Avengers: Age of Ultron – Whedon Leaves Big Shoes To Fill

It’s been three years since the first Avengers instalment and seven since Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury showed up, at the end of Iron Man, to talk to Stark about the “Avengers Initiative”. This truly was a sequel that had an awful lot to live up to and plenty of scope to work with.

So how did we get to this point?

* Will contain some spoilers of previous Marvel films, up to Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier *



In, the brilliant, Winter Soldier we witness the implosion of S.H.I.E.L.D. after the infiltration of HYDRA. This has happened over many years and throughout their ranks. Loki’s (Thor’s bad boy brother) scepter, which was being held by S.H.I.E.L.D. (since The Avengers), falls into HYDRA hands and finds its way to Sokovia, a fictional eastern European state. Under the supervision of Baron von Strucker, this HYDRA hideout has been working on creating enhanced humans with the Asgardian scepter as their power source. Strucker was first seen during the mid-credit scene at the end of Winter Soldier along with two of the newest Marvel characters, Pietro and Wanda Maximoff. They are better known in the comic book world as Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch.

Since the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. Marvel have also kept up the storyline by utilizing their TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter. In AoS we get a look from the inside of the now demolished security division and Agent Carter takes us back to the 1940s and the beginning of the S.H.I.E.L.D. operation and the emergence of HYDRA. I would recommend both for any Marvel fan.

The movie starts off with the dial already turned to 11 and we find the assembled Avengers in the snowy forests of Sokovia en route to one of the last HYDRA strongholds. I was actually a little let down by parts of the initial battle scenes as I thought the level of CGI was quite low and it all seemed a tad cartoonish. Thankfully this passed as soon as it began and the effects throughout the rest of the film are outstanding. We are introduced quickly to the Maximoff twins, mentioned above, and the levels of their powers are apparent. Upon infiltrating the base and recovering the scepter our heroes regroup in the Avengers Tower in New York.

Stark and Banner get to work on utilizing the power of the scepter, an artificial intelligence greater than Stark’s JARVIS, and incorporate it into Stark’s Ultron program; an AI security team to bring “peace in our time” and protect the world from any future alien attacks. This obviously does not go to plan and the big, bad titular villain is born.

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As the eleventh instalment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) franchise, Age of Ultron has had the benefit of plenty of backstory for most of its main characters; those who have not been treated to a solo film are given prominence in Whedon’s second Avengers flick.

This is good news for the, until now, under-used Hawkeye. Portrayed brilliantly by Jeremy Renner, he moves on from the grimaced bore under hypnosis in Avengers to a fully-fledged member of the team and we get to look a little deeper into his life. Hawkeye is a character that I thought should have been used more in the MCU. He’s just a dude with a bow, but he’s fighting side by side with a God and a Hulk, that’s pretty awesome. Realistic? No, but even he can see that as my favourite quote from the movie shows:

“The city is flying! We’re fighting an army of robots! And I have a bow and arrow! None of this makes sense!”

Scarlett Johansson and Mark Ruffalo also get decent screen-time, rounding off the ‘No Solo Club’. Johansson’s Black Widow holds her own throughout the action scenes and we delve into a blossoming relationship with, the Avengers’ Jekyll-and-Hyde, Bruce Banner. Ruffalo as the Hulk/Banner is again great; we can see he is really struggling with the impact of his recklessness and lack of control once he goes green. He frets over the damage caused even to the enemy forces after his excursions in the forests of Sokovia.

After some bad mojo causes Banner to lose control altogether the resulting face off between him and a tanked up Iron Man is one of the films finer battle scenes. Unlike the citywide destruction depicted in Man of Steel, Stark’s number one concern is civilian casualties. He tries to balance defeating the maniacal Hulk at the same time diverting his devastation away from the city and its inhabitants.

Where Snyder was only concerned with the biggest two-man battle that he could possibly put up on screen, Whedon balances the action with the heart of the Avengers perfectly. At the end of the day you know that the Avengers are consciously thinking about the people they are protecting not just the enemy at hand.

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The titular rogue AI, Ultron, looks amazing (although it did take me second to get used to his mouth) and is perfectly voiced by James Spader. Spader’s brooding, ominous tones and dry wit fit perfectly with his confident and flaunting demeanour on screen. Designed to save humanity, Ultron’s God complex results in his twisted logic that a world without humans and one made entirely of AI, in his eyes, is a world that is truly secure. He believes that to progress in life we must evolve and the next obvious step in our evolution is AI. Ultron is a great baddie; he’s powerful, witty and hates the Avengers, especially his creator Stark.

Speaking of his creation, I was slightly miffed that they didn’t bring Hank Pym into the equation in Age of Ultron, even in reference. Pym, who will be played by Michael Douglas in this summer’s Ant-Man is the creator of Ultron in the comics. Now I can appreciate that Whedon and the Marvel execs might want to keep them separate, however, with the upcoming release of Ant-Man I think it would have been a nice nod for us fanboys.

Sticking more to the comics is the creation and introduction of the Vision. For all those who have not yet seen the movie, I won’t go into much more about that. The Vision is an android and he looks amazing. Paul Bettany portrays the powerfully calm and collected humanoid creation whose power is not fully tapped in this movie but will surely be expressed in future features.

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Whedon as a writer and director has now brought us two Avengers movies packed with action and humour. Although I don’t agree with, fellow HeadStuff contributor, Graham Conors’ thoughts on the film I do agree that I didn’t immediately love this as much as the first. That is a problem for most sequels and besides, this is a different kettle of fish, we discover more heart within the team and it’s the quieter moments of the movie that make this film a success.

