Virtually every MCU film (bar a few exceptions) manages to take your emotions on a genuine roller-coaster ride; jumping from gripping action sequence, to joke, to touching character moment in an instant. It’s these beautiful combinations that keep fans so engaged in the franchise, and thus the only thing that really sets these films apart in that regard is how well they achieve this and engage you. For example the recent ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ does extremely well there in my opinion, where the second ‘Thor’ adventure and ‘Iron Man 2’ do considerably less well. But, sitting near the top of the Marvel tree in these departments has always been 2012’s ‘The Avengers;’ the culmination of the MCU’s ‘Phase One’ that manages to make you feel excited, happy, proud, sad and amused, all on one joy-ride of a roller-coaster.
It was because of this shameless masterpiece, that (just as the first film’s success was becoming clear) a sequel was announced at 2012’s comic-con, and everyone went absolutely bananas. How on earth could Marvel pull it off a second time?
Well, I knew from that moment that ‘Avengers 2’ was even more of an ambitious undertaking than the first. Naturally, part of the sheer joy of that first film is seeing these iconic characters interact for the first time, but Marvel could no longer rely on that magic, because we’ve experienced that before. So, the only way Whedon could up the game was to delve deeper into a more delicate and interesting story. And did he?
Well, the first trailer leaked, and the signs all pointed in the right directions- it virtually broke the internet in fact! It was something chilling, even scary, and beyond intriguing. It looked like they’d gone super-dark and upped the stakes with every aspect.
[Trailer 1 reaction]
Then, months later, Whedon’s ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ hit theatres, with hype levels at peak and excited adults queuing up like gleeful 7 year olds at the theatre doors. Could they do it again? Well… Unfortunately, the movie was met with somewhat mixed reviews. Many recognised it as pretty enjoyable, but overstuffed and less magical than the first. It wasn’t hated by any means, but it certainly wasn’t universally adored either.
So why, praise, is it “my favourite Shakespeare yet”? Well, yes, I’ll admit that’s a slightly odd title, but allow me to explain myself… hence forth, yay verily, unto thee…
Well, it’s simple, ‘Age of Ultron,’ to me, is a masterpiece to me. I’m aware you may disagree, and that’s fine by me, but I think it’s a truly magical film – and one that encompasses not only everything that I love about these comic book movies, but also everything I love about film and storytelling as a whole. Now I’m not just going to leave you hanging there, because I not only aim to explain why I think this movie is so good, but also how on earth it relates to Shakespeare, as well as why pretty much everyone disagrees with me.
But first, this film really does offer one of the most interesting scenarios I’ve ever encountered when it comes to talking about movies. The reason for that is that I love to dissect my own and other’s opinions, and the potential reasons behind them. So, when there’s something that I love as dearly as this movie, but that’s also disliked by many fans, I find it extremely interesting to consider and think about both sides of the argument.
At the end of the day, movies divide opinions – and that’s fascinating. So, let me begin by dissecting my own thoughts:
What do I love about Avengers: Age of Ultron? (And why is it my favourite Shakespeare yet…?)
Well, I have said that ‘Age of Ultron’ encompasses everything that I love about comic book movies, as well as stories in general, but what does that really mean? Well, in my opinion, stories can do a number of things; they can act as escapism from our sometimes hectic and confusing lives, they can act as a tool for sheer emotional engagement, and they can also present more complex (or simple) themes and philosophies in a way that can make us think. I think what makes us love stories, is that they can achieve all these things on a more human and relateable level; through the eyes of other characters and other worlds that are separate from our own. I also think the best stories or films manage to achieve a great balance between all these things, and they tend to be the ones I enjoy the most.
This is also where good ol’ Shakespeare neatly comes in, and why he’s gone down in history as one of the greatest writers ever. If you take out all the confusing old-English, his stories achieve all these 3 things incredibly well; making for stories that the people of the time, and people today, can enjoy and relate to. They’re emotional rides; full of tragedy, but also humour and action. That’s escapism, and emotional engagement ticked off, but they also manage to help us to explore some interesting ideas (even if they’re not quite of this time.) The man was sure a writing genious, but surely his stories are worlds away from the brightly-coloured super-hero showdowns of today, right?
