Avengers: Age of Ultron

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.


Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Avengers Assemble

CONTENT WARNING: Joss Whedon, abuse.

If that isn’t for you, I’ve put a noticeable break between the JW section and the Avengers section

I like Avengers Assemble, and there is no denying the impact that it had on Popular Culture and the cinema industry as a whole. However there is a huge problem with this film that, by now, has become practically unavoidable. That problem is writer/director Joss Whedon. He rose to prominence in the late 1990s for his work on the hit TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and stayed relevant through his work on the follow-up series Angel as well as the short lived space-western Firefly, however, he has been famous more recently for his horrific actions. As I publish this, we are still feeling the aftermath of how poorly Warner Brothers handled the creation of the 2017 film Justice League, a major part of which was Joss Whedon’s behaviour on set. Cast members, primarily Ray Fisher, have detailed Whedon’s violent behaviour, racist beliefs, and misogyny. This isn’t even about how he butchered that film to a point beyond recognition, this is about how he treated the people that he was supposed to be looking out for and taking care of. Ray Fisher risked his entire career and was fired by Warner Brothers to tell us this, and his words were echoed by people who had previously worked for Whedon. A large portion of the cast of Buffy and Angel came forward with their stories to demonstrate that he has always been like this. He threatened to fire cast members for getting pregnant, pinned cast members against walls and threatened to destroy the career of anybody who thought that they knew the character they were playing better than him.

Over the past few months, I have seen people defend Whedon, stating that he has made some great shows and films with some going as far as to claim that this should excuse him. No. I don’t give a damn how good you think his work is, this kind of behaviour is unacceptable from anyone. It is not necessary to build a career, and it is not necessary to create a piece of media. This behaviour is atrocious, and he should be held accountable for it. I considered writing a separate piece about Whedon, but it is important to me that he is being held accountable in as many places as possible and in relation to the projects that have made him famous. I wrote in my review for Thor that every director has their own creative flair, which means that there is a lot of Joss Whedon in Avengers Assemble. Most notable is his misogyny, which comes across in the oversexualisation of Black Widow. It’s present from her very first scene, in which she does a great number of flips in a very revealing camo top, through to her jumpsuit that is never zipped up to cover her chest. Then there is the semi-love triangle between her, Hawkeye, and Bruce Banner which has zero ramifications on any of the 3 characters except for in Age of Ultron. Yes, she gets to close the portal, but this isn’t what saves the day because Iron Man has already destroyed the Chitauri fleet. It becomes more clear every time I watch this film that Black Widow is only here for one reason, and it isn’t the plot.

On top of Whedon being a terrible person, I happen to think he isn’t a great filmmaker either. Avengers Assemble feels less like a film and more like a 2 hour long episode of a TV programme. He changes the camera angle every few seconds, which means that we almost never get a lingering shot to appreciate the moments of good cinematography. I say “almost” because there are some noticeably good shots in here. Loki’s arrival, Thor’s arrival, the old man standing up to Loki, and Hulk punching the Space Whale are all gorgeous, but we are never given enough time to appreciate them. As a fan of pairing classical music with violence, the scene of Loki at the Gala is especially infuriating to me because it just needed less camera angles. On top of this, Avengers Assemble feels so small compared to the rest of the MCU, and most notably to Thor which preceded it. It feels like it was all shot on a soundstage, which isn’t a vibe that you want in a blockbuster. I know that this is all really negative, and that you were likely expecting a positive review because that’s kind of my whole deal, and I’m also a huge MCU nerd, however there are three things to note here. Firstly, I wouldn’t be so annoyed about the quality of the movie if I didn’t think there was good movie in here Secondly, I also wouldn’t be so annoyed if this film wasn’t as important important to me, other people, and the state of pop culture as it is. Thirdly, Joss Whedon is human trash. It is important that his drastic failings are noted when talking about one of his greatest achievements, because I am about to launch into the positive part of the review and I will not be accused of tolerating Joss Whedon. I will not give him a pass. He had his hand in creating a historical moment but I still think that he should never work again.

