This review is mildly spoiler filled, but nothing that will ruin the movie for you.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is huge. With ten films down and more movies planned out through 2020, Marvel is working with a broad canvas, getting as many superheroes together as possible before the final showdown with Thanos in Avengers 3 and 4. While the sheer complexity of the MCU is admirable, Avengers 2 shows some of the flaws of having such a complex universe. It is a fun movie, but showed the consistent problems that Marvel experiences when crafting their movies.
If you are not a fan of Marvel movies, you are going to be lost in Avengers 2. As just a casual fan of Marvel movies, I found myself constantly searching my brain to remember what characters I was seeing and why they were important.
The movie starts out in the middle of an Avengers mission to destroy Baron von Struker’s (sp?) last remaining stronghold, the one where Loki’s scepter is held. During the mission, the Avengers are attacked by two mutants, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. The former has mental abilities that make our heroes experience visions of their worst fears (or something like that). She uses her powers on Tony Stark, who catches a glimpse of Thanos’s space fleet headed for Earth and all the Avengers dead. This sets up the emotional conflict for Iron Man in the movie.
It would be easy to say that this film is about Tony Stark, since he gets the most character development. Throughout the film, he is dealing with the emotional repercussions from the climax of the first Avengers film. This ends up being the impetus to create the Ultron project, which as you guessed, goes terribly awry. But, this is not just Tony Stark’s movie. Throughout the film seeds of conflict are sown between Tony Stark and Captain America. Any casual Marvel fan knows that these two superheroes will face off in Captain America 3: Civil War, so director Joss Whedon has to set up the eventual turmoil that will occur between these two characters.
But that is not the only thing happening in the film, and this is where Avengers 2 starts to get exhausting. Within the movie we also get a budding romance between Bruce Banner and Black Widow, exploration of Hawkeye’s family life, a set up for the Black Panther movie, Thor discovering things about the Infinity Stones and setting up Avengers 3 and 4, more Nick Fury exposition, the birth of Vision (which is the coolest part of this movie, but horribly shortchanged for screen time), Black Widow origin story, the introduction of two new superheroes, and setting up the next Captain America movie. Those are a lot of things to have in one film. Each little side plot could get a movie in its own right, and it is amazing that Avengers 2 stays as cohesive as it does. Still, it feels like lots of scenes packed into one movie instead of a consistent chronological story.
While all of those little side plots are fine, the biggest problem is that it shortchanges the main plot of the story. Remember, this movie is called The Age of Ultron, and we have not even discussed anything about the villain!
Like most Marvel villains, Ultron ends up being disappointing. Joss Whedon can only spin so many plates at once without shortchanging somebody. Unfortunately it is Ultron that gets the short stick. When we do see him he is menacing and sarcastic, providing a good counterpoint to Tony Stark’s character. However, Ultron’s motivations are never too clear. He starts by saying that he wants to save the human race by making them evolve, but ends up just trying to eradicate everybody and start a world of his own. From my perspective, I was never too clear on what Ultron’s overarching philosophy was, it seemed to keep changing. We could chalk that up to him having a psychotic mind, but when you have a villain so psychologically damaged, the movie needs to spend time with him, so that the audience can at least perceive a method to his madness. Unfortunately, since there are so many other things happening in this movie, Ultron ends up being a mere stop gap villain, someone for the Avengers to deal with while more interesting story lines develop. This is especially true since we already know that Thanos is the main villain that the Avengers will have to face. With that threat constantly looming on the horizon, Ultron ends up feeling like an inconvenience while more dire problems are developing elsewhere.
The film ends up feeling quite bloated, and you could tell that a lot was lost in editing. Really though, there was nothing Joss Whedon could do about the inevitable shortchanging of Ultron. Not only did he have to set up three superhero origin stories, he also had to write his movie to tie into Phase 3 of the MCU. The biggest problem with this movie is that it had too much to do, and not enough space to do it. So any problems with Avengers 2 are less of Whedon’s fault, and more of Marvel’s.
Marvel itself has backed itself into a corner by setting up an overarching Thanos storyline in the Phase 2 movies. Every movie villain from now own will seem small in comparison to the inevitable threat of Thanos, and all the superhero movies coming out will feel like buildups to the final confrontation with Thanos. Invariably, every super villain will be shortchanged.
Ok, I feel like I am being too harsh on Avengers 2. I really did enjoy the movie. I loved seeing every character get some spotlight, and I thought that the action scenes were awesome. One thing that I really appreciated about all the confrontations was the attention paid to civilian safety. In all the confrontations, the Avengers make an effort to save and protect innocent civilians. In these sort of movies we need that direct action. We need to see Captain America saving people or Iron Man trying to avoid populated areas. That is what makes them heroes: they protect the innocent. We need to look up to our superheroes. They need to be examples to us, and saving innocent people makes that happen. When you don’t have that direct civilian protection, you end up with a movie like Man of Steel. And nobody wants that.
The action scenes are also well shot and choreographed. Joss Whedon has an eye for heroic camera angles and character placement. Many of his “hero shots” look like they came right off the comic book page, making the audience feel like they are watching a superhero movie. Notably spectacular is the final showdown with Ultron and his goons, where Whedon packs all of his heroes into a small church and we get an epic slow motion action shot of the Avengers in battle. It is wonderful, and gives a sense of heroism that other superhero movies are sorely lacking.
Well, I do not know if I have anything else to say about this movie. It is a lot of fun, and is definitely immersive. As has been pointed out, these movies exist in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Avengers 2 really makes it obvious that this is a Universe filled with stories and conflict. It can be exhausting at times, but we have to give Marvel credit for creating the most interesting and complex cinematic universe that has ever been put on screen.