Well, actually, I’m not sure they are. The things that us humans love about stories have hardly changed. In fact, I think our love for stories is ingrained in us (it’s why cavemen drew stories on their cave walls) and thus I believe many people’s love for movies today has to be in some way founded from our craving for escapism, emotional engagement and exploration of our troublesome philosophies in an alternative context.
I think those are the reasons why I love comic book movies (and the MCU in particular) – because they manage to succeed in each of these areas.
Take ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier;’ one of the most fun and exciting comic-book movies to date. However, it also manages to explore some interesting political conflicts, behind the emotional comfort of a super-enjoyable action movie, with plenty of humour, as well as some engaging character moments.
Effectively, these films are our modern-day Shakespeare’s, our myths of the moment, and it’s why they’ve captivated such a wide and strong loving audience.
So I love movies, and good comic-book ones in particular, but I have to say that in my mind, no film captures the magic of this storytelling quite the way that ‘Age of Ultron does.’ Why? Well to be ‘my favourite’ of the bunch, it surely has to succeed in all the 3 areas I talked about. Not because it’s an ‘agenda’ or a ‘tick list,’ but simply because it’s a good way of describing how a story has the ability to connect with me and become something enjoyable. So, how does Whedon’s ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ achieve these things in my eyes? And why might you disagree?
It really is a great piece of escapism:
Firstly, I don’t think many would doubt that pretty much all of Marvel’s movies offer an element of escapism, even if they don’t like them in general. Stick on even the ‘worst’ Marvel movies for 2 or so hours, and you’ll be thoroughly entertained. ‘Age of Ultron’ is certainly no exception to this rule, offering bucket-loads of stuff to make for a genuinely enjoyable movie experience. Naturally, the action sequences are where most of this comes from, and to me they’re some of Marvel’s most exciting yet. They work so well not only because they’re so awesome to behold, but also because they fit in with the story so well. Often, it can feel like action sequences are just there for the sake of it, but here it rarely feels like a pointless ‘excuse’ for one, instead they genuinely feel fluid and relevant parts of the story (perhaps bar the forgiveably breathtaking Hulk-buster sequence.) This adds gravitas to them, and a real sense of tension and involvement that you wouldn’t otherwise feel.
However, it’s not just the action that’s so enjoyable in this movie – there’s plenty of humour to escape to here too. Parts of this movie really make you smile – delivering some of the best (if occasionally badly placed) quips in the MCU so far. I get that some people get annoyed by that, but to me, a lot of the jokes in this film really land, and that just adds to the enjoyment factor.
So yes, it’s certainly one of the most fun MCU movies to date, and many would agree on that level, but there’s much more to me loving this story than that. So, onto the second feature of a great story, and why I began to adore Age of Ultron…
I was so emotionally engaged:
In my eyes, another truly vital aspect of a story is that it also has to make you feel something. I talked earlier about how each Marvel movie generally manages to make you experience many different emotions – but I believe this film is in a whole different ball-park where that is concerned. It’s rare that I cry, laugh and smile so much all in one film, but here your emotions are taken on such an unbelievable ride. Sure, it’s the fun ride of it’s predecessors too, but somehow it manages to absorb my emotions in it’s world so much, even after multiple repeat viewings. Really, this is one of the biggest points of a good story to me; if it doesn’t make you feel anything, there’s no point in watching it, but if it really succeeds there, it’s onto a winner.
Now I am aware that whilst many people enjoyed this film, they don’t share my engagement and love for it. The reasons why I think people’s thoughts could differ, I will discuss later – but firstly let me explain just why I think I was so engaged.
And I guess that really is the next question – why? Just how does the film engage me in such a way? Well, to take a look at how this is achieved, let me briefly turn my attention to Shakespeare again – and I think the parallels shine very clearly here. Effectively, Shakespeare used well developed characters and relationships, along with a constantly undulating tone and plot, throughout pretty much all his plays. Love, tragedy, comedy, espionage – these are, if you like, some of the vital ingredients for his storytelling – the way in which something can be built that thousands can connect and engage emotionally with.
So how is Age of Ultron similar to this? Well, I believe each of these ingredients are here in bucket-loads. Firstly, lets take the character development – where I think Whedon brings a unique understanding of each hero (and the villain) that manage to somehow make each of them so human and relateable (just like Shakespeare’s own developed, human characters.)