Avengers Assemble is the film from which all cinematic universes attempt to build themselves. Studios see a group of individuals with entire backstories fighting a great evil, and the $1.5billion it earned at the box office. However, that isn’t why this film works. It works because it builds on an already established mythos. This isn’t where the story begins, it’s more like a mini-boss fight in a video game. This isn’t Luke fighting Emperor Palpatine, it’s Luke destroying the first Death Star. It’s an important part of a much larger narrative, that teases the main villain in the post-credits scene. It baffles me that companies either don’t understand that, or think that they can create a universe without doing it. The thing about Avengers Assemble is that it was a risk, and it paid off, but if it hadn’t we’d still have that first phase of Marvel movies. Phase One of the MCU consists of 6 films, building characters and hoping to convince people that a shared universe could work – with Avengers Assemble being the proof of concept. Yes, there were shared universes before, like Universal Monsters in the 1920s, but none were as expensive and grand as this.

In terms of continuity, this one is essential. It marks the formation of the titular team as well as the first time that many of them have even met. It finally continues the story of Captain America after starting with him 6 films ago, demonstrates how serious Stark was about not making weapons again, and brings our Asgardian brothers back together after their previous fight. There are 3 significant characters worth talking about at this juncture: Bruce Banner, Carol Danvers, and Phil Coulson. Bruce looks totally different to the last time we saw him, due to the role being recast after Edward Norton elected not to return. It is reported that he didn’t want to tie himself to a franchise, which is fine because Mark Ruffalo suits the role beautifully with a perfect mix of anxiety and intellect. Meanwhile, Carol is noticeably absent due her character not being introduced into the MCU until 2019. However, should you require an in-universe explanation, there is one of those because you’ve got to fill those plot contrivances. The Chaitauri invasion of New York simply isn’t a Captain Marvel level threat, and I think the plot makes that clear. The Avengers are supposed to be the first line of defence in the event that Captain Marvel is not readily available because she’s on the other side of space. Lines of defence in descending order are The Military, SHIELD, The Avengers, Captain Marvel. Lastly, we come to poor Agent Phil Coulson who did not need to be murdered… but was anyway. It’s a real testament to actor Colin Gregg that his character became a fan favourite, remains one to this day, and was revived for the spin-off TV Show Agents of SHIELD. I know that many people consider the first 2 series of this show to be canon, but I don’t and I never have. They are immensely fun as headcanon or an Alternate Universe timeline, but the characters never cross over into the films, even as quick mentions. I know that at the time Kevin Fiege hoped to fold it all in, but that hasn’t happened. Of course as a Doctor Who fan, I find the concept of “canon” totally ridiculous, so believe what you will.

In terms of the continuing story of the MCU, Avengers Assemble starts many threads that will carry us forward. Perhaps the most prominent of these is the formation of the team itself. As the story continues, they will always at least mention a fellow member at least, if not giving them an actual appearance. The MCU used to focus on individual stories, but now that this shared universe is so vast, those have become rare. The Battle of New York is also going to have a massive impact on Tony Stark going forward as he begins to struggle with PTSD. This also isn’t the last time that we will see The Tesseract, which Thor takes back to Asgard to store in Odin’s vault. It will remain here for quite some time, while we are introduced to more characters and more Infinity Stones, which isn’t even a concept that has been introduced at this point. We will later learn that Loki’s sceptre is powered by a different Infinity Stone, despite this film stating that The Tesseract is powering it. This may be a retcon, but I can also provide a solid in-universe explanation/theory which I have as headcanon. As far as The Avengers are aware, this Cosmic Cube is the most powerful thing in the universe, and is the only thing that holds this much unlimited power. If they scanned Loki’s sceptre and found that it was powered by something with as much power as The Tesseract, then of course they are going to assume that The Tesseract is the source of that power.

So, at last we have come to the famous post-credits scene. It is quite the historical artefact. Thanos is more burgundy than purple, and is smaller than the next time we see him. This is 2 years before Guardians of the Galaxy where he is officially introduced with a redesign, and this scene is only a few minutes long so it makes sense that he looks the way he does. At the time, I had no idea who this guy was, and that was the general response of anybody who didn’t know the comic books. It was only upon my own research into the character that I discovered how much of a threat he was, and started to get excited for his inevitable attack. Another odd artefact is that this is one of the few films with a confirmed year in the in-universe timeline. There is a general timeline, which is a little vague, but they are all centred around this: The Battle of Ney York in 2012.

Battles will come and go for The Avengers, but this is the first and that makes it special. Even with its flaws, this film is important and I really wish that movie studios could take the right lessons from it. Avengers Assemble was the proof that Kevin Fiege’s experiment was going to work, that it would make money, as well as being a moment in cinematic history. It mostly works because of the films that preceded it, but without it we wouldn’t have gotten what came after. I love what this film represents, and I don’t think I’m done with it.


Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer