I haven’t actually watched all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) Films in a while. I revisit my favorites when the mood strikes, but otherwise I haven’t really gone back in a way that’s comprehensive. But given it is the 10th anniversary of Iron Man and Avengers: Infinity War is coming out at the end of April, it seemed like an ideal time to reflect.
I’ll be going chronologically, and covering at least two films per entry, since there are eighteen of them in all. Previous installments are here. This installment closes out “Phase Two” with Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man.
11. Avengers: Age of Ultron (dir. Joss Whedon, 2015)
It would be easy to say that Avengers: Age of Ultron is a bad movie. There’s too much plot, too many new characters, a villian whose motivation seems to change randomly throughout, too many connections to other films, and pacing that is scattershot at best. All of these criticisms are true and valid, and it makes some of the other films in this franchise look positively elegant by comparison. But honestly these flaws are part of why I love it.
Because more than any other film that Marvel has released so far, Age of Ultron feels like a modern comic book story. And partially for the same reasons. It feels like that this film was intended to wrap up this Phase as well as kickoff the next one. Likewise, major comic storylines are often dreamed up by creators and then added onto in order to tie in with other series, often interrupting those stories or spinning out new series to try to drive sales. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m grading on a curve here, because I really enjoy comics, and this is far bolder than we usually get from summer blockbusters these days.
This does truly feel like a sequel to the first Avengers film more than anything else, even if it picks up the Hydra thread from Winter Soldier as well. One thing it does not address is anything regarding Tony Stark’s status after destroying all of his suits at the end of Iron Man 3, except that he vaguely hopes to retire, and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) is able to bring back his PSTD with a vision. It is weird that a series that tries to convince fans that the continuity matters can just ignore it, but they are trying to make sure every film crosses the $200 million mark at the box office. Money talks.
However, with this viewing it really stuck out that this is the most recent appearance of Thor before last year’s Ragnarok, and his characterization here is a nice half-step between Dark World and Taika Waititi’s film. And while it struck me the wrong way that Ragnarok dispensed with the entire Thor supporting cast save two, it was awesome that they waved off all of these visions about Infinity Stones in the opening monologue (Whedon likely feels a certain way about that considering he didn’t want any of that stuff in this film).
I love Ultron as a villain. His hatred of Stark is great, because it gives Tony a taste of his own medicine when it comes to Daddy issues. Even his use of the drones is an exact copy of what Tony is doing at the beginning of the film. And James Spader remains an inspired choice to play the megalomaniacal robot, giving the right amount of gleeful menace. Yes, he escalates from wanting to kill the Avengers to killing all humans, but they had to do something to keep it on par with the other solo movies where the fate of the world is threatened.
But it is the choice of how Ultron wants to destroy the world–by turning a city full of civilians into a meteor–that this film hinges on for the final act. In their own films, each Avenger tends to have some sort of personal stake in the villain’s plan beyond general do-gooding. So this film firmly places the emphasis on saving people. It reframes the entire film about how best to “put a suit of armor around the world.” It feels really great, even if this and Civil War try their best to avoid the Randian notion of “special people deserve special rules” and don’t necessarily succeed.
We need to talk about Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). After being sort of regulated to the background of The Avengers and not showing up since, Whedon gives this character the role of heart for this team. He is their connection to the civilians. Sure, he has better-than-Olympic-level archery skills, but he also has a family. And home improvement projects he’d like to do. While some have (rightly) called out Whedon’s use of traditional families when it comes to Natasha (Scarlett Johansson), it makes an effective shorthand for what the hero part of superhero is supposed to mean.
12. Ant-Man (dir. Payton Reed, 2015)
And then there’s Ant-Man. There’s a lot to like here, but there are also big problems. Let me walk through the good stuff first. First, Paul Rudd is great as Scott Lang, and making him a Robin Hood kind of criminal is a nice touch. I also really like Michael Douglas as Hank Pym, and I like making Hank a link between Tony Stark’s dad (John Slattery) and the present day. This film gets a lot of mileage on being able to fit Ant-Man into the larger universe, and it uses the worldbuilding to really nice effect. It feels as though there is a larger world beyond the Avengers we already know. And I love heist films, so using that genre to frame this film works. And the visuals are actually really cool, and especially the look of how the shrinking powers work in various ways. They even made ants cute!
Alright, three major issues. First, I think the film tries way too hard to be comedic, but the voice isn’t specific enough to work. Like every single character tries to be funny, but they aren’t really reacting to anything, it’s just how they are written. Yes, Michael Peña’s character telling stories is great. But there’s way too many quips where they aren’t needed, which makes a lot of it just feel like filler.
The second one is Hope (Evangeline Lilly), Hank’s daughter. They try to explain that Hank wants to use Scott for the job because he’s expendable, as in he doesn’t want Hope to risk her life because he is afraid to lose her. Fine. But then Hank tells Scott that he picked him because he knows how much Scott’s daughter means to him. So Hank is lying to one of them? Here’s how I would have written it: Hope is already the Wasp, and is super competent, but Scott is brought in because they need two people to shrink down to complete the job. So we make it a buddy comedy between Rudd and Hope. So much better.
A third thing is that Corey Stoll’s Darren Cross is so wildly incoherent it made me really angry watching this time. He’s so comically evil from the first time we meet him, it’s like when Jack Napier was already an over-the-top murder clown and the chemical bath effectively made him the Joker by adding a white face and permanent smile. Terrible.
Overall ranking after this viewing:
- The Avengers
- Guardians of the Galaxy
- Captain America: The First Avenger
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier
- Avengers: Age of Ultron
- Iron Man
- Thor: The Dark World
- Iron Man 3
- Iron Man 2
- The Incredible Hulk
Author: Ryan Silberstein
Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights
as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.