Avengers: Age of Ultron ★★★★★

“Humans are odd. They think order and chaos are somehow opposites, and try to control what won't be.”

Avengers: Age of Ultron is my favourite film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

Avengers: Age of Ultron is one of the best films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Hear me out.

The Avengers, 2012, is an excellent adaptation of the team-building book. All the best Avengers origins, like the original 1963 issue and the Ultimate reinvention, were expertly brought to life in the acclaimed classic. Similarly, 2018’s Infinity War made history by being the truest representation of universe spanning event comics that one could ever hope to see realised in live action. 

So where does Age of Ultron fit into this? Easily. It is the perfect adaptation of just your normal, three to five issue storyline in the middle of a comic book run. If I ever pick up an Avengers book, looking for an escapist, fantastical exploration of interesting science fiction ideas about the human experience, Age of Ultron is exactly the story I would expect to be reading and, for that, I think it should be showered with praise.

I would imagine this opinion comes as somewhat of a surprise to most filmgoers as Ultron is often one of the more forgotten entries in the series. Perhaps this is due to its perceived lack of innovation and relevance to the larger evolving storyline of the series but, whatever the reason, I could not speak to why the film has such a comparatively low public opinion.

Infamously, Age of Ultron is the film that kind of broke Joss Whedon. With enormous pressure coming at him from all sides to recapture lightning in a bottle, he poured everything he had into making Ultron work and I really think it shows. I’m not here to do a personality profile, just to review the work, and I think if you follow Whedon’s writing across his career on Buffy, Angel, Firefly and the like, you might well find the man’s opus in this film. In a lot of ways, everything the man ever had to say philosophically and politically culminates in the rich and layered ideas that make up Ultron’s script. 

Yes, themes and ideas. This film has them in spades. Since I want this review to actually end at some point, I will only briefly touch on some of the major, surface level ones but just know that I am enamoured with the philosophy of Age of Ultron and could probably read/write any number of papers about how dense it is and still be learning new things;

Life - Easy one. Tony creates life; Ultron. Ultron is a “suit of armour around the world” designed to preserve and maintain life as it is (themes of evolution too, of course). Ironically, Ultron ultimately concludes that life is worthless. There is also Clint’s family who demonstrate that he is the only Avenger actually living a life whereas Bruce and Steve decide/have decided by the end of the film that they can never hope to have a normal life. This parallels interestingly with Tony who seems to doing everything he can to seek that kind of restful existence. And then there’s Wanda and Pietro who are motivated by their own experiences clinging to life in a hopeless situation that culminates in the latter’s death, the ultimate testament to life’s impermanence.

Godhood - The Avengers are looked at as gods by the people they protect (Thor is literally a god and, again Tony creates life). Ultron thinks of himself as god-like (“When the Earth starts to settle, God throws a stone at it”) and I particularly love the church scene (“the symmetry of faith”) to overtly highlight what he’s got to say about faith. Captain America is “God’s righteous man”. Ultron is, naturally, the thematic, philosophical opposite to Vision

Monsters - Nat and Bruce consider themselves to be monsters. Tony thinks he has created a monster out of his own image in Ultron (does that make Tony a monster?) but Ultron does not see himself that way

Trust - Tony does not trust anyone and breaks Steve and the team’s trust. The Maximoffs and Vision have to earn the team’s trust.

I see a lot of criticism of the titular antagonist as being a hollow vehicle for bog-standard villain posturing but I just could not disagree more. Compared to his contemporaries like Apocalypse or even Loki, dare I say, what Ultron has to say seriously matters. Not a line is wasted and the character expresses some of the most intriguing and well-developed ideas of any villainous figure in comic book cinema. It physically pains me that Thanos gets so much acclaim just for having a point when an entire, earlier film is dedicated to exploring how Ultron is a conflicted and complex character whose feelings toward existence itself evolve as the film goes on. Need I cite any further evidence than the breathtaking scene in the film’s climax between Ultron and Vision that just sums up the entire film perfectly. He is a brilliant villain.

Age of Ultron completely nails is its tone and characters. I think the one positive that can be generally agreed on by fans is that Whedon did an excellent job at portraying the Avengers as a team and giving the audience time to breathe and live with them as a family. The party scene is the obvious go to but I want to also give a shout out to the initial action set piece that opens the film. Yes, the effects do get a little dodgy in parts but I adore the interactions between our heroes and getting to see them work together in the prime of their days as Avengers. Everybody is on top form here and I just relish their scenes together. While I’m here, I will also mention that I love the romance between Nat and Banner. It is a natural progression of their relationship in the 2012 film and is one of the most disappointing dropped balls in future instalments, in my opinion.

Even the new characters are given plenty of time to shine. The Maximoff twins are immediately likeable, sympathetic and memorable additions to the series. Aaron Taylor-Johnson deserves more credit for being able to capture the horrors of that bomb story so well without a single flashback too. The first appearance of Vision is also treated with an appropriate gravitas that immediately cements him as an iconic character.

All of this being said, I am not blind to the flaws of this film. It would be absurd to try and deny that Age of Ultron tries to do too much in one film. Insanely, the second Avengers film attempts to be a solid follow-up to its predecessor, pick up dangling threads from The Winter Soldier, establish lore that would later come into play for Black Panther, Infinity War and Black Widow, respectively, sew the seeds for Civil War and also be good in its own right. This is crazy talk and Age of Ultron stumbles the most when Thor takes a detour into a side-mission that serves, primarily, to just set-up the Infinity Stones. On the one hand, comics do this all the time. There are any number of stray issue of team-up books that see any given member away from the main action on their own personal quest and arc and I do like that about it. Nonetheless, it completely kills the pacing and really should have just been abandoned entirely. In fact, I will go so far as to say that Thor as a character seems to be the one Whedon had the most trouble fitting into the story in general. He has a little bit of thematic relevance and is functionally useful in saving the day but he does seem a little bit lost in this script by the end.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is an intricately woven piece of fiction that balances heavy ideas and exciting, comic book action almost effortlessly. It does stumble a bit in its middle act and it seems to clearly not be for everyone but, nevertheless, I highly implore revisiting it and giving it a second look. It really is something special and a classic that so many seem to be sleeping on.

And this is the world where Thor: Ragnarok is univsersally praised?