After Ultron, an artificial intelligence created by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), goes rogue, the Avengers are called in to stop him from wiping out the human race with Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who have unique powers of their own.
The Avengers (2012) was a huge film. Like we’re talking $1.5 billion in worldwide box office haul huge (and claiming the #3 all-time spot). It combined Iron Man, the Hulk, Captain America, Black Widow, Thor, and Hawkeye for the first time after several Marvel Phase I solo films, and it had them take on one of the best villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (You know exactly who I’m talking about). And after an especially solid Phase II with Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Guardians of the Galaxy, all of which included plot points leading right into this movie (the collapse of S.H.I.E.L.D., discovery of more Infinity Stones, etc.), it’s no wonder why everyone was excited for Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Age of Ultron moves extremely fast, introduces more backstories for the main characters (WTF Hawkeye’s secret family?!), and is jam-packed with cameos from other notable Marvel characters (Falcon, War Machine, Ulysses Klaue, Peggy Carter, Erik Selvig, Heimdall, Dr. Cho, Dr. List, and Baron Strucker). But it never seems overwhelming. In fact, it just feels bigger and better, the way a good sequel should.
As for the “raising the stakes” purpose of the sequel, we have Ultron. Where Loki was more of a fun villain acting on his desire to be king (of anything, really), Ultron is just a straight-up sociopath who muses about morality and humanity while he slaughters innocents. Both have their similarities, the major one being their theatricality in how they challenge the Avengers. But Ultron is definitely a step up fear-wise from Loki (who, let’s be honest, we just want to bone). It’s a smart move on Marvel’s part, too, since the next villain for the Avengers is Thanos, who’s a universal psychopath. (Totally just realized they’re the “Dark Triad.” Loki is Machiavellianism, Ultron is Narcissism, and Thanos is Psychopathy. Damn, Marvel’s good.)
How The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron fit together amazes me. Their styles are completely independent of one another, yet they still feel the same. Age of Ultron is obviously the darker, more mature film, taking on heavier issues of humanity, sacrifice, and whether you can truly be considered a “hero” if you’ve killed just as many people as your enemy (a point that many action films forget). Not to mention, the first film was all about getting the team to work together; now, it’s all about maintaining the unity of the team in the face of adversity. But even with all of this darkness, there’s still the familiarity with these characters and their relationships that brings in more light to the film, ensuring the darkness doesn’t overshadow the reasons why we fell in love with these goofballs in the first place.
And, of course, the thing that Marvel does best with all of its films is that they function separately from one another, yet they also create strings (Yes, I purposely used “strings” here) between every movie that came before and every movie that will follow. You can see this in Age of Ultron when the movie not only ties in the Phase I/II films, but also sets up major movements for Phase III. For example: Tony Stark and Steve Rogers bicker about leadership and whether or not it’s right to introduce artificial intelligence into peacekeeping, undoubtedly setting up Captain America: Civil War, in which the two are at odds. And the Hulk ditching the team at the end of the movie to go somewhere where he “can’t hurt anyone” (*cough* SPACE) adds to those rumors about Guardians of the Galaxy II/Planet Hulk.
While we’re talking interesting tie-ins, did you hear about Marvel’s Star Wars easter egg? If you haven’t, check this out. Basically, Marvel cut off a character’s arm in every Phase II film to throwback to Luke losing his arm in Empire Strikes Back (because the Mouse is now the pimp for Marvel and Star Wars). Why do I bring this up? Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), the character who Ultron, Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver visit in Wakanda (He’s a villain that we’ll see again in the 2018 Black Panther film) loses his arm in Age of Ultron. So Marvel officially cut off an arm in every Phase II movie now. Holy easter egg. (Meanwhile, WB/DC is trying to make me care about Superbland and Blandman fighting in some too-dark-to-see Snyder film.)
Lastly, the mid-credits scene (There’s not a post-credits scene, so don’t stay after, unless you like seeing the name of the gaffers). It’s just Thanos making a statement about how he’ll have to “do the job himself.” Basically, it means Captain America: Civil War, Guardians of the Galaxy II, and Thor: Ragnarok are going to have some shit-rocking moments that will directly tie into Avengers: Infinity War (Part I & II). By my count, we’ve already found four of the Infinity Stones in the movies: Loki’s scepter, the Tesseract, the Orb, and the Aether. So we still have two more to go. My bet’s on Guardians 2 and Thor 3.
Overall, Avengers: Age of Ultron is as awesome as I expected it to be. It’s a great follow-up to The Avengers and raises the stakes by taking the team we saw come together in the first film and dividing them with fear of past (and future) trauma. It’s a much darker film than the first, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still fun and lighthearted. Even in the face of death, the Avengers are able to crack jokes and remind us why we root for them, even when they screw up. So, yeah, I’m going to be heading to the theater again for a second viewing. Are you?