Wednesday, 29 April 2015


I'm not kidding, seriously, so many spoilers! 
Tune out now if you haven't seen the film or don't want to know details! 

This post is basically a rant, and those of my Dear Readers who aren't into superhero films may find some or all of it incomprehensible/boring/pointless. Apologies in advance for that. I just have to get it off my chest before I explode.

So yeah, I wasn't... impressed with AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON.

In fact, from here on out I'll mostly be referring to it with a title that feels more appropriate to me: Age of Ugggh.

OK, some background. I am a huge Marvel fangirl. I am a Marvel GEEK. Pretty much since the first IRON MAN movie came out, I have disappeared deeper and deeper into that rabbit hole. I got addicted to the comics, I educated myself on fifty years of backstory and canon, I got the animated films and the cartoon series and the anime stuff, I collected the Funko POP! figures. I spend half my life reblogging Marvel gifsets on Tumblr. When I am stressed, I read Marvel fanfic. I subscribe to all the comic geeks channels on YouTube. The last film that my dad and I ever went to the cinema to see together, before he got too sick, was AVENGERS: ASSEMBLE (and we loved it and watched to together on DVD, along with the other Phase One films, probably thirty times).

So AGE OF ULTRON - the official end of Phase Two and the follow up to one of my favourite films ever - was such a big deal to me, you can’t even understand. I watched every teaser, trailer and featurette multiple times and squeed over them at length. I booked the cinema tickets the moment they could be had, and literally arranged an entire day around going to see it, including travelling three hours roundtrip on the train. The prospect of being able to immerse myself in this universe again has kept me going through months of rough, cr*ppy, sh*t in my life.

And sure, I saw some commentary about the film that wasn't positive, and it came from sources that I trusted. But even though there was a horrible snafu with the main actors making disgusting sexist remarks about the lone female lead character, and even though I heard whispers of some misogynistic characterisation in the movie itself, I remained determined to keep an open mind.

And now I kind of wish I hadn't seen it at all.

What is the actual point of this film?

No, no - aside from making Disney $2billion and stroking Joss Whedon’s ego by allowing him to utilise the Ultron character that apparently he always wanted to - ASIDE FROM THAT.

Like, the actual purpose of the thing as a narrative within the Marvel Comics Universe? A film supposedly adding to and expanding the universe of the MCU and improving our understanding of the characters within it?

I’m really serious here. What - who - within the MCU was actually meaningfully affected by this film? I feel like the answer is a big fat zero. Because you could literally have gone straight from the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier to the forthcoming Captain America: Civil War without any of the events of Age of Ugggh having been screened for us and it would make NO DIFFERENCE whatsoever.

SHIELD was already down at the end of CA:TWS. If it was important for us to know that the Avengers had reunited in the wake of that in order to root out the last remnants of Hydra and raid rogue Hydra/SHIELD facilities (which, actually, I'm not sure it was - BUT IF IT WAS) we could have been shown that with a single establishing scene at the beginning of Civil War. You want to explain Bruce’s absence at the beginning of CW and that his leaving destroyed a burgeoning romance with Natasha? You have someone ask ‘Where’s Banner?’ and have Natasha answer: ‘In the wind. He bailed six months ago after an… incident…’ and have Scarlett Johansson’s face tell the story before she quickly turns away.

Is it important to know that Tony’s ‘quit’ (ha ha ha, yeah, that’ll last) the superhero business? Well, technically he already has - you know, since there was that whole film about it, called IRON MAN 3? But if you want us to know that he’s the one who’s funding the superhero business now? Then after you’ve shown the New Avengers Facility (with the same caption we got in Age of Ugggh) you have Steve say ‘At least Stark didn’t take his funding with him when he tapped out.’

Wanda and the Vision? What about them, you ask - surely Age of Uggh had value because it introduced them? Well, no, actually. Neither of them got any meaningful characterisation in Age of Ugggh anyway. They were effectively minor characters who were shoved forward into the limelight with lots of fanfare without ever being given anything interesting to do or any depth.

This is particularly true of Vision, who apparently had astonishing ultimate powers but demonstrated a) an ability to fly (wow!) and b) an ability to 'burn Ultron off the internet' in a two second sequence (much wow!). I know Vision's backstory, and I was really interested to see how they would make it work here, with Tony as his creator and Jarvis as his 'soul' but he basically floated around being vaguely new age and extremely pink and made practically no contribution to the plot apart from giving Tony and Steve a reason to have a vicious yet ultimately pointless argument which was the most cack-handed foreshadowing for Civil War possible. A complete waste of Paul Bettony's talent AND of the much-beloved character of Jarvis. If Vision had gotten squashed like a bug at any point in this film I would have felt nothing except sadness that Jarvis wouldn't be in Tony's HUD making snarky comments anymore.

So we’re clearly going to have to figure out who these two really are in Civil War (and with the Russo Brothers' able guidance it’ll probably work). But if the point of Age of Ugggh was to create any kind of a bond of sympathy or attachment between the audience and those two, it failed.

Given this, they could easily have been introduced as mysterious and powerful new characters to intrigue us in the opening scenes of Civil War, instead. Two seconds after we’re shown the New Avengers facility and Steve mentions the funding, we meet Wanda and Vision on the training mats along with Falcon, where Natasha’s ‘beating them into shape’. 'This is the new team!?!' someone says, as Wanda accidentally hexes Falcon and Vision disapparates out of the way of Sam's falling body. We’d get to find out about their backstory and abilities in a way that felt meaningful and interesting, as they trained to become a team with the other members of the New Avengers (and fell in love).

Nothing within the existing universe and no one within the existing cast has been left meaningfully altered by the events of Age of Ugggh. The only difference from the end of of A:A is that this time it’s Banner who’s been shown going off on his own instead of Steve. The hostility, distrust, and fundamental difference in world view that divides Steve and Tony? Already established at the end of A:A. SHIELD down? Established at the end of CA:TWS. The world a more dangerous and murky place where the actions of ‘heroes’ might face unfriendly scrutiny? Established at the end of AA and CA:TWS. Tony not actively superheroeing anymore? Established at the end of IM:3. Thor no longer a part of the team/more concerned with living a human life with Jane? Established at the end of Thor:TDW.

There is one thing this film did that wasn’t already done (and better, too) by the other Phase Two films or which couldn't have been done in a single establishing scene at the beginning of CA:CW. And that was to give the earth-based characters - not us! We already knew because of Thor:TDW and Guardians of the Galaxy - knowledge of the Infinity Stones and show Thanos finally getting his big purple *ss off that floating throne and deciding to work for a living.

I wish I was missing something that further rewatches will reveal to me, but I really don’t think I am. The only point of this multi-million dollar, nearly three hour long production was the two minute explanation of the Infinity Stones and the mid-credit scene. Oh, and the destruction and defamation of most of the characters that we liked and empathised with (I have never liked any of them less than I did here, honestly).

We had Tony as a spoiled, petty man child with all the emotional intelligence and perspective of a toddler, who throws apocalyptic tantrums whenever Steve tells him 'no', and constantly deceives and uses his team to get his own way. We had Steve as a one-dimensional block of a man who tells his team off for using bad language (hilarious! Soldiers in the Second World War totally never swore and just said 'Gosh' and 'Gee' while liberating death camps, you know) and who one moment is sacrificing Natasha without a single backward glance, and the next is telling us that he won't sacrifice a single person even if it means the end of the world (that is incredibly bad writing, right there). Bruce was painted as a feeble coward. I barely recognised him, and that was so disappointing because I love Mark Ruffalo and loved his of portrayal of Bruce in A:A. Thor? Well, he had a single personