Marvel Studios is an unstoppable behemoth. Ever since the 2008 Iron Man movie, the studio has been churning out movies (and now TV series) to expand and evolve the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Spread across three phases, this is possibly the most well planned and profitable movie franchise in movie history
Phase 1 ended on a spectacular note with the blockbuster The Avengers in 2012. And now that phase 2 has almost culminated with the Avengers sequel, events have been set in motion for possibly the most exciting phase of the MCU which will culminate with the Avengers: Infinity Wars in 2018 and 2019.
If Avengers was about getting the team together, Avengers AOU is about whether that team should remain together. Our superhero team questions its existence and whether their presence is in fact justified in light of all the mayhem and destruction that seems to follow them. The crux of the storyline is in fact defined by this debate. Of course the answer is one that shall satisfy audiences.
Fair warning to comic book buffs, The Age Of Ultron story arc in the comics does NOT serve as inspiration for the movie, well not completely anyway. The comic book story takes place across timelines and involves several X-Men characters (think adamantium and claws!) playing prominent roles, something that won’t happen anytime soon in the MCU due to different studios owning rights to different Marvel properties. Also in the comics Ultron is the creation of Hank Pym a.k.a the first Ant-Man and since the MCU Ant-Man movie isn’t due for a few months, Ultron’s origin has been altered as well.
Speaking of the highlight of the movie, the antagonist himself, Ultron. Voiced by James Spader this menacing AI gives HAL 9000 a run for his money by adding a ton of attitude and a human touch to his persona. It almost feels like he’s channelling Tony Stark’s genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist avatar. Of course the origin of Ultron in the MCU is different from that in the original comics, but the way it’s been handled in the movie fits quite well within the MCU.But then, you shouldn’t be surprised with these changes since Marvel Studios has made several changes over the course of the movies they’ve churned out thus far. And honestly, they aren’t all that bad, except for the Mandarin one. I’m still pissed about that one.
The movie doesn’t waste any time to dive into the adrenaline packed action as it starts off with the team in full strength battling the forces of HYDRA to recover a relic they’ve lost. (Hint – It’s a stick with a stone at one end). The plot starts taking shape with the introduction of new characters and a discovery by Stark that prompts him to take steps which will ultimately result in the creation of Ultron and of course the ensuing battle against the villainous AI.
The action sequences are amped up from the previous movie, partly because our heroes are a lot more coordinated now having becoming acquainted with each other’s combat styles. But mostly because we have some new faces with special skills who join the battle sequences. And yes, the Hulk Buster battle in the city is an absolute delight for the senses.
There are a few slack moments when you begin wondering if this is a super hero movie or a romantic drama. But I suppose that is essential to humanise our heroes and let the audiences see a different side to their personalities. Also in the case of one particular character it seems to be imperative to lay down the events for the movie’s climax.
The movie also serves as a catalyst for the events that will lead up to the next set of movies (Post credit scenes can only do so much!). Hence certain subplots may seem out of place in the context of this movie but are surely building up to significant aspects of the future movies within the universe, chiefly the Civil War story arc, the Ragnarok arc and the final Infinity Wars arc. Comic book fans will love the numerous easter eggs sprinkled throughout the movie alluding to the characters and upcoming movies. (Wakanda anyone?)
AOU sets the stage for the next phase which kicks off with Captain America: Civil War. Comic book aficionados will know that Civil War is one of the more gritty and complex story arcs of the Marvel universe with heroes taking sides against each other (Spoiler! Stark and Rogers aren’t on the same team and ironically its not Stark that defies the authorities in the comics). We’ve begin to see the seeds of Civil War in the last Cap Am movie with the WWII Super Soldier questioning the reliability and loyalty of SHEILD when it comes to protecting the people.
Also we get a host of characters, both old and new, who will begin to see more screen time with the intention of defining the ensemble that will be part of the epic Infinity Wars movies. Again, the comic book story arc for the Infinity Saga, especially the Infinity Gauntlet has EVERY single Marvel character involved. Since a lot of the Marvel properties are not under the control of Marvel Studios, they need to do the best with those that they do have in their stable. Nonetheless the climactic third phase will be an exciting ride.
Although Avengers AOU can be watched as a stand alone block buster, it would be wise of you to watch the other MCU movies that lead up to it. Not because Marvel studios needs the money, but because there are a ton of references to events and characters from those movies that you may miss or worse misunderstand while watching Avengers: AOU. If you feel pressed for time then the kind folks at The Verge have prepared a crash course version for your recap benefit.
The decision to watch Avengers isn’t based on how good or bad the movie is, because let’s face it, even on a bad day, Joss Whedon, Robert Downey Jr and the Hulk are enough reason for you to buy that ticket and catch this awesome imagining of the comic book heroes on the big screen. So if you like comic books, just go watch the darned movie and enjoy!
*Image courtesy Marvel Cinematic Universe Wiki – http://marvelcinematicuniverse.wikia.com/