A conversation about ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron,’ safe houses and Black Widow

Avengers: Age of Ultron has been in theaters for a week now, taking over your nearby cinemas and bulldozing box office records. Last week, we posted a review of the film, but that was just one viewpoint. We have other writers here at The AP Party, and they had things to say about the latest Marvel blockbuster too.

So Liam McGuire, Tyler Lyon and Ian Casselberry decided to have a discussion about the movie, sharing general thoughts but also zeroing in on some key points that have generated conversation after seeing the film. Of course, that does come with some significant spoilers, so if you haven’t seen Avengers: Age of Ultron yet, it’s probably best to come back to this afterwards. Don’t worry — we’ll still be here!

Ian: Well, I pretty much said my piece in my review, so I’ll stand by that. At this point, I think readers would be more interested in what you guys have to say.

Liam: [puts on Adidas shoes] I was remarkably hyped for Avengers: Age of Ultron. After having a blast with Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I was excited for how “Phase Two” was going to close for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (sans the upcoming Ant-Man). I entered the theatre with hope and excitement, and left wondering if maybe I was a bit overly ambitious with my expectations for the film.

Here’s what I liked: Vision was a badass. Whether he was lifting Thor’s hammer, emulating his cape or destroying Ultron, Paul Bettany slayed as the android. Joss Whedon also had a very nice moment when Vision saved Scarlet Witch, which is a precursor to their relationship from the comic books. Speaking of Scarlet Witch, how awesome was Elizabeth Olsen in the role? She completely sold me on her and Quicksilver’s** past and how she was avenging (what these superheroes are supposed to do) her family and what Tony Stark did. Scarlet Witch’s character doesn’t necessarily translate from paper to screen that well. She’s got a goofy accent and weird powers. To me, she and Vision were the best part of the movies. That has me excited about the next group of Avengers.

As for Ultron himself, I had mixed feelings. The trailers suggested he was going to be a tough motherfucker, and I never had the feeling that he was a threat they couldn’t defeat. He had some great jokes and lines, but I never felt like he was a menacing force that could overtake our heroes. In the end, what exactly did he accomplish? Not all that much. He was a slight inconvenience who caused some damage. Tony Stark didn’t seem all that perturbed that he created a monster. I expect to see Ultron back in some form later in the series, with Vision still sharing some of his robot DNA.

** I liked Aaron-Taylor Johnson as Quicksilver, but thought his death made sense. Having two competing Quicksilvers in the Marvel Universe with Evan Peters in the X-Men films would have been a bit messy.

Tyler: I really liked Avengers: Age of Ultron. I probably don’t like it as much Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but I’d put in on par with Guardians of the Galaxy, which I wasn’t quite as high on as everyone else. It certainly never reached the highs of the first movie. But overall, I thought it was one of the most consistent films in the MCU, which is saying something when you consider Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 2.

I also thought Ultron was the second-best villain of the MCU, even if the competition is pretty lax. He was surprisingly funny and charismatic. My only issue with him is that the mid-credits scene inferred that Thanos sent Ultron to destroy our heroes when there wasn’t any way that could have happened in his creation.

Ian: I went to see it a second time last weekend, to make sure I wasn’t blinded by what I call “geek fog.” To me, it held up well. No obvious seams were apparent, and I caught some things I missed the first time through (such as some images flashed on screen during Thor’s dream sequence). Considering the massive undertaking this was, and all of the character and story plates Whedon was spinning, I thought he did a really impressive job and it’s the closest thing I’ve ever seen on screen to the Avengers comic books I read as a kid.

Let’s move on to what issues you guys had with the movie.

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Liam: AoU did an outstanding job at ignoring previous conclusions to other Marvel films. How come Iron Man was in his suit right off the bat after combatting the idea of being a hero at the end of Iron Man 3? Thor was in a considerably great mood considering what happened in Thor: The Dark World. Thanos just gives Loki the scepter with an Infinity Stone, yet desperately wants them back. You can touch on these problems without pretending like they never existed, but Whedon just did his own thing.

Speaking of Thor, where the fuck did he go before he powered up Vision? We get a scene of him getting electrocuted while in water, and then he’s back with literally nothing explained. My suspicion makes me think this may be something explored in Thor: Ragnarok, but man, that was some plump deus ex machina.

Wouldn’t it have been nice to see a future Avenger we weren’t told was going to be in the film? After the scene in Wakanda, I expected to see Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther, but ultimately we didn’t get that. How awesome would it have been to see Doctor Strange or Captain Marvel? They didn’t have to go full balls to the wall and bring in Spider-Man, but a tease would have been sufficient. Also where was Falcon? He was in the party scene and didn’t show up again until the end of the film. Could have used some more development there.

Basically, we knew too much going in and it feels like that’s going to happen again with Captain America: Civil War. Part of the reason we knew Hawkeye wasn’t going to bite the dust was because he was already announced for the sequel. We need some sort of surprise for Civil War. That’s what made the Hydra stuff so great in Cap 2.

Tyler: Going into AoU, I was expecting — and warning my friends — that this was going to be a sequel to The Winter Soldier and not as much a sequel to The Avengers. However, I was disappointed that the film doesn’t acknowledge S.H.I.E.L.D. (a big part of the first movie) is gone, but not really, because it all operates out of Stark Industries now. It made the stakes of Winter Soldier — which seemingly reached outside the movie and to the universe — insignificant. If it’s possible, I wanted the movie to be even nerdier, but it wanted to stride the middle between being a traditional movie sequel and part of the larger MCU.

I also felt the movie suffered from us knowing that this wasn’t the top of the mountain, so to speak. The Avengers benefited from being the goal of the build-up with all these solo-hero movies, culminating in their coming together. AoU feels like another piece of the MCU that wil lead to potentially more compelling stories with Civil War and Infinity War.

Ian: Upon a second viewing, it became clearer to me that Whedon wasn’t interested in having Thor in the story, other than the party scene with picking up his hammer and, of course, his role in the final battle. He just disappears and plays no part in the narrative moving forward. Yes, Thor settles the resolution between Stark and Captain America regarding The Vision, and that leads to one of the movie’s best moments. But that seemed more of a handy contrivance to push the story toward its climax.

How about something many people seemed to have a problem with, which is the sequence taking place at Hawkeye’s “safe house.” Was that a safe place for you?

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Liam: Entering an Avengers movie, I don’t want to see Hawkeye chew up most of the screen time. I had no expectations for him going into it, and wasn’t expecting him to basically be the humanizing force and focus for the film. Did the character need to be fleshed out and have more screen time after being zombified by Loki in the first film? Absolutely, but not at the expense of other character development. It came across like Jeremy Renner penned the script himself. While I think Linda Cardinelli, who played Hawkeye’s wife, brought gravitas to the role, I could have lived without the entire farmhouse scene.

This very much felt like season two of The Walking Dead for me. While it’s nice to spend time on the farm and try to humanize these characters, they spent WAY too much time doing so. Almost everything there felt pointless.

Tyler: It didn’t bother me too much even if it felt like one of the many “responses” in the film, with this one being to the “Hawkeye is lame” complaint that many had after The Avengers. Overall, it was fine, though I really thought Hawkeye was going to die by the end of the film,  as all the scenes with him and his wife reeked of McBain’s partner being two days away from retirement. Since that didn’t happen, I don’t know why the chose to fill the lines of one of the team’s least interesting characters.

I also wanted more from the argument between Captain America and Tony Stark since it’s the jumping off point for Civil War. Maybe I would have forgiven that more if the film brought that back but I don’t think it was more apparent, especially since Thor’s aforementioned trip to Ragnarok got as much time.

Ian: I thought that part of the movie was necessary to take a breather from the action. From a character standpoint, each of the Avengers had taken a big blow after Scarlet Witch messed with their heads and there was all of the damage caused in Wakanda. It made sense that the group felt the need to collect itself and lay low. Also, there’s a rhythm to a story, and it felt natural to slow down a bit before building up again.

But as I said in my review, I think the sequence was most important for showing what was at stake for these heroes. At least one of them had a lot to lose and that provided a motivation for going back into battle.

So let’s talk about how the movie ended, because a big complaint with superhero films — especially those in a series like this — is that they’re all set-up and don’t provide a satisfying, stand-alone experience. How did you see it?

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Liam: The ending sure wrapped up things neatly, didn’t it? The Avengers basically save everyone, despite what looked like an impossible resolution. It didn’t need to go full Man of Steel and kill a BUNCH of people, but it felt way too safe.

The scene with Steve Rogers leading the new Avengers was pretty damn cool. I’m excited to see those guys fight together and get some more new blood in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I did have a HUGE problem with the post-credit scene, though. While I can laugh at the more mild stuff like GotG’s Howard the Duck cameo — which showed Marvel can bring back wacky, unfamiliar characters like the Guardians — this one was entirely pointless. Thanos is going after the Infinity Stones himself? We knew that was coming. That’s a bit lazy. How about the Hulk being shot up into space for the start of a solo “Planet Hulk” movie? Now that would be something.