One key element of Supermovies is summed up in the classic Spider-Man quote “with great power, comes great responsibility”. Whedon gets this to a tee. He has brought us on a journey where we know what these folks are capable of and each have had their cross to bear along the way, but they stand together to fight for those who cannot. That’s why the Avengers are awesome and Whedon has done his job fantastically.

Whedon now leaves the project in the hands of directing duo Anthony and Joe Russo and the writing team of Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. The Russo brothers have been through the MCU gauntlet before, at the helm of The Winter Soldier, and they will take command of Captain America: Civil War too before setting up on Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 & 2. Markus and McFeely teamed up for the first Cap movie and the second Thor feature The Dark World and have worked with the Russo’s before, penning The Winter Soldier. The writing duo will continue to work with the brothers on Civil War and throughout both Infinity War movies. The combination obviously works and they are soon becoming a force in Marvel.

If you have not yet seen Age of Ultron, I urge you to as soon as possible.

If you have seen the sequel I urge you to keep reading as I delve a little deeper.

 

Seriously, if you haven’t seen this movie STOP READING, I will spoil everything on you. Also, I will be talking about future movies so if you don’t want to know what to expect down the line, look away now.

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First off, congratulations on watching the movie, I hope you really liked it. Now for some extra nerd stuff I hope you like.

Whedon, on top of having ten previous instalments in the MCU also has eleven future instalments to think about when producing a film like this. I have been looking to the future in my bi-weekly feature “Supermovies” (so check them out) and there is no end in sight for the MCU franchise, which already tops the record books for most successful franchise above Harry Potter, Batman, James Bond and Star Wars.

We were introduced to Ulysses Klaue, black market arms dealer, smuggler and owner of a huge supply of vibranium. Ultron buys this from Klaue (pronounced Klaw) before getting pissed at him for likening him to his creator Stark. Ultron ends up cutting off Klaue’s arm before taking the vibranium to produce the Vision. This whole scene is a lead up to Black Panther. Vibranium is only found in one place on earth, Wakanda, home of T’Challa, the Black Panther. Klaue (‘Klaw’ in the comics) is also Panther’s most prominent adversary. I hope Andy Serkis returns as the main antagonist in Marvel’s 2018 release. Also losing the arm now will probably mean that he will return with his vibranium-powered sonic converter (basically a sound gun) attached as an appendage.

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Whedon had hoped to introduce Captain Marvel in this film, most probably in an end credit scene but, as they have not yet cast Carol Danvers, nothing happened. I will be talking about Captain Marvel and Danvers’ character in the next installation of Supermovies (and Black Panther in the following) so keep an eye out for more on that. She will be the first female Marvel lead and with Wanda and Natasha already on-board the Avengers’ gender balance may soon be levelling off.

When Thor has his mind messed up courtesy of Scarlet Witch we see his vision of Heimdall (played by Idris Elba) confronting Thor about sending them all to Hel. That’s Hel with one ‘l’, the mythical Norse afterlife, and referenced in the 13th century Norse works ‘Poetic Edda’ stating that a crowing “sooty-red cock from the halls of Hel” is one of three cocks that will signal one of the beginning events of Ragnarök. I am fighting so hard not to make a joke here, so I’ll move on.

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Also in Thor’s vision we are shown the Infinity Stones, also known as Infinity Gems. In the mid-credit scene we see Thanos donning the Infinity Gauntlet, deprived of any gems. We have only seen four of the six gems in the movies so far, time for a recap:

The Tesseract, which is the Space Gem, is the blue cube from the first Captain America movie, it can be used for moving objects across reality and is currently in the possession of Heimdall, the gatekeeper played by Idris Elba.

Aether, which is the Reality Gem, is the weird red, floaty, goopy stuff from Thor 2. In Thor’s vision we saw the gem moving from liquid form to a solid gem. This was left in the care of The Collector, probably a poor choice.

The Orb, which is the Power Gem, is the orb that Peter Quill and the rest of the Guardians of the Galaxy were trying to stop Ronan from getting his paws on. We’ve seen some of its power already and it is currently under the protection of the Nova Corps.

The Vision’s headpiece, which is the Mind Gem, is currently on the Vision’s face and I’m pretty sure it’s safe enough there, for now anyway. We’ve seen its power before from Loki’s scepter in the first Avengers and I’m sure there’s more to come on its powers in future movies.

The Soul Gem and the Time Gem are the only ones we have not yet come across, we do not know the form these gems will take in the future MCU features however with Civil War, Dr. Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Thor: Ragnarok all to come before The Avengers: Infinity War Part 1, there is plenty of time to introduce them.

Doctor Strange has been in possession of the Soul Gem in the comics and so this could be introduced in his solo feature. With many speculating the appearance of Adam Warlock in one of the future movies, most probably Guardians 2, I would hazard a guess that the Time Gem would not be far away.

At the end of Age of Ultron, we are introduced to the new Avengers line-up: Captain America, Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), Wanda Maximoff (The Scarlet Witch), Vision, James Rhodes (War Machine) and Sam Wilson (Falcon). As anyone who read the comics know, the Avengers line up has changed continuously over the years and has included characters such as Ant-Man, Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, Captain Marvel, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Daredevil, Agent-13 and Black Panther. All of these characters are featuring in future MCU projects and so the changes may continue.

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With the inclusion of the Inhumans in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Marvel/Netflix deal going strong the possibilities for crossovers and new characters are endless, thankfully.

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