The time has come to take a deeper look at the latest (and maybe last?) trailer of the highly anticipated follow-up to Marvel Studio’s mega-hit from 2012. I should maybe say in advance that my whole knowledge about Marvel stems from the MCU exclusively.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
directed by Joss Whedon
starring: Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson
With S.H.I.E.L.D. destroyed and the Avengers needing a hiatus from stopping threats, Tony Stark attempts to jumpstart a dormant peacekeeping program with Ultron, a self-aware, self-teaching, artificial intelligence. However, his plan backfires when Ultron decides that humans are the main enemy and sets out to eradicate them from Earth, and it is up to Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye, along with support from Nick Fury and Maria Hill, to stop him from enacting his plans. Along the way, the Avengers encounter the powerful twins, Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, as well as the familiar Vision. (wikipedia)
The first thing that comes to mind after seeing the trailer is, that there is not much new material added since the last teaser trailer. Which is good on one hand, as there are too many trailers out there that already spoil the whole story of the movie in under three minutes. On the other hand, they could have at least shifted the tone a little or shone a light on other aspects of the film, as this feels more like a slight variation of the preceding teaser and cannot live up to the hype of the trailer announcement. Yes, we live in a time when trailers are announced with big fanfare and trailers have their own teasers and sorry Marvel, you are co-responsible for this situation so you better live up to the game again.
I am one of the few who was not particularly mad about the first Avengers movie that still enjoys immense popularity among the fans. Admittedly, “Mr. Heavy-Handed” Joss Whedon’s involvement was one of the main reasons why I could not fully enjoy the cinematic superhero team-up. His style, marked by snappy dialogue and corny pathos is divisive- people either love it or hate it. I sadly belong to the latter group. Another aspect that soured the experience for me was the bland visual style that is reminiscent of TV-series and feels out of place in the supposed epic culmination of the “Phase One” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Furthermore the film felt like quite a heavy-handed drag considering that it is claimed to be a “fun ride” by the fans and Whedon himself. Some of the action scenes are decent, but they cannot hold a candle to the virtuosity that is Captain America- Winter Soldier (2014), which is a superior movie on every level anyway.
But as the movies of “Phase Two” revealed to be generally more daring and spectacular, now that the pesky “origin story” aspect was out of the way and the success of the Marvel brand bestowed the directors and writers with a new sense of confidence. So I will try to stay open-minded for Age of Ultron and hope the story gets more breathing room and the actors a chance to enjoy themselves in their roles.
Also: No glimpse of “The Vision” yet!
0:03: Panic! Hawkeye is guiding people fleeing from a place that looks a bit like a war zone into some futuristic flying vehicle. You did not recognize Hawkeye? Don’t feel ashamed.
0:09: A better look at the carrier. It does not quite have the sleek look of the “S.H.I.E.L.D.” or “Stark Industries” technology in my eyes, but I could be wrong.
0:11 onwards: Captain America picks up his (almost skull-like) helmet and poses with a sorrowful expression in front of some depressing buildings that suggest an Eastern European location, or even Russia/a former USSR state. Cap’s new uniform- the fourth one by now- looks good on the poster, but not as good on film and is a step down from his Winter Soldier outfit.
“Needs something more powerful than any of us.” the voiceover tells us ominously in the voice of Tony Stark. I am sure he is talking about the human spirit! Or about the “miracles” (Marvel is not allowed to use the term “mutants”), which is more probable. But with the Pathos-minefields that are Whedon’s scripts, you never know.
0:15: Hansel & Gretel IV: Back to tha Woods. You did not recognize Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) for the second time? Don’t feel ashamed.
0:18: “Everyone creates the thing they dread…” Deep! Tony Stark enters what looks like an old abandoned arms depot, probably one that belonged to his dad. I could imagine this happens at a later point during the movie, when they have to hide out.
0:20: Ultron is awakening.
0:22: His first appearance as party pooper is kind of underwhelming.
0:23: A reaction shot of the Avengers, who have obviously no clue what’s going on. Only Banner incredulously exclaims “Ultron!” in an unintentional hilarious way. There seems to be some kind of celebration going on, judging by the posh outfit of ScarJo. Is it just me or does Mark Ruffalo look considerably older than in his last Avengers outing?
On the right side in the background we see Maria Hill, easily identifiable by her stilted posture. Because what the fans wanted is to see more of Maria Hill.
My wild guess is that Whedon shoved Hill into the movie to add a “relatable human character” to the ensemble as he apparently sees himself as a “pop-culture humanist”, who is above the unreflected portrayal of heroism. Which also explains the jokey tone that serves as counterweight to the (super-)heroic drama, at least in his eyes. Whedon always tries to write conflicted characters, but as he is actually not very good at it, he just externalizes the conflict by creating additional one-note characters that interact with each other. I still have no idea why he did not just expanded Black Widow’s role (or even Hawkeye’s, for Christ’s sake) to achieve that effect, but decided to increase the already overstuffed cast.
