Age of Ultron is not the best movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
It’s also not the worst, by any means (Iron Man 2 or The Incredible Hulk share that title for me).
Reviewing Marvel movies is always a tough call for me, mostly because I don’t know whether to judge them as standalone films or to see how they stand against the other movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Let’s be honest, here, Age of Ultron was always going to have a tough time topping Captain America: The Winter Soldier (currently holding my “favorite Marvel movie” title) AND the campy, fun, colorful joy that was Guardians of the Galaxy. The stakes were raised with these two and even though Age of Ultron manages to be an entertaining, fun and generally worth watching Avengers movie, it falls short in some things other Marvel movies have excelled in, including the first Avengers.
(Author note: this is my review after a first viewing. Can things change after a second one? For sure, but I think it's fair game to write about your first impressions of a movie)
This refers mainly to the character arcs. I know when you have a two-hour movie in your hands and you want to give development to characters that do not get a chance to have it in their own standalone movie (Natasha, Bruce and Clint) you kind of have to make the best of it with a limited time, but if there is something good about these movies is that these characters are in each other’s lives enough for you to plant seeds regarding these stories in other movies. I have a feeling Joss Whedon has his own idea of the characters and completely disregards other movies when making his own. That, or there is a big miscommunication problem among the writers of all movies, which would be okay if they were not all connected, but they are, and you have to be able to watch them as a cohesive whole.
Now, believe me, I do understand where the idea of Natasha and Bruce comes from. These are both broken people who have found comfort in each other’s company. It’s sweet, it’s interesting. I was open to giving it a chance, but when your only set up is limited to a few interactions in the first movie, you do not expect these two characters to have a romance arc that ends with a sort of love confession and an “I have to leave or I will hurt you” climax. When I heard Bruce and Natasha were a thing in this movie, I was looking forward to it setting the groundwork for a future relationship. However what I was given was a relationship that had developed off-screen way too hard and way too fast, with both characters already speaking about the possibility of a future (or lack thereof) together. I did not buy it, which is a pity, given Mark Ruffalo and Scarlett Johansson do have the chemistry to sell it.
What makes this worse to me is that there was some great potential with the story, specially after Natasha’s visions of what happened to her. We’ve seen in Agent Carter some of the things these Black Widows go through in order to become killing machines and sterilization against your own will is most definitely a despicable thing to do to a woman. Had this not been used in order for Natasha and Bruce to have a bonding moment over how they’re both “monsters”, I would have most definitely seen this differently. In this case it fell flat and it was rather disrespectful to what could have been an insight into some of the traumatizing things this really complicated and interesting character has gone through.
It was also really funny how the movie tried to establish the nature of Clint and Natasha’s relationship as non-romantic (to much of fandom’s dismay), not just by having her awkwardly state he’s “her best friend” several times but by having Clint have a secret life with a wife and kids, who Natasha seems to know very well and get along with. After Clint and Natasha’s relationship in Avengers, those must have been some awkward family dinners.
Script-wise, I feel like Ultron was an interesting villain, because he is Tony’s creation. We then see the total opposite in Vision, so Tony’s “dual” personality shows up rather well in the way they both see things. He is a complicated man who wants security for those he loves but his approach is sometimes faulty. This movie is setting up what’s going to be Civil War and I think it does a good job highlighting the differences between Tony and Steve, who remembers war way too well. These two clash all the time because of the same reason, so it was interesting to see it again.
I was rather disappointed with Thor’s visions and his story. He was a more integral part of the team and eventually he is the one to talk to everyone about the gems, but if this is all we get before Ragnarok, I’m rather unmoved and have honestly forgotten most of it.
Pietro and Wanda kind of suffered from sharing screentime with our most-known heroes. Their stories were interesting, but underdeveloped (I actually learned more about the things they’d gone through in about 2 minutes of the last Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode than I did during the movie) and I had a hard time feeling bad for Pietro when we lost him, because we had just met him. It’s important because of what it will bring out of Wanda, who I found way more interesting with the same short amount of screentime, but it did nothing for me. And honestly, Clint naming his kid Nathaniel Pietro? Eh, I guess it’s nice of him, but it makes no sense.
Whedon also chooses to disregard Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. entirely, by bringing back S.H.I.E.L.D. with Fury (apparently?) at the helmet, despite Fury giving out his director title to Coulson in the show and a current fight for power between two “branches” of S.H.I.E.L.D. But of course, for Joss Coulson is still dead in the movies, since “it makes sense narratively”, even though there is no logical reason why, after most of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s secrets came out. Shouldn’t Steve know, anyway, given his range during Winter Soldier? Shouldn’t Natasha? Shouldn’t Tony? Maria Hill works with these people. She was the one to call Coulson in the last episode and he was the one to tell her to “get the Avengers”. It makes no sense whatsoever. MCU’s claim that “it’s all connected” should have a small footnote that says “except when Joss Whedon doesn’t want to!”
It’s also worth noting the CGI on that first fight scene was all kinds of atrocious. I am disconcerted by it, in fact. Was it an artistic choice? It doesn’t happen again during the movie, so I am choosing to think it was, but it threw me off immediately, since it’s the first thing we see.
Despite all of this, I enjoyed the movie. It was fun, it had very Whedonesque one-liners, which sometimes were a bit overkill (like the “language” bit, which was fun at first but not after a while) and it had really enjoyable action sequences, though for the life of me I don’t understand how anyone could endure those in 3D, since I had a headache during most of them and I didn’t know who was supposed to be where. It also ended on a semi-positive note (I am ridiculously excited for Scarlet Witch, Falcon and War Machine joining the Avengers) and had a cool mid-credits scene. It’s about time Thanos stops sitting around sending other people to do jobs for him and starts doing some actual villain work himself.
Bottom line is that the movie is entertaining, which is really the ultimate aim of a superhero movie. But will I run to the theater for a second viewing? Unfortunately, I don’t think so.