Having relateable characters manages to offer a gateway into the story; we see it from each of their perspectives. Consequently, making the Avengers this layered and interesting makes it more emotionally accessible. So, if the great characters are the way in, what’s the story?
Well, that’s where that undulating Shakespearean plot and tone comes in. In this movie, we constantly jump from action, to suspense, to touching character moment within a short space of time; a technique which is utilised in so many great stories. It’s real journey, beginning with an incredibly fun and exciting action sequence, followed by some sobering and touching character moments. Then it’s back for an Avengers party and there’s plenty of laughs, only to be interrupted by a dark and frightening monologue, followed by a battle of morals between the Avengers… You get the picture – absolutely endless changes in feeling and plot direction occur in this film, and that makes it one of the most fun and gripping Marvel rides to me. Really in the end, I think this undulating story and tone when paired with great character development, is one of the most vital reasons behind what makes me love ‘Age of Ultron’ so much. When you can invest in something because of the great, human characters, but also embark with them on an emotional and tragic roller-coaster; it’s a true recipe for a rewarding and emotional movie experience. However here, we also hit the main reason that I think many people may have been put off the film…
When you read reviews for this movie, frequent criticisms hit on a confusing structure and mixed tone that leads to a lack of clarity to the overall experience. I think these people are mostly referring to that constant undulation in tone and feeling that I talked about earlier – which also happens to be one of my biggest complements to the movie! So how come some people looked upon that negatively? Well, it boils down to the fact that naturally, some people take different slants on different things. In this case, I can certainly see how these constant changes could leave people feeling disengaged or confused by the film, as a structure and plot matter more to some people that to others. At the end of the day, I’m not someone who particularly thinks about those things when I watch something, instead I prefer to be engaged in each moment. To me, if each moment/theme is well explored, all I need is a flow between each scene – and I’m sold. I think this partly the reason ‘Iron Man 3’ is my favourite Iron Man film – to me, it works, even if much of the plot doesn’t make sense.
However, if plot and structure does matter a lot to you, I can see your issues with Age of Ultron (and ‘Iron Man 3,’ a topic for another day!) I fully acknowledge that Age of Ultron has a lot of boxes to check outside of it’s own narrative, and that that certainly does lead to a fairly poor structure and plot. The Screen Junkies “Honest Trailer” manages to point out all these ambitions rather nicely; it’s a sequel to about 7 movies, has to set-up about 5 more, whilst also settling in it’s own shoes. These are some big shoes to fill too, and it’s over-stufftedness has indeed lead to the plot and structure being slightly put to the way-side. The way I see it though, is that beyond a slightly higgledy-piggledy layout, there’s a great and emotionally moving story being told, whereas to some, the plot and structure affects their experience a whole lot more.
So as far as I’m personally concerned, Age of Ultron works not only as escapism, but also as a truly moving, engaging and emotional ride. But, there is one reason in particular why this film is not only super-enjoyable and engaging ‘in the moment’ for me, but has also left such a lasting impression on me…
It deals with some seriously interesting themes:
Yep, this is where Whedon’s Age of Ultron turns from something really excellent, to something truly special and unique. Intertwined within the safety of these beautiful character stories and escapism, are some extremely interesting ideas explored, and I’m going to take a brief look at some of them here to explain to you the core and final reason for why I love this film so much.
In fact, it is the ideas and opinions expressed in this movie that perhaps caused me to reference Shakespeare in the first place. Effectively, this film feels much more personal than most big-budget films, it’s not manufactured – this is art, just like Shakespeare’s raw storytelling. Age of Ultron is a personal message from it’s creator, not something tailored for audiences, where the themes are displayed through the characters and stories, rather than at their expense. Really, I think it’s amazing that Marvel allowed such a personal movie to be made, and it’s certainly not without it’s problems because of that, but Whedon’s ideas here is the reason why this film will always stick with me.
But wait, what am I actually banging on about? What serious themes are explored by Whedon in this movie? Well, principally, he looks at the idea that people become/create the very things they don’t want to be. For example, Tony Stark creates Ultron, and Ultron searches for peace but only finds more war. This idea is capitalised in Ultron’s speech in the church, where he states that “we all create the thing we dread.” This is an interesting idea, and it’s kind of true – when you think about wars, often the very aim is peace, but the result is only more violence.