0:25: “In the flesh.” I imagine Whedon sitting alone at the desk while writing on his scripts in his office and doing a fist pump every time he churns out one of his “witty” lines. By the way, the sight of Ultron’s robot minions crashing through the wall is hammy as hell.
0:26: ‘Splosions. As I think about it those scenes could also take place in Johannesburg, which is credited as filming location and also has its share of ugly buildings. If you take a look at the Chappie trailer again, the buildings look quite alike.
0:27: Ol’ Green Eyes Banner turning into Hulk again.
0:31: Sam L. Jackson as Nick Fury, still undercover and officially dead, looking pretty good after he plundered the Shaft wardrobe.
0:32: Completely out of context, this shot of someone unclothing in a subterranean cave (maybe to take a bath in that lake) is very intriguing. According to speculations on the site comicbook.com, it could be Black Panther’s sister!
0:37: First appearance of “miracle” Elisabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff aka Scarlet Witch, casually showing off her powers by throwing a red fireball.
Scarlet was first introduced in the post-credits sequence of Winter Soldier, together with her brother Pietro Maximoff aka Quicksilver, portrayed by Aaaron Taylor-Johnson, who is suspiciously absent in this trailer. Either the producers shun to offer a comparison with Evan Peters’ much lauded portrayal of the same character in X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) or Taylor-Johnson is hiding, because his wife directed Fifty Shades of Grey.
… immediately followed by a shot of Iron Man being hit by the red fireball! But is it the same scene or is these two different scenes cobbled together with editing, as this looks more like an indoor location and the number of characters that are able to throw energy/fire balls is disturbingly high in this movie.
0:39: Flashback to a dark past! At least according to my unfounded speculations. ScarJo has a different hairdo here that probably is intended to make her look like a naive young Babuschka.
Glimpses of the painful process that turned her into the stone-cold killer she is now.
0:41: Action with Ultron, whose design is, as well as that of his robot minions, hard to distinguish from Stark’s robotic suits.
0:46: Here they go.
0:52: (Parts of) Black Widow again, who is surprisingly prominently featured in this trailer. Could it be Marvel wanted to make up for the fact that she had no cinematic solo adventure yet? The surrounding we see, is the interior of Fort Bard in Italy, a nifty mountain fortress we already could get a better look at in the first teaser trailer.
0:53: Andy Serkis! With a hipster beard/hairdo combo! Fan favourite Serkis’ casting has become a gimmick over the years to lend a movie some geek credibility.
00:56: Cap and Ultron, mano-a-mano.
1:00: A tender loving moment… between Hulk and Black Widow!!! A love story between those two has been rumoured for a while now. How is this supposed to be compelling material for fans again? The prospect of wasting screen time on that plotline is as interesting as the announcement that the next X-Men movie will concentrate on the relationship between Magneto and Mystique.
1:03: Red fireballs! I told you!
1:06: Obligatory scene of the Avengers bitching at each other instead of doing their job. How can those people solve a crisis if they are constantly caught up in internal conflict and are barely able to clean up the mess they created themselves? They are worse than the Mission:Impossible team!
Beginning at 1:12: Speaking of internal conflict, we get an extended sequence of Iron Man and Hulk duking it out. So the Hulk is still a threat to his fellow team members. You know, like in the first movie.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Hulk seeing hulking out, especially as the Bruce Banner part is depicted as oddly smug in the Avengers movies.
Yet, hopefully this presents only a very short segment of the overall movie, because I hate, hate, hate superhero movies that repeat the same conflicts, group dynamics and character arcs with each sequel over and over again, ad nauseam. Give us some character development and don’t equate “tediousness” with “depth”! Thanks!
Nothing much to add to what I already stated. Whedon makes art for his fans and I am sure they will love it.
But let’s take a look at the separate plot elements that have to be squeezed into the running time:
1. Exposition of all kinds (Ultron’s origin, what the Avengers did in the meantime, S.H.I.E.L.D. storyline, etc.) 2. Introduction of the “miracles”. 3. Black Widow’s dark past. 4. A tender love story between Black Widow and Bruce Banner. 5. Internal conflict, mostly caused by Thor and Hulk. 6. Maria Hill. 7. Action. 8. A story.
Sounds tough, but could be managed with some smooth writing and directing. In any case, it should not be handled in a heavy-handed way.
Wait, what nickname did I give Whedon again in the beginning..?