Age of Ultron
About half way into last night’s showing of Avengers: Age of Ultron it suddenly hit me how very lucky I am as a fan of this kind of film. Back in the sixties, when I was waiting for the horrendously sporadic arrivals of American comic books to Scotland (and there was no chance at all of getting two consecutive issues!) I could never in my wildest dreams have imagined that one day I would be able to see these characters brought to life with the love, care and attention that has been a constant throughout the series that constitutes the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Phase One – ‘Avengers Assembled’ – consisted of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. Sure, the quality was sometimes uneven, as you would expect with various writers and directors helming an ongoing story, but over all there wasn’t a bad one in the whole bunch; and in the case of the first Iron Man we had a superhero movie good enough to mention in the company of any mainstream offering. It was outstanding.
These could all be looked at as chapters in a very long novel, which had an interval after the excellent finale to the first part of the ‘book’, The Avengers, directed by Joss Whedon.
Phase Two began in thrilling fashion, with Robert Downey Jr. back as Tony Stark in Iron Man 3, followed by Chris Hemsworth as the God of Thunder in the slightly disappointing Thor: The Dark World. That was OK, though, because next up were two real surprises. With Chris Evans back as the iconic supersoldier, Captain America: The Winter Soldier became one of my favourite films of last year, reminding me of the paranoid thrillers of the seventies and making brilliant use of veteran actor, Robert Redford.
Talk about an embarrassment of riches, because number ten in the series was the most purely fun film of the year, Guardians of the Galaxy, which reminded those of us old enough how the first Star Wars back in 1977 exploded so unexpectedly into our consciousness.
And all of this wonderful entertainment culminated for me last night in the eleventh film and the end of Phase Two, Avengers: Age of Ultron, which can stand proudly just behind Iron Man, Winter Soldier and Guardians. Yes, I know what that means: and it is better than the first Avengers.
We are immediately thrust into blazing action as the team storm a Hydra stronghold in search of Loki’s scepter. Whedon deftly introduces us to all of them in swirling camera moves to take in Iron Man; Captain America; Thor; Bruce Banner in his Hulk identity (Mark Ruffalo – am I the only one who thinks this guy is the image of Chris Sarandon?); Black Widow (Scarlett Johanssen) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Having stormed the citadel, they encounter two ‘enhanced’ humans, the product of Hydra experiments: Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and his twin sister Wanda (Elizabeth Olson) who will come to be known as Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch – for pretty obvious reasons, really.
I confess to having been a bit puzzled here about the existence of this particular Quicksilver and how he tied in with the one in X-Men: Days of Future Past before it dawned on my sluggish brain that DOFP really changed the continuity of the X-Men and pressed the reset button to the stage where they don’t exist in the same universe.
Darren, explain this to me sometime. And speak…very…slowly; because my brain hurts when I think too hard about that great but perplexing movie.
With mission accomplished we get to see the team relaxing, enjoying victory and – surprise, surprise – even each other’s company. You know, I really liked these scenes. I felt that we were getting to know them all a little better. Sure, Stark is still a (very funny) smartass, Cap is still a man out of his time and Thor is still –well– a Thunder God. Even in his civvies.
But Bruce and Natasha (the Widow) are developing a tentative and rather touching romance; and as for Clint Barton, the arrow-shooting Hawkeye – well, what a surprise writer-director Whedon has in store for us here. I’ve always thought Hawkeye got short shrift in his previous outings but in this one he is the guy who actually grounds the team. We really need his humanity to keep these awesomely powerful beings in some kind of context.
Yep, it’s fair to say that I was enjoying this happy love-in – but come on, with this many king-size egos in the room (and that’s just Stark and Thor) did you expect it to last?
The Bitch-Boys of ‘Fandom’.
It’s not long before Stark figures he can bring about world peace and ‘put a suit of armour around the world’ — which had me thinking of Ronald Reagan and a different kind of Star Wars – and before you can say ‘Artificial Intelligence’ we have the deadly Ultron (voiced by James Spader), who really has a very loose grasp on what ‘saving humanity’ means. In fact, to him there’s not much difference between saving it and – oh, how can I put this kindly? – culling it. And since he is carrying the intelligence of Stark around in his big metal head he also has a very dry wit and some epic put-downs. Even more worryingly, he’s multiplying ‘faster than a Catholic rabbit’. Heh.
One of the things that interested me most about him, however, is that in many ways he is genuinely close to being a religious being. In at least half-a-dozen-points in the movie he makes comments on God; and in particular I found his remarks on the ‘geometry of Faith’ when recruiting Pietro and Wanda very intriguing. Then there is an exasperated exclamation near the end when confronted by the Hulk – but I’ll leave that pleasure for you to find yourselves.
I won’t give anything else away, except to say I was glad that I didn’t know much about the plot as this meant I was taken by complete surprise with the third act introduction of The Vision. Even more pleasurable is that this odd mix of innocence and enormously frightening power is played beautifully by an actor that I have a lot of time for, Paul Bettany, who also voices J.A.R.V.I.S., Tony Stark’s computer-cum-manservant.
I started off by saying how lucky I feel to be alive to see these comic book dreams brought to vivid life. What has surprised me is that many of the most vicious moans about them seem to come from the whining little bitch-boys of fandom. It often seems that they specifically sit down in order to pick at and tear apart these amazing films. Of course there is going to be a certain formula to them; after all, they cost a fortune to make and some kind of return is expected. But I think that a lot of love and passion has gone into this series and I for one am a happy little camper with how the whole story is unfolding.
So I look forward with great anticipation to the first entry of Phase Three. Bring on… Ant Man!