This is part of a series of blog posts, discussing my rewatch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe FOLLOWING my viewing Avengers: Endgame on opening weekend. If you HAVE NOT seen Endgame, I suggest you wait to read these posts as I will be mentioning and referencing plot points from the most recent film(s) including Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame.
11. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
“The city is flying, we’re fighting an army of robots, I have a bow and arrow. None of this makes sense.” - Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, earning every paycheck he ever cashes from Disney in my opinion. This is very obviously a Joss Whedon line, but it’s also perfect for the character of Hawkeye and Renner delivers it beautifully. Renner is the least appreciated Avenger, for sure, but for me this movie is where he started really living up to the “Avenger” moniker. His run in this film, Civil War and now Endgame have been great, whether any of the fans noticed or not. When he’s finished training Kate Bishop and rides off into the MCU sunset with Cap and Tony, we’re gonna miss him, trust me.
I LOVE the opening of this film. One of the problems with only having an Avengers film every few years (and even the solo films are limited to a few a year at most), is that we inherently miss a lot of adventures of these characters. The opening, mid-battle (and suggestions during and after it that it was one of many in a sequence of battles flushing out the last of Hydra) makes it clear that while we only see an Avengers story every few years, there are MANY more stories we could see, they’re just generally not much to write home about. I LOVE that. It takes the very best of villains to produce an adventure worth watching. This is such an adventure, and it starts with Strucker’s defeat.
Baron Von Strucker is a great villain in the comics, the evil antithesis to Nick Fury. Here, he only gets a post-credit scene in Winter Soldier and then an opening scene in this film. That seems like a loss, but Agents of SHIELD made good on it by using Strucker’s name and his son for several seasons. It's one good example of how the MCU tv side has occasionally directly benefited from the movies, even if the films have rarely returned the favor.
This was one of my least favorite MCU films if you’d asked me a week ago. But so much of this film is now clearly foreshadowing for Infinity War that I think it will rise in my rankings. Early on in the movie, Tony is making the case to Banner to build Ultron using Loki’s Sceptre. He points to the sky and says “Up there? That up there is the Endgame.” This is a film released in 2015, so neither Infinity War film script would have been even started at this point. Marvel’s long game is longer than you think it is.
But it’s not a throwaway line, the entire plot line of this film is the continuation of the PTSD for Tony that we saw in Iron Man 3, except now it’s been thrown into the cosmos. Tony has seen his friends dead (or dying) and one of them laid it at his feet. That’s a powerful motivator for him in his creation of the murderous AI, as well as agreeing to the Sakovia Accords in Civil War. Incidentally, it really makes me wonder now whether they’d decided to do a Civil War film before they had locked the ending of Ultron’s story or not. Probably not, but you could see how they might have said as a story team “we want the Avengers to have to register with the government, what would that take?” and work backwards. I know at least some story beats have to come this way, even if this one didn’t.
Tony continues that theme in the scene with Nick Fury on Hawkeye’s farm (a sequence that all plays a lot harder now having seen what happens on the farm during the snap, and also with Nick Fury’s line, “I’m just an old man that cares a lot about you.” That line will echo in my head the next time I watch Endgame and see Nick on the porch during Tony’s funeral. That old man got Tony into all of this, and it eventually costs Tony his life. But neither one of them would take it back. Damn, these movies are good, even when you think they’re not amazing.
Here's another example, towards the end of act 2, Tony is talking Banner into something again. This time it’s to put Jarvis into the new Ultron body he’d built using Vibranium. Banner is incredulous, ”I’m in a loop, I'm in a time loop!” again, this likely wasn't because they had a plan to do time travel in Endgame 5 years later, but rather people setting up Endgame remembered many of this little points from earlier films that could be ”echoed” in the latter.
When the Vision finally comes to life and he's trying to win over the Avengers, he finishes with, ”there may be no way to make you trust me, but we need to go!” as he hands Mjolnir to Thor and everyone else falls silent. This is the payoff for the great sceneat the beginning where all the Avengers try to lift the hammer (unsuccessfully). This moment is paid off again when Cap uses the hammer in Endgame, proving he's worthy.
Vision is (until Captain Marvel) the most powerful of all the Avengers. It's a shame that he couldn't be returned with the snap by Banner but it makes sense story-wise, and as a synthetic creation you can imagine lots of ways to bring him back eventually (especially since we’re getting a Disney+ series from him and Wanda, I’d say we are getting him back somehow). Paul Bettany is great as Jarvis in the early films and I was so glad that he got the chance to play Vision.
I LOVE Spader as Ultron, and thankfully, an AI can always be reborn in one way or another. The overall plot of this film is still a bit clumsy in retrospect and Ultron not properly earned like he was in the comics. I don’t know whether he was responsible for mo-cap as well as the voice work, but Ultron often captures Spader-isms unbelievably well, further adding to his “believability” as a real being, like with Groot and Rocket in Guardians before it. This cannot be underestimated as an important aspect of what modern Marvel has on its side. The stories are good, and told in 2D or 3D, animation or still art, or fully moving, live-action motion picture, the stories would still be good. But EVERYONE in the world only shows up to see them because they are so well presented. The spectacle (fully-realized, beautifully polished spectacle) is what makes a movie open to over $1 billion and rush in just a couple weeks to the biggest film of all time (it’s still not there as of today, but it’s less than $300 million away, I’d say the odds are good).
My favorite thing about all of this is that in a generation, maybe even less now that he’s passed away, Stan Lee will be a mythical American figure every bit on par with Walt Disney himself. Personally, I say, ‘Excelsior’ to that.