Essentially, and unfairly, the “ugly step-child” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron has never received the credit it deserved. Fans instead have chosen to relentlessly focus on and point out the films perceived flaws. I say ‘perceived’ because the flaws that have been pointed out are flaws that I have yet to notice in the film.
The “flaw” that really gets me, is how fans felt underwhelmed with Ultron or felt that the story and director “wasted the character”. I couldn’t disagree with this more, Ultron is a top five MCU villain, possibly top three, and that’s a hill I’ll gladly die on.
After Marvel’s The Avengers lit the box office on fire in 2012, fans were chomping at the bit for the next round with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. They had to wait almost three years, but when Age of Ultron released in 2015, it also unsurprisingly set the box office ablaze.
Surprisingly however, it made slightly less than its predecessor. 2012’s The Avengers went on to make $1.52 billion while Ultron brought in (a still incredible) $1.405 billion. It’s possible underwhelming word of mouth is to blame for the decrease in box office revenue, it’s also possible that 2012’s The Avengers had the advantage of being the first film to feature that many hero’s in one film.
Despite the decrease at the box office, the film was still an enormous success financially. It also boasts a very strong 75% on Rotten Tomatoes. While 75% is on the lower end for an MCU film, Ultron, if you really think about it, had a lot to do in its 141 minute runtime.
It’s very much a set up film; a set up film who’s job it was to lay the groundwork for the upcoming phase three slate of films, while also doing everything it can to try to be an Avengers story able to stand on its own. It was a very tall task to undertake, but I believe the film’s director, Joss Whedon, more than accomplished the task.
VISIONS OF THE MCU’S FUTURE
The film once again revolves around the infinity stones. Everything that goes wrong is directly caused by an infinity stone; the mind stone to be exact. By this point in the MCU, the audience are very familiar with the infinity stones as they have shown up previously on multiple occasions and in multiple films.
So, while Age of Ultron didn’t have the task of establishing the stones or even explaining what they are, the film was still tasked with cementing the stones importance to the MCU at large.
This is done in a creative way, although this is also a major pain point for some fans. Earlier in the film we had been introduced to Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, who obtained their powers from Hydra through experimentation with Loki’s staff that just so happened to contain the mind stone. The stone unlocked the twins’ powers and Wanda gained the ability of telekinesis.
With her powers derived from the stone, she makes all of the Avengers have visions. Tony’s is of a defeated Avengers team and the destruction of Earth via means of an alien invasion, while Thor’s is of universal destruction with the stones smack dab in the center of all of it. Up until this point we knew the stones would be important, but Ultron confirms just how important these stones would be to the MCU at large.
The vision Tony has will actually be a main driving force for the majority of his character development throughout the remainder of his time in the MCU. This vision really shook Tony to his core, and it’s this vision that is also the driving force behind the events of Age of Ultron. Ultron is only ever created because Stark is trying to prevent the future he saw in his vision. However, Ultron was born from the mind stone, and the mind stone had other ideas; namely, the Avengers extinction.
While Tony’s vision is crucial to his character arc, Thor’s vision is crucial to the MCU as a whole. Thor’s vision confirms that somebody (Thanos) is going after the stones and plans to use them together to cause some sort of chaos and destruction.
Our heroes are now aware that the events they have been experiencing up until this point have not been random events. The invasion of New York was not a one-off attack, it was planned and there is someone pulling the strings from behind the scenes. The stones resurfacing was not a coincidence.
A TOP TIER VILLAIN
Age of Ultron really took the lead and established the larger threat coming to the MCU.
In doing so, this may have diminished the importance Ultron as a character and villain in some fans eyes. However, I still believe Ultron was done beautifully in this film. Yes, we know Thanos is the larger threat, so we obviously know Ultron isn’t going to win this fight. He was still a very compelling, intelligent and powerful villain that gave the Avengers all they could handle.
His motives were clearly established and explained. He saw the Earth as weak, and the only way to save mankind was the evolve. To do so, he would need to kill the Avengers, because the Avengers keep saving everyone instead of allowing the weak to die and the strong to survive.
Ultron knew something (Thanos) was coming, courtesy of the mind stone, and he wanted to prepare the planet to defend itself when it does.
His intentions really aren’t all that evil when you think about it, he wants this planet to be as strong as possible to be able to survive, but his methods of making that happen are where the issues lie. Like Wanda says, “Ultron can’t tell the difference between saving the world, and destroying it”.
Ultron is a very complex villain; he’s naive in the sense that he hasn’t been “alive” very long, he has good intentions as he truly does believe he’s saving the world, but he’s also wrong in the way he believes is the only path to peace. He’s complex, powerful, intelligent and has the creepy voice of James Spader to top it all off; that’s one hell of a villain if you ask me.
In classic MCU fashion, the film also features tons of the incredible action and the spot on humor these films are known for. The entire scene of the whole team attempting to lift Thor’s hammer is by far one of the funniest scenes in the MCU.
I would argue that Age of Ultron also features some the MCU’s best action sequences. The entire opening sequence was simply incredible as the team attempts to (and easily does) break into a highly guarded, top secret Hydra facility where Loki’s scepter is being kept. We see the team just absolutely destroy a bunch of Hydra henchmen, and we even get another gorgeous, classic slo-mo shot of the entire team in action.
The battles between the Avengers, Ultron and Ultrons’ clones are also some incredible action sequences. From Captain America taking on the giant robot 1-on-1 atop a moving truck, to the entire Avengers team taking on thousands of Ultron clones while defending the city of Sokovia; these are some of the best action sequences you’ll ever see.
Perhaps the best fight in the entire film, however, is a battle of the behemoths. Tony Stark in his Hulkbuster armor against a mind controlled, pissed off Hulk. Seeing the Hulk fight someone just as big as him and just as strong, made for a truly epic showdown. Their fight is also one that had repercussions later on in the greater MCU narrative as their showdown resulted in a lot of collateral damage.
PUT SOME RESPECT ON ULTRON’S NAME
Age of Ultrons’ importance to the MCU has always been extremely understated and under appreciated. The film deserves a lot of credit for doing the majority of the leg work to set up Marvel’s Phase 3. It should also be commended for its ability to not only set up Marvel’s next slate of films as well as establish Thanos as the larger threat, but also for still feeling like an Avengers movie.
Whedon did a terrific job making sure this movie was able to still stand by itself as it’s own solo Avengers film, despite the heavy amount of groundwork it had to lay for the future of the franchise. It gave us one of the more memorable villains we’ve seen in the MCU, tons of amazing & epic Avengers action, and introduced new characters to the universe like Wanda, Pietro and The Vision (created from the Mind Stone).
This film deserves more appreciation and recognition, it is by far one of the most underrated superhero films of all time. Without Age of Ultron, the MCU as we know it completely falls apart, so while some feel the film is irrelevant, it actually is the glue that holds the story together.