to safeguard them at all costs. The whole concept of the “human cost” of what the Avenger’s do is the real core of the movie. We’re shown a number of scenes of casualties that have happened in the world since Tony revealed himself to the world as Iron Man: The battle of New York, the people of Sokovia, the Maximoffs, the Hulk rampages.
The final action sequence of the movie, at one point, comes down to a choice between the lives of the many vs. the lives of the not as many.
It’s one big moral dilemma that that comes from whether the Avengers do more bad than good, a plot point that ends up getting explored much more successfully in Civil War. Because in AoU, it really stops short before having their characters forced to make an impossible choice, and then live with it.
It’s a strange line to walk, with the sudden appearance of Nick Fury in a Helicarrier, is takes any morally grey solutions off the table. And as a result the movie ends on a more positive, feel-good note. It’s not like I wanted a grim, lives of the many vs. lives of the few solution to the movie’s problem. But the themes and messages of the movie’s first act become lost in the mix, to the point that the film’s antagonist ends up getting forgotten in the chaotic final act.
Ultron fizzling out
By the time we dealing with the floating city in the film’s climactic final action sequence, I felt that Ultron himself had ended up getting forgotten. Going back to my earlier point, how the Ultron we got ended up being a very different character than the one we were promised in the marketing leading up to the movie’s release.
What the fans were expecting was a cold, calculating, terrifying villain who would divide and dominate the Avengers. What we ended up getting was a personification of the darker aspects of Tony Stark’s personality and current mentality.
Ultron feels much more like an evil Tony Stark than genuinely his own character. To the point that the two step on one another’s jokes. This makes him wholly unlike his comic book counterpart, and also unlike said counterpart, he never feels especially threatening on his own. If not for his recruitment of Wanda and Pietro, he probably would have been beaten by the Avenger’s the first time they fought.
The real nail in his coffin though was just how inconsequential he ends up being toward’s the movie’s ending. By the time we have a city floating above the clouds and an army of faceless robots to contend with, Ultron himself has long since ceased to be a factor. He’s there, but he’s not really participating.
The Ultron we needed ended up being the role Thanos ended up filling in following Avengers movies. A character who could stand as an overwhelming presence on his own and force the Avengers to band together to have a chance of defeating him. Not a character who feels like he’s only ahead of the heroes by a hair’s breadth and a bit of luck, unable to properly match the Avnegers even before Vision becomes a factor.
The huge number of plot threads spinning simultaneously
All that complaining aside, we get do hung up on how disappointing a presence Ultron is in the movie. So much so that we forget to mention the many great aspects of this movie and the different storylines that begin, continue and develop here, leading right up until Endgame. The main cast have some fantastic chemistry with one another throughout this movie and is the real highlight of the whole experience.
On top of the events surrounding Ultron, we have threads focusing on Clint’s secret family, his weird mentor relationship with the Maximoffs, Banner and Black Widow’s growing relationship, the introduction of Vision; a fascinating character unlike any other in the MCU at this point. There is so much going on that it’s easy to miss the further exposition into the Infinity Stones and Thor’s newfound understanding of the threat they pose.
There is so much going on in this movie with such a large cast, and yet we chose to linger and complain about Ultron and the movie’s ending not sticking the landing in terms of being derivative of the first Avengers and yet far less interesting. In reality, it’s packed with some fantastic character moments and really important beats that contribute to the future movies in a really big way.
Upon rewatching AoU, it’s not a bad movie by any means. It’s just left feeling derivative of what came before, and then is outdone by what comes after. However, putting the problems of the movie aside; there is a lot to like in this highly entertaining movie. One that seems much more ambitious than the first Avenger’s was.
While the first Avengers felt like hesitant first steps into a new frontier, AoU seems like a movie that fully exists within a world of interconnected movies. Had Ultron been written just a little differently, I have no doubt this would have been one of the best movies of the franchise, thanks to it’s character work, it’s fan service and it’s action sequences. Hell, if they’d just been more up front with what kind of villain Ultron was going to be, it might have fared better.
Today though, seeing how all the pieces laid down here ended up coming to fruition by the time Endgame was over, it just makes me appreciate it all the more upon going back to it.
This part of an ongoing series in which I speak about every movie in the MCU after watching them for the first time in a while. If you want to see the full list of the series so far, then click either here or here.