How AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON Failed The Marvel Cinematic Universe
‘Avengers: Age Of Ultron’ was the sequel to the highly ambitious and unprecedented ‘The Avengers’, a movie that culminated in a shared universe occupied by a group of Comic Book heroes. ‘The Avengers’ ended Phase 1 of Marvel’s shared universe films, by tying up the storylines and concepts introduced in the 5 movies about individual characters, preceding it. However, ‘Avengers: Age Of Ultron’ failed as the penultimate film of Marvel’s Phase 2, as it does not provide any cohesive conclusion or even moderate resolution to the storylines in the individual movies before it, nor does it adequately set up the future of this universe in the movies to come. While the upcoming ‘Ant Man’ is the final film of Phase 2, it’s unlikely that that movie will tie that closely into the others given that it’s introducing a brand new character of its own.
Now, despite the title of this article, I considered the movie to be fun and highly enjoyable, and even gave it a favourable rating. My Spoiler-free Review of ‘Avengers: Age Of Ultron’ can be found here. But even though it is quite accessible to audiences who may have not been following the solo hero films post ‘The Avengers’, in the grander scheme of Marvel’s own story telling model of a shared universe, ‘Age Of Ultron’ doesn’t accomplish what it needed to do.
While the movie itself lends to the same vibe as the first Avengers film, there were many events within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, occuring both in the films, as well as the so far standalone ‘Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ TV Series on ABC, that this movie needed to address for the continued progression of this shared universe. It goes without saying (even though I’m saying it) that this article will contain lots of SPOILERS for ‘Avengers: Age Of Ultron’, ‘Agents OF S.H.I.E.L.D.’ (my full season Review here) and the rest of the MCU films that have been released thus far.
‘Captain America: The Winter Solider’ had a mid credit scene that showed H.Y.D.R.A. conducting experiments on 2 individuals, later revealed to be Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Quicksilver & Elizabeth Olson’s Scarlet Witch, granting them incredible powers. This small, albeit important plot point was fleshed out during the entire Season 2 run of ‘Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.’, though not directly referencing these characters until the Season Finale.
The Inhumans, while not only significant from a story perspective, is also crucial to Marvel’s future plans as it’s a workaround for the inability to use any Mutants from their comic universe due to the rights belonging to Fox, being used by their X-Men Movie franchise. The Inhumans have been introduced on ‘Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.’, as being descendents of a group of humans experiented on centuries ago by the Kree, same race as the character of Ronan from ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy’. (my Review here) These experiements were done in an attempt to make super soldiers of them, but ended up also giving their descendents the dormant ability to gain super powers when exposed to an outside influence. This set-up allows Marvel Studios to introduce people with powers in their cinematic world, without referencing Mutants. Marvel also plans on releasing an ‘Inhumans’ film in 2019, making this introduction of their origins something that is quite significant to the future of the MCU. However, ‘Age Of Ultron’ completely ignores any of this when introducing the only Inhumans in the film, with not even a throwaway line or reference about the source of their powers or any back story to the experimentation done on them.
Quicksilver & Scarlet Witch
From day one, it’s been assumed that the characters of Quicksilver & Scarlet Witch will be featured as Inhumans within the MCU. Something that seems to have been confirmed by their mention as being the only success of H.Y.D.R.A.’s experiments on Inhumans, attempting to unlock their dormant powers. ‘Age Of Ultron’ however, completely glosses over the origins of these significant characters, completely ignoring their connection to a group of characters that may become quite significant in the years to come within the MCU. This is especially jarring, given that the Marvel Unverse thus far has paid extra attention to explaining the more, fantastical elements of its comic book adaptations. In order to prevent inconsistency or looking out of place with each other, each solo hero’s powers and abilities have been taken into consideration when bringing them together for one story. But most glaringly incomprehensible of this is the explanation, or lack thereof, of Scarlet Witch’s powers. Briefly mentioned as the ability to influence the people’s minds, we see her regularly blasting Ultron robots with energy beams for the majority of the film, with nary a mention or even look of surprise from the other characters as to how she’s able to do this.
Baron Von Strucker
It’s now common knowledge that Marvel movies have a Villain problem. This is most evident in ‘Age Of Ultron’, where the villain also has the privilege of being named within the title of the film. The film’s opening bad guy, Baron Von Strucker was initially introduced as the new leader of H.Y.D.R.A. after the fall of S.H.I.E.LD. in ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’. (My Spoiler-free Review here) This significance of the character was further established in ‘Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ as he was referred to and implied as being the main baddie in charge. Sadly, the first few moments of ‘Age Of Ultron’ reduces him to basic comic relief and an expendable side villain who is apparently so insignificant that his death doesn’t even deserve to happen on screen, but involves a still image shot and a throwaway reference. In comparison, Strucker’s underling, Dr. Whitehall played by Reed Diamond in the first half of Season 2 of ‘Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ came off as more intimidating and prominent, than the guy who apparently took over.
