First, the important question: how does Age of Ultron compare to The Avengers? The answer is that they’re completely different movies, and your reaction will vary greatly depending upon how you feel about that. The first film was a rollicking good time with a plot that completely fell apart as soon as you spent more than thirty seconds actually thinking about it. But the thing is, it was just so much freaking fun that most of us really didn’t care that the plot was so flimsy.
I can’t speak for anybody else, but I had just about the opposite reaction to Age of Ultron. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a fun film and I enjoyed it plenty in the theater. But it’s nowhere near as much fun as its predecessor. However, unlike the first film, I find this one growing on me more and more the the more I think about it.
This is still a superhero film, meaning that it’s a blockbuster popcorn flick at heart. Yet this movie is far deeper and more thoughtful than its big brother. To nobody’s surprise, it picks up the story basically where Captain America: The Winter Soldier left off. But the story isn’t the only part it picks up. It also grabs the themes of that movie and runs with them, albeit in a very different way. The Winter Soldier shows us a world where our leaders and heroes are corrupt and abusing their power. Age of Ultron dares to follow that up by asking, “what should the people of power in our world do with that power?”
Is this film the deepest possible attempt to answer that question? Absolutely not. And yet it is a terrible indictment of the world we live in that the most serious literary approach of our age to that question is coming from popcorn flicks.
Although I read a lot of comics as a kid I never read many comics with Avengers characters in them. That’s especially true of Captain America. As a youngster he bored me. But I’ve found him to be among the best characters of this new wave of superhero films – not just of the Marvel Cinematic Universe but of all of the superhero films of the twenty-first century. The Winter Soldier was a powerful film and cemented the character strongly with me. Age of Ultron only strengthens the case.
There are some wonderful moments involving his character. In a hilarious scene where each of the Avengers tries to lift Thor’s hammer, his attempt stands out. In a movie with Samuel L Jackson’ts Nick Fury and Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark, he still manages to nab a couple of the best one liners of the film. And when the film pokes a stick right in the eye of Man of Steel‘s wanton destruction and devil-may-care attitude toward civilian casualties, Steve Rogers is right at the center of it.
And yet he’s not the emotional center of this film. That belongs to Hawkeye and his surprising back story. Or perhaps to the intriguing relationship between Banner and Romanov. And the Maximov twins brought a surprising amount of heart to the story as well. I was fully expecting their transition from villains to full-out Avengers to be painful, and yet it works pretty well in the plot.
But the driver of it all comes down to a difference in world view between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark, and by the end of this movie I found myself absolutely ready for the upcoming Captain America: Civil War. There is no way that these two characters continue in the same universe without conflict arising. Their personalities simply won’t allow it.
The more I think upon this movie the more satisfying I find it. To paraphrase a line from the film, which I lifted for the title of this post, this is what superhero films are supposed to be. Highly recommended, and I can’t wait to see it again with my son.