Also, Age of Ultron begins to consider the fact that without a defence, there may be no war in the first place. In this movie, the Avengers create this conflict, and perhaps without them to ‘defend,’ there would have been no war at all. This was a small idea planted in the first movie, but it’s explored far more here, and it’s one that’s also rather prevalent in today’s world. For example, it’s a frequent argument in America on the gun violence topic, where many argue that without guns, there would be no threat. But of course there are others that feel the guns are needed for defence, which perhaps causes the threat in the first place.
On the conflict note also, this movie looks at the fact that every man’s victory, is another man’s tragedy (as is shown in the Sokovian battle, and with ‘the twins,’) and also begins to dabble with the limits of control (the only theme looked at in detail in the following ‘Captain America: Civil War.’) One of the other many ideas explored in Age of Ultron is that no hero can ever truly do enough, which is something every Avenger is struggling to come to terms with (all bar Clint call themselves ‘monsters’ within the film.) Humans may always do their best to solve their problems, but our efforts will never be enough – we always fail, just like the Avengers do here. Each character has their own objective, but rarely succeed in being content with their actions or abilities.
So, there’s plenty of interesting themes explored, which makes it a far more moving and thoughtful film than similar Marvel efforts. To me, Joss Whedon has achieved something far more personal than I could ever have expected, which is the core reason for why adore this film so much.
However, I still wont deny that this storytelling does indeed have it’s problems, because (as I discussed earlier) this film is chock-full; especially with all these themes echoing throughout too. I’m more than willing to agree with critics in that Age of Ultron isn’t remotely the most well made, well structured of the Marvel movies. And I can see that many of it’s critics points make a lot of sense, but at the end of the day, what matters most to me about a story is achieved here. There’s a real understanding and deep exploration of the characters and themes, whilst it also manages to truly engage you on an emotional journey; it’s a personal film, and one of beauty in my eyes. The emotional twists and turns of this film may not make it Marvel’s best – but they sure do make it my favourite.
So, what’s next?
Well, after my movie discussions, I often write a brief section about what I think will happen as a result of audience reaction to each film where the future of a franchise is concerned. Take the recent ‘Batman v Superman’ reaction, this is something that will have major ramifications throughout the future of the DCEU, and whilst Age of Ultron wasn’t nearly as attacked as BvS, the reaction was still mixed. Well, as far as the future of the MCU goes, I believe Age of Ultron marked a slight shift in the creatives at Marvel; towards a more artistically individual method of storytelling. Why? Well perhaps Marvel realised that their less successful films (Iron Man 2, Thor 2 etc.) have a much less personal vision, or perhaps they know that to keep audiences coming they have to up their game in more interesting ways.
Yes, maybe the apparent issues with ‘Age of Ultron’ show some teething problems, but I think the intention is there to make more artistically strong Marvel movies in future. At the end of the day, not only have they scrapped their so-called ‘creative committee,’ but when you look at the list of directors tasked with making Marvel’s Phase 3, they are generally people with considerably stronger artistic visions (as well as higher profile casts) than we’ve sometimes seen before. For example, ‘Sinister’ director Scott Derrickson is helming Doctor Strange, Taika Waititi is helming Thor: Ragnarok, and of course ‘Creed’s’ Ryan Coogler will bring us Black Panther, and that trend generally continues throughout the Phase 3 plans.
However, there is one exception to this, and that is the Russo brothers, who tend to make movies in a more efficient, manufactured, and less personal way than the others. Perhaps this means Marvel are willing to go art-house with their smaller films, but when it comes to their biggest box-office draws (the recent Civil War and upcoming Infinity Wars movies) they are going for more of a crowd-please safety tactic than an independent direction. Maybe this is a direct reaction to the response to Age of Ultron, and it seems like an overall tactic that would largely make sense.
Effectively, I hope that Marvel do indeed start to move forward with this artistic direction in Phase 3, and I hope that they manage to pull off movies with independent directions, with even more polish than Whedon’s Age of Ultron. Maybe steering clear of this in their bigger movies as they learn is a wise move, but I hope to see some great pieces of film come from Marvel and some very talented individuals in the coming years.
So in summary, I really love Age of Ultron because to me, it’s just so damn engaging, fun, and thoughtfully artistic underneath. I can see the glaring problems, but I still love it. What do you think? Comment below and I’ll be intrigued to hear what you think of Age of Ultron, and what you think will happen in the future of the MCU…