Leading into ‘Civil War’: Why ‘Age of Ultron’ Was The Worst Thing to Happen to Marvel
From a critical standpoint (far from my personal dorky perspective), Age of Ultron was nowhere near to being the great superhero film that it was expected to be. Critical and fan support were clearly either “WHOO” or “meh”, and box office dominance was difficult in a year with so many massive film releases, with the 2nd highest grossing film of 2015, Jurassic World outselling Ultron by almost 200 million worldwide. Ultimately the lackluster reaction (at least compared to its predecessor) has led to Joss Whedon peace-ing out of the Marvel universe.
Until 2012, when The Avengers was released, movie goers had never seen a successful film franchise based upon a Marvel superhero, let alone one that combined all of them (aside from the Spider-Man films in early 2000, produced by Sony which doesn’t count in my opinion). The storyline of The Avengers was surprisingly understandable and just exaggerated enough to create good action, solid character development was already accomplished with its proceeding individual-based films, and the chemistry was well balanced and unbalanced at times when it needed to be. The male actors created roles that were self-assured and different from the dark, brooding Dark Knight or the nerdy, lovestruck Spider-Man we were used to. And Scarlett Johansson, for lack of a better phrase, kicked ass. Finally a woman who didn’t need to be saved in a superhero film (or at least not until the second film).
Instead of trying to continue the simple and fun production of The Avengers, Age of Ultron, built on it until it almost collapsed on itself. The obvious anticipation and foreshadowing of Civil War overtook any clarity and fluidity of the film. Following in the steps of the X-Men films, the over stuffing of new characters created incomplete and muddled action scenes, although not as random and haphazardly placed as Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, Age of Ultron needed a lesson from a Spice Girls classic, “Too much of something is bad enough.”. The plot attempted to be a continuation of the first ensemble film but lost its way with each character getting their own storylines pushed in with a quick, forced ending. The friendly and team based chemistry was replaced with a conventional Degrassi-like family, lovey-dovey foundation that we’ve seen over and over again. And after 4 films, the Iron Man one-liners got old pretty quick.
And then there was the Black Widow, played by smokey Scarlett Johansson, the character that pushed back superhero films back into the 1920′s. Starting out as a strong, confident female character after being introduced in the Iron Man films, in Ultron, like any good girl, Agent Romanoff just wanted to find love and settle down with a reformed bad boy. Ask yourself why it was Black Widow, and not say, Tony Stark, the creator of this whole mess, who was captured by Ultron, and then needed to be saved by a man. Because physically and emotionally, she appeared the weakest. Captain America, the eternal virgin, being physically and emotionally overpowered by a Fascist, human hating robot? To quote Gone Girl, “No fucking way.” The perspective towards women, intentional or not, was clear, even strong willed women will eventually need the support of a man, and the most debilitating ability to take away from a woman is her capability to be a mother. Superhero movies will expectedly portray how the people of New York (because the rest of us don’t matter) need to be saved, Age of Ultron showed how humanity, and specifically, how women need to be saved.
Ultimately, Age of Ultron became a film that it never had intentions of being. While overall it was still pleasing to the nerdy eye, it was completely unoriginal, over complicated, and inadvertently, stereotypically sexist. It saw a winning formula and accidentally(?) added too much salt, and not enough sugar. Age of Ultron didn’t understand it’s own potential, let alone Marvel’s potential. As Marvel has become the forefront for producing superhero films, the Marvel based films already come into 2016 with advantages over DC, who are releasing two films (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad) compared to Marvel’s four (Deadpool, Captain America: Civil War, X-Men: Apocalypse, Doctor Strange). Fans will fork over their minimum wage paychecks because of the popularity of its previous films, not just out of curiosity. With it’s actors almost now becoming indistinguishable from their superhero roles, Marvel has a winning combination for fun filled plots, intense action scenes, and yes, bare with me, strong, independent female characters.
My advice to Marvel? Quality over quantity, irony over sarcasm, action over gymnastics, and Black Widow over Natasha Romanoff. Also, tone it down on the caffeine, take a bikram yoga class, and schedule a Swedish massage.
Amy Nguyen is a 24 year writer in Calgary, Canada who currently works in the film industry, primarily in exhibition, and runs a blog on tumblr called “Wicked Pop Culture.”