Oh I did it fam. In preparation for my viewing of Avengers: Infinity War on April 26th at 7PM, I went back and rewatched the previous 18 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, from Iron Man to Black Panther. Every day leading up to Infinity War I’ll be posting a short piece on each film and my most recent hot takes on nearly a decade of the MCU. I’ll also be linking back to whatever old nonsense I wrote about the movies at the time, if applicable. And if that isn’t enough, check out my ranked listed of the MCU to date on my Letterboxd account here.
After the first Avengers film and the conclusion of phase one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe the concept of the shared movie universe seemed like a proven, cut-and-dry formula: small, enjoyable-enough “solo” movies with charming characters that slowly pave the way for a climactic collision of costumes rewarding audiences for biding their time through Avengers hanging out by themselves and not avenging. For better and worse that all kind of falls apart with Age of Ultron and Marvel’s second phase.
Like Iron Man 2 before it, Age of Ultron serves as a sort of sign post for a point of no return, an alarm for when certain storytelling strategies have been worn out. In this case, Age of Ultron represents the last time Marvel could get by on quips and costumes alone. There’s certainly joy to be had from Joss Whedon’s sassy one-liners and the reunion of our heroes is undoubtedly action-packed, but this isn’t a direct sequel to The Avengers, this is a film that has to contend with the more organic humor of Guardians of the Galaxy and the more physical action of The Winter Soldier and ultimately comes up short on both accounts.
As it turned out, those enjoyable-enough solo movies could be astonishing, and those climactic collisions of costumes could be utterly unrewarding.
Age of Ultron feels like a response to Avengers and not much else. Where the first Avengers film built directly off of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America, nothing about Age of Ultron feels like a natural progression from Marvel’s second phase of films, be it narratively or stylistically. There are the compelling seeds of a story here, James Spader’s Ultron is quirky and menacing in his own strange way and the events of this film present compelling and integral moments in the grand story arc of Tony Stark, but whatever Whedon’s initial vision for his follow-up to Avengers was, it gets muddied in translation by what feel like corporate mandates.
This is the least self-contained film in the Marvel Universe due in large part to its seeming lack of concern with itself. Age of Ultron introduces a slew of new characters, goes legitimately all over the world and sets up threads for three or four future MCU installments, but it doesn’t allot much of its running time to just be itself. It’s a very selfless movie that way, and it suffers for it, coming off like a film without an identity of its own.
Because so much of this movie is so expository, most of the characters wind up being short changed, leading to an Avengers outing that feels like less than the sum of its parts. At times Age of Ultron feels like a party that’s being thrown in order to disguise doing chores. The party being an Avengers movie. The chores being tedious and, in retrospect, entirely unnecessary setup for the MCU’s future. There are some great sequences in this movie and some genuinely funny moments, but it certainly hit the brakes on the exciting momentum the MCU had been building since The Winter Soldier.
And now for a look back at the morning after I saw Avengers: Age of Ultron, a point in which I am both not yet prepared to admit my disappointment with this movie and compelled by a sense of duty to write something about this movie: