Let me be honest.
When I walked out of a theater in Buckhead, Atlanta, Georgia after seeing the Avengers in 2012, the first question I asked was, “When’s the sequel coming out?” Minus The Incredible Hulk, I’d seen all of the previous Marvel movies and been a Firefly and Joss Whedon fan, and went in with decently-high expectations on those bases.
But I was used to the underdog version of Joss Whedon scraping together a movie on elbow grease, heart, and fan contributions, not corporate-sponsored Joss Whedon with the full financial backing of a supportive studio. Whedon’s excellence with the small screen translated beautifully into a big-budget summer blockbuster starring six iconic Marvel Comics characters we all knew and loved. I expected the Avengers to be a good action movie. I didn’t expect the Avengers to be such a good movie.
I ended up seeing it twice more while in theaters—not something typical, by the way—and have probably seen the film five or six times at home since. I watched the new Marvel films (Winter Soldier, anybody?) and re-watched old ones. I viewed Agent Carter, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Daredevil. I knew about “Theta Protocol,” Doctor List, and what was going on in the Marvel Cinematic Universe at large. I was as prepared as anyone not cosplaying Iron Man at the midnight premier could be.
Hors d’oeuvres, all of it, because I was really waiting for that question in Buckhead, Atlanta in 2012 to be answered. I was waiting for May, 2015. For today.
I dropped the big bucks on seeing Avengers: Age of Ultron in IMAX 3D. I was of course enamored by the fine acting (with special accolades to James Spader as Ultron), self-referential and delightfully dorky Whedonesque humor, eye-popping visual effects, solid score (the weakest aspect of production, I think), and intriguing story. A proper review of the film has already been covered by GUG here, so I won’t address those things. And anyway, Avengers: Age of Ultron‘s high production value wasn’t what surprised me, what with that nearly three-hundred million dollar budget.
What surprised me was how Joss Whedon managed to bring such incredible depth to a dreaded sequel that is also a summer blockbuster and is already primed to break records. How he managed to expand and deepen our appreciation and understanding of six characters we already know well. How he managed to do this for those characters as individuals and as a team.
This is the film where you learn why Natasha Romanoff has “red in her ledger.”
This is the film where you learn that Clint Barton has been living a double life, and, like Danny Glover, might just be “getting too old for this.”
This is the film where Bruce Banner’s fears about “the other guy” are realized, leaving him to wonder whether he can rightly call himself an Avenger.
This is the film where Thor Odinson is challenged in what it means to be a king.
This is the film where we learn that the Steve Rogers who went into the ice is not the same Steve Rogers who came out of it, and despite everything that’s happened, he still has the clarity to say: “Every time someone tries to end a war before it starts, innocent people die.”
This is the film where Tony Stark’s PTSD from the Avengers and Iron Man 3 leads him down a dark path that not only births Ultron, but also sets the stage for a new slew of superheroes and a new conflict that will undoubtedly resume in Captain America: Civil War.
Dry your tears with your MFA degree and dispense with the whining about how this film represents the death of art. Instead take note that the emotional struggles of six main heroes—some of these struggles span across several films, by the way—are balanced with a centralized narrative orbiting a psychotic Artificial Intelligence that also inculcates three new characters while referencing several reprising ones and building off of a butt-ton of previous movies and at least one serialized TV show.
Let me catch my breath…okay.
With all of those other mitigating factors at play, and with the million-and-one junctures at which Avengers: Age of Ultron’s Narrative Train could have been derailed in mind, realize that it didn’t. It dealt with our heroes’ emotional struggles (note: dealt with, not resolved) thus deepening them as individuals and as a team while still successfully accomplishing everything else it needed to as a standalone film, as a summer blockbuster, and as a significant entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And you know what else it did that really surprised me?
Avengers: Age of Ultron showed itself to be the turning point in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is a “climax” in every sense of the word, the point in the story after which everything is irreversibly altered. It’s the “hinge.” The “game-changer.” Call it what you will, but nothing’s going to be the same after this. Not for the Avengers, not for the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and not for any other Marvel superhero.
At least one character decided to leave the Avengers and two others are question marks. It looks like S.H.I.E.L.D. may be making a comeback to stand against the continued threats from H.Y.D.R.A. This is where Thor starts to realize the Thanos connection we saw in Guardians of the Galaxy and after all those credits we had to watch. Undoubtedly Thor’s next standalone film will feature him learning more about the Infinity Stones and exploring his unresolved inner conflict from Ultron. More immediately, Iron Man and Captain America are very clearly on a collision course for next May, and until then, we’ve got four new and returning characters now calling themselves Avengers.
Some surprises are bad. But the expansion of the Cinematic Universe and the deepening of the characters in Avengers: Age of Ultron was a very welcome, very rare surprise. And now, I find myself in the same pickle as in 2012:
“When’s the sequel coming out?”