I’ve been deliberately avoiding all conversation regarding the new Avengers movie since it came out a couple weeks ago because I wanted to go in more or less blind so that I could experience the movie without any previous notions about what to expect. I enjoyed the first Avengers immensely when it came out, and I was confident that the sequel would be just as enjoyable and worth seeing in a theater (I have a philosophy regarding movie hype that once I am sold on going to see something in theaters, I try to stop paying attention to the marketing because advertisers generally have no respect for preserving what makes a movie surprising), so beyond the inevitable inundation of character reveals I didn’t know much of anything about the plot.
Now naturally it’s been kind of hard to ignore the conversations surrounding the movie’s treatment of Black Widow both textually and meta-textually (my opinion of Jeremy Renner, which was originally neutral, is now rather negative since he not only refused to offer a genuine apology for saying something stupid and blatantly sexist but doubled down on the sentiment). I think I would have had to embargo the entire internet in order for me to avoid hearing about that stuff, so I couldn’t help being primed to look closely at how Natasha is portrayed in the movie (though if we’re honest, I probably would have been looking at that anyway).
Anyway, let me get to the point: I enjoyed Age of Ultron immensely, and I think it’s well worth seeing if you’re a fan of superheroes and/or action movies.
Now let’s get into more in-depth thoughts. I’ll be discussing some spoilers from this point forward, so do with that information what you will.
First, let’s talk about Ultron. I didn’t know who Marvel had cast to voice the homicidal AI, so when I heard James Spader’s voice, I was genuinely thrilled. He’s so affably evil (I don’t recall Ultron ever expressing any kind of rage or anger, though there is a humorous moment of exasperation when he finds himself trapped on the Quinjet with an angry Hulk) that he totally subverted my expectations for the character. When I think killer robots, I imagine a rather humorless, menacing affectation, and Spader manages to infuse the part with plenty of humor while still being menacing. It’s good casting, and it really played against what I thought the character was going to be based on my limited exposure to him in the comics (as an aside for anyone who’s curious, the story “Age of Ultron” has nothing to do with this movie other than the title; Marvel stories that are named with a template “Age of _____” are traditionally about altered timelines that need to be reset to the standard one; they’re invariably headache inducing, and I love them, even if “Age of Ultron” isn’t a particularly good one). I’m really hoping that the ambiguous ending where his last copy is apparently destroyed by the Vision is just a red herring, because I think he’s a delightful villain.
The Maximoff twins are generally pretty flat in comparison to the rest of the cast, though I do like the small arc that Wanda gets in the movie’s third act. Pietro’s costume is silly (he really is just wearing workout clothes) and he’s a lot less angry than I was expecting (Quicksilver’s signature character trait is that he’s perennially frustrated with everything around him because his perception of time is calibrated to his accelerated metabolism making everyone else seem really slow by comparison), but his death at the end is satisfying. It pulls double duty of giving Pietro a heroic ending and also inciting angsty feels in Wanda so she can do some cool stuff during the climax (I’d call it an inverse fridging, but Pietro’s death doesn’t happen just so Wanda can be more interesting).
The Vision doesn’t show up until the third act, but every scene with him is great fun. I love the hints of attraction between Wanda and him (if I remember right, she totally ogles his inert body while he’s still being built), and the scene where he produces his costume after emerging from his cradle (I literally said to my friends in the theater, “That man has no penis,” when he appeared in his buff red glory) is wonderful. The way he looks at Thor and decides on the spur of the moment that he likes the cape as a fashion choice before producing his own is hilarious and an elegant way to explain why an artificial being would bother with something so ostentatious and impractical. The weirdest part of the character is the fact that he’s played by the guy who’s been voicing Jarvis ever since the first Iron Man, and there’s always something uncanny about having a face matched to a voice you’ve been hearing for years. Also, just having him in the movie was great because it gave me the opportunity to explain to a friend of mine who knows nothing about Marvel comics that he’s the Scarlet Witch’s husband (his mind was blown).
I was pleasantly surprised by the cameos from War Machine and Falcon early in the movie, and then the fact that they actually had War Machine show up to help along with SHIELD at the end was really satisfying. I love the implementation of the superhero team tradition of rotating old members out to allow new members to take the spotlight in future stories, and War Machine’s early appearance in the climax of this film is a nice nod towards that. I think this transition comes along pretty smoothly thanks to the way that the big three from the first Avengers (Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor) are largely out of focus in this story. They all have their moments (Tony and Thor in particular get some interesting character moments setting up the conflict for this movie and the future Infinity War), but it’s pretty clear that this time around the Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye are getting the majority of the spotlight (I think that’s a pretty fair trade off since Hulk hasn’t had a really big hit of a solo movie yet, and Black Widow and Hawkeye are stuck in badass normal limbo with no prospective movie plans).
Now, let’s get into the thing that everyone’s been talking about: Black Widow’s plot. The big new development here is that she’s dating Bruce Banner, which I think is a great idea that’s very well executed. Bruce continues to be caught up in angst over his romantic prospects, so it’s largely up to Natasha to pursue him for the majority of the film, which is really fun to watch. I was legitimately sad that Bruce chose to run away at the end instead of trying to make it work between them. But that romance subplot itself isn’t what’s problematic about Black Widow’s treatment here. What is problematic is Natasha’s backstory, which is revealed here to have included a graduation ceremony at the assassin school where she was trained that involved forced sterilization.
This plot point comes up when Natasha is trying to comfort Bruce after he’s had an episode where he lost control of himself in the middle of a populated city. Bruce is still feeling wary of an entanglement, and he brings up the perennial problem of whether he can actually have sex without transforming, which implies that he’s unable to father children. On one hand, I can see where the writers were trying to go with this revelation; Bruce and Natasha perceive themselves as having a lot in common, and mutual infertility takes a lot of pressure off the table in a long-term relationship. On the other though, the comparison between Bruce and Natasha isn’t a perfect parallel; Bruce’s condition was an accident, and it may be manageable, while Natasha was deliberately and irreversibly sterilized by her handlers. It’s yet another case of a woman’s personal trauma revolving around sexual exploitation, which is simply overdone (also, let’s not overlook the fact that this whole subplot completely ignores the possibility of adoption, which all too often gets the shaft as somehow a less legitimate way of building a family than typical procreation). I think there’s a lot of complexity built into the implications of this subplot, and even after thinking on it over the weekend I continue to be unsure of whether the problematic elements aren’t outweighed by the interesting ones. On the bright side, I can actually go read what everyone else is saying about this stuff now (hurray!).
And that’s pretty much it as far as my thoughts on Age of Ultron. Maybe I’ll have more after my next viewing, even though that probably won’t be until it comes out on video.