Considering that Strucker was the only one who succeeded with his experiments on potential Inhuman candidates, i.e. Quicksilver & Scarlet Witch, you’d think his character and the work he’s done would have some sort of significance within the MCU, especially given how important the Inhumans may be in this world, with their own upcoming franchise, but he is easily dismissed and sidelined impulsively; which brings us to Ultron himself.
Ultron a.k.a Spader-rama!
Blame it on the marketing campaign or just unrealistic expectations by the audience, but Ultron was supposedly the progression of the kind of threat that a team of superpower heroes can face and be challenged by; sheer physical power. While ‘The Avengers’ overwhelmed and forced the group of individual characters to become a team through the force of numbers in the form of a massive invading alien force, the next step should’ve been to introduce a more physically threatening villain that can match physical stride with these superpowered individuals. The trailers of ‘Age Of Ultron’ with images of fallen heroes and a broken Shield, all seemed to imply just that.
However, the sequel sets up the exact same plot as the first, by having an external device be the root of the conflict, while the physical threat is provided by another force of canon fodder, as the main villain acts only as a conduit for these other threats. Loki was no match for The Avengers in brute force, so he achieved his villainy through deception, tricks and misdirection. You’d think a physically imposing villain like Ultron wouldn’t have to resort to complicated gimmicks to achieve his end goal, when he could just take on The Avengers one by one.
Add to this how sarcastically witty and inconsistent Ultron got as the film progressed, (kidnapping characters explicitly for the sole purpose of bantering with them) and he seems less and less like a threat, and more and more like an underdeveloped character thrown in as a plot device through whom the conflict is established, while not actually posing a threat himself.
Where Art Thou Thor?
One of the most important aspects of ‘Avengers: Age Of Ultron’, and basically every other MCU movie, is the connecting of the individual films to the larger Cinematic Universe through common threads introduced and established in the other films. This sequel was supposed to do this through a storyline involving Chris Hemsworth’s Thor where he discovers how Loki’s Sceptre from ‘The Avengers’ contains an Infinity Stone. The Infinity Stones have been setting up a storyline within this MCU from the first film that involves Thanos, who last appeared in ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy’, hurtling toward another epic 2-part sequel in Phase 3, ‘Avengers: Infinity War’. However, for whatever reason (now revealed to be studio interference) the entire subplot involving Thor and his discovery of all the Stones, was reduced to a confusingly edited glimpse, relegated to even more incomprehensible exposition as Thor just appears on screen to give life to Vision through the stone, followed by dialogue that could easily just have been some random mumbo jumbo. That scene, arugably the most crucial for the future slate of upcoming MCU films, and Phase 3 itself, was handled so poorly that it’s effects will be felt in future movies.
The same scene was also important for another obvious reason; the introduction of a great new character, Paul Bettany’s Vision. But the compoundingly complicated manner in which the scene unfolded, with the out of context Thor with his talk of mind gems and the future, the origin story of Vision becomes a confuddled mess. This is further perpetuated by Vision’s apparent powers that are never once explained, mentioned or reacted to by any other character. His body is created from Vibranium and flesh, thanks to Ultron, however, the character is shown to display an array of powers, from the obvious super strength, to flying, phasing through objects and a sense of self aware-ness and distinction the from J.A.R.V.I.S. that is never elaborated upon. But the audience is expected to take all this at either face value, or attribute to the mysticism of the Inifinity Stone that gave him life, that has something to do with something or other. If a character at least reacted or reflected the audience’s surprise or confusion at this with a simple ‘whoa’ face, there would at least be hope that they are aware of this lack of context, and may address it later. But the rest of the characters act as if Vision’s God-like powers are the norm with no need for further digging. Even a scene at the end of the movie at the New Avengers base with Bruce Banner running diagnostics on Vision or something, would imply that they’re curious about his powers as we are, but nope!
The Marvel Movie Model Mess
In conclusion, ‘Avengers: Age Of Ultron’ demonstrates a problem very similar to the one faced by long term event comics books. Comic book publishers often find that long term storylines end up alienating new audiences through stories that are reliant on previous issues and limiting their product to the same small group of die hard consumers. This is why comic book publishers are always rebooting books, resetting storylines, all in an effort to bring in new audiences. But as years go by and the stories are weighed down by their own history, the cycle repeats itself over and over. This seems to be happening in the Cinematic Universe as well.
While accessible to new audiences on it’s own, ‘Age Of Ultron’ doesn’t properly resolve the storylines of the previous films, nor does it provide adequate explanation of certain story elements that will be key factors in the upcoming movies based on this whole shared universe model. Given the massive Marvel machine, I’m sure this will be compensated for in another movie or two that is yet to come, however, as things stand right now, ‘Avengers: Age Of Ultron’ misses many opportunities to connect this film to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Did you think ‘Avengers: Age Of Ultron’ failed to create any connections to its future films, or am I completely off my rocker?