“The Avengers: Age of Ultron” requires a near complete Marvel immersion
“The Avengers: Age of Ultron” is the first film in the Marvel cinematic universe that might be inaccessible to new viewers. It is completely predicated on knowledge of everything that has happened in the 12 previous, fully linked Marvel films that started in 2008 with “Iron Man.”
Viewers that have missed one or more of the stand-alone films and their myriad sequels could potentially be confused as the plot unfolds onscreen. In fact, viewers that haven’t ventured into the small-screen iterations of the Marvel universe may be confused, as much of what has happened in the second season of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” leads directly to the opening action sequence of “Age of Ultron.”
I’ll admit to not watching “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” this season and thus, as the Avengers dazzled and fought through legions of H.Y.D.R.A. agents at the beginning of the film, I felt a little left out, as if I had missed an essential part of the story. How much I had missed from my lack of interest in network television is more than likely minor; however, it is an indication of what is to come. Very soon, these films are going to require an intense frontloading of information in order to make sense. And yet, the films will continue to be very successful. What this means for the film industry is a question worth asking.
“The Avengers: Age of Ultron” is the most “comic book” of any of the Marvel films yet made. The film is unapologetically plot- and action-driven. It’s almost surprising it isn’t accompanied by a Stan Lee voiceover, full of the character introductions and asides found in the panels of traditional Marvel comics. These characters no longer need introduction, nor do they exist in the more grounded reality set out by the earlier films. They are now larger-than-life, true superheroes.
It’s strange to see these characters winning so handily despite unbelievable odds, when just two weeks ago I watched a superhero character set in the same universe beaten in such a savage and severe way, on multiple occasions, nearly to death. Yet, in “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” none of the characters are ever in real danger. The stakes may be high, but our heroes are above them, godlike and tranquil. The action in the film equals the action of the comics—it is physics-defying and exciting to watch.
These sequences are as much fun as a comic book fan can have in a film. Yet there is hollowness to it. What set these films apart from their DC counterparts (“Man of Steel,” for instance) is that the destruction caused by the heroes was more measured. While Superman collapsed skyscrapers during his battles, the Avengers tried to protect civilians as much as possible. “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” has tried to maintain this while upping damage wrought upon the world.
However, by moving the action sequences to unknown cities in African and Eastern European countries to create miniature disaster films, the filmmakers have made a different statement. The intention was likely to make the action a more global consequence, but instead it reinforces the American notion that the lives of foreigners are less important than the lives of Americans, and therefore the destruction of these cities (almost entirely caused by the Avengers) isn’t as bad as what happened in New York (which was caused by an alien force). The Avengers seem more antagonistic than protective. The end always justifies the means when the means only affects the Third World.
As far as the quality of the film, there is no denying its charm and polish. It is packed with director Joss Whedon-esque one-liners and exceptional special effects. There’s very little room for character development or explanations of certain scenes. The audience is simply called on to accept what they see and move on. Given how fast things happen, there’s not much time to examine motivations or think critically about the plot. In fact, the quickness found between shots, the reluctance to hang onto one or two action sequences for more than a few seconds indicates an over-reliance on the special effects in general. It’s especially jarring in relation to the long, perfectly choreographed action sequences found in “Daredevil.” Still, the film is, in a word, fun. It succeeds in spades given what it set out to do.
The success of this film will, of course, inspire copies. Are we soon to see a variety of interconnected stories and character cameos across a wide multiple genres and mediums? We should admit this possibility. Before the Marvel cinematic universe, connections between properties were more nebulous, and mostly happened within the mind of an autistic boy on “St.Elsewhere.” We should be wary, lest film become as closed off as Tommy Westfall.