Ultimately, I was satisfied with the movie, but had issue with how much previous storylines were ignored and how it didn’t feel like the stakes were as high as they could have been. How many times are we going to get set-up without getting resolution? It’s a pretty big money grab, albeit an entertaining one.

Tyler: Overall, I was satisfied, though I would have preferred having Falcon involved with the final battle. But that’s just because I have been a huge Anthony Mackie fan since Half Nelson. I worry how much the more casual moviegoers will go for the “New Avengers,” and I think Marvel shares my sentiment, feeling they had to introduce the new team members even though the original Avengers will make appearances in Civil War and star in Infinity War. I was also fine with Hulk going on the run, even if it was just to remove him from Civil War, as he is in the comic book. I was also fine with the “set-up” aspects because this isn’t the end of Phase Two as originally planned, with Ant-Man coming out later in the summer.

Ian: At a certain point, you just have to accept what these movies are. Story elements that are setting up the next movie are just a part of the package. Sure, I get that it’s annoying if you’re just looking at each film as a single experience. (And I would argue that the Ultron arc did present a complete story, within the overall framework of the MCU.) But we’re also talking about a sequel that depended on the viewer having seen just about every previous Marvel Studios film.

This is a running joke with sequels: “Do I need to see Fast Five before watching Furious 7?” The implication being that it’s not required because it’s all the same movie and doesn’t really care about any sort of continuity. Yet that’s not necessarily the case with the Marvel films. The entire experience is richer if you have the whole story — just like it is with the comic books. And that’s supposed to be the point. Marvel is trying to translate the experience of reading serialized comic books to watching its movies. To complain about that is to complain about the entire form, which is exactly what many critics are doing.

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All right, one more thing I wanted to touch on, just because it seemed to take over the pop culture and geek movie internet spheres this week, is Black Widow’s role in the film. Particularly her relationship with Bruce Banner and the revelation that she can’t have children. How did you feel about her storyline, along with the supposed uproar from some fans?

Liam: I’ll leave it to the man who played Bruce Banner himself, who responded with this when asked if he thought Black Widow was turned into a love interest who needed saving:

Tyler: Honestly, I didn’t think much of it when I saw the movie. I thought it was just a way for her to show empathy towards Bruce Banner to make them kindred spirits who both know what it’s like to have something that makes them “different.” I thought the line “You’re not the only monster on the team,” that has drawn so much controversy was more of a reference to her brutal training that made her who she is today.

After thinking about it for a while though, I definitely agree that equating a woman being infertile to being a “monster” is very problematic. I thought Marvel made significant progress in working to fix their lack of strong female characters by developing Black Widow in The Winter Soldier. Since the best women Marvel characters are in Fox’s control, along with the rest of the X-Men franchise, it’s a shame to see them make this misstep. It didn’t affect my appreciation for the movie but it’s disappointing nonetheless.

Ian: The reason I wanted to bring this up is because I was surprised it even developed into an issue. Yes, that’s what we do online now, finding little things to blow up into big things and looking for our latest reason for outrage. I do get the problem some fans had with taking Black Widow and making her main story arc about developing feelings for Banner and deciding that she could run away with him to a different life. That’s not really the character we got to know in The Avengers or The Winter Soldier, the cold spy who’s loyal yet ultimately about the mission at hand.

But I also think Whedon came up with a suitable explanation for that. Natasha met someone unlike anyone she’s ever encountered before, who’s not like the people she normally associates with. It’s like telling your doctor friend not to date another doctor because then they’d have nothing else to talk about, no other views to enrich their lives. Was Natasha foolish to think she and Banner could just run away? Probably, because that’s not the life they’ve chosen. I think we’ll see the consequences of this in future films.

I can’t fault people for how they interpret a scene or line of dialogue. You feel what you feel; there’s not necessarily a “right or wrong” to it. However, I do think the conversation between Banner and Natasha in which infertility comes up has been misunderstood. Banner was trying to underline the point that there is no normal life with him because of the Hulk. If Natasha ever entertained thoughts of having a family, it can’t happen with him because he could easily destroy that. I saw Natasha’s response, telling him about her infertility, as a way of explaining that those things weren’t important to her. And even if they were, it’s a moot point.

The “monster” line wasn’t Natasha referring to not being able to have children, in my view. If Banner saw himself as a monster because of what this life has taken away from him, then isn’t she also a monster? Or perhaps she also sees herself that way because she let this be done to her (though she was surely forced), going along with the belief that it would make her a more efficient spy and less of a person.

About Ian Casselberry

Ian is an editor for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He has covered baseball for Yahoo! Sports, MLive.com, Bleacher Report and SB Nation, and provides analysis for several sports talk radio shows each week. He currently lives in Asheville, NC.

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