The consensus in the MCU fandom seems to be that Age of Ultron is bad, and that it’s the weakest of all 4 current Avengers films. I disagree with this, but I have very mixed feelings about this particular installment which, I feel, is of a higher production quality than its predecessor. I disliked the television feel and rapid camera cuts in Avengers Assemble, and I am pleased to report that neither of these issues are present in Age of Ultron. Of the several issues in this film, cinematography isn’t one of them.
The plot follows The Avengers as they face off against Ultron – a synthezoid created by Tony Stark that has gone rogue and is attempting to end humanity. This sounds relatively simple but it’s primarily the glue that holds a hundred other plot threads together. Age of Ultron is all about setting up the future of the MCU, and introduces us to a variety of new characters. The Maximoff twins, Vision, Ulysses Klaw, and Hawkeye’s family all make their first appearances here, and they are all given a decent amount of set up. Since this is the majority of the plot, the easiest way for me to discuss Age of Ultron is to discuss all these elements: starting with Pietro and Wanda Maximoff.
The Maximoff twins are technically the first mutants in the MCU, but you won’t hear them called that because the rights to use that term were with 20th Century Fox at the time. This meant that a work around had to be found, and I think it’s fairly clever. The twins received their powers after Hydra used the Infinity Stone in Loki’s sceptre to experiment on them, which led to them becoming known as “enhanced”. This experimentation comes after they survived the collapse of their house where they spent several days staring down an unexploded Stark missile. This gives them a solid reason to stand with Ultron, but because they are acting out of revenge instead of pure malice, they are still willing to side with the Avengers once they learn Ultron’s full plan. My biggest issue with Pietro has nothing to do with the character, and everything to do with how he is used. He is killed by a hailstorm of bullets whilst pushing Hawkeye and a child out of the line of fire, which is particularly ridiculous given he is the fastest man alive. It feels as if this only happens to provide Wanda with further trauma. Wanda herself is a very likable character, but much like Black Widow, she is unnecessarily put into tight costumes. Actress Elizabeth Olsen has been very open about how against this decision she was, especially considering the director told her she wouldn’t have to wear anything like that. There’s no denying that the oversexualistion of women is at its worst in the first two Avengers films, and the more I hear about it, the more I’m filled with rage. As we go through the MCU, Wanda is going to get—in my opinion—one of the best characterisations in this franchise, and she deserves it. Much of this will come to a head in Wandavision, details of which we will take into account when we get there.
The introduction of Vision is handled very well. The lead up to his creation/birth is filled with tension, because it has only been a few days since Tony attempted something similar and ended up with Ultron. Despite being born in the middle of a massive disagreement between Avengers and an oncoming battle with Ulton, Vision is extraordinarily calm. He knows that he might not be trusted, but the moment he picks up Mjolnir he unknowingly proves to everybody that he is one of the most trustworthy beings there is. It’s a simple act, which means nothing to him but everything to those around him. He also happens to be one of the most powerful beings on the planet, having been created with Vibranium and with an Infinity Stone embedded in his forehead. It also helps that his birth was kickstarted by the lightning of Thor himself, who has a barely-present subplot about the possible incoming destruction of Asgard.
Ulysses Klaw gets a similar understated demonstration of power. We know that he’s an arms dealer with a dangerous history, because even Tony Stark at the height of his capitalistic nature wasn’t willing to trade with him. When we meet Klaw, he is afraid of nothing (except cuttlefish) and intimidates the Maximoff twins who have been sent to threaten him. He isn’t even set back when Ultron rips one of his arms off, which shows his unflinching determination.
Now we come to Mrs. Barton and her two children. Their introduction got a lot of backlash from some people who felt it completely undermined the romantic relationship that Avengers Assemble set up between Clint and Natasha. I am of the same opinion, however I feel like this isn’t a bad thing, and I’d like to explain why. Firstly, it gives The Avengers a much needed safehouse, and shows how desperate they are for safety because Clint would not allow his two worlds to collide unless it was a last resort. It also shows how much he cares about the Avengers, because it would have been easy for him to run and hide. In terms of negating the romantic relationship between Clint and Nat, I think that their characters work better with a platonic relationship. It shows how truly close they are, and how much they trust each other, whilst demonstrating that mixed gender relationships don’t need to be romantic.
This doesn’t mean that Nat has no love interest, because heaven forbid she be allowed to exist for herself. Age of Ultron features a relationship between her and Bruce Banner, which I find difficult to sit through. I’m aware that the comics did it once, but Nat has had a relationship with pretty much everyone in the comics and putting any of these in an MCU film doesn’t make it inherently good. To me it reads like Nat is sleeping her way through the team, but worse than that, she uses her relationship with Banner to calm him down as the Hulk, which is ridiculously manipulative. However the worst part of their relationship comes with how the film compares these two characters, making them seem equally monstrous. Natasha was trained as an assassin in the Red Room, which removes the ability to have children as part of the graduation ceremony, and this is equated to The Hulk who is an uncontrollable, dangerous monster. Good to know that not being able to give birth makes you a monster. Good to know that the trauma Natasha faced makes her a terrible person incapable of redemption. Coupled with Tony’s earlier line about reinstating Prima Nocta on Asgard if he can lift Mjolnir, it paints a very clear picture of how the director feels about women.
Age of Ultron definitely has some of the worst moments in the MCU, in particular its treatment of women, but I still find the plot to be impressive. There’s no denying that the pacing is off, but considering the amount of plot threads and set-up present, it’s almost a miracle that the film is as comprehensible as it is. I think that comes down to Ultron, who leads The Avengers from scenario to scenario and whose portrayal by James Spader is highly entertaining to watch. This isn’t a sequel or a continuation, it’s a beginning. A heavily padded beginning, with plenty of action and character conflict to remain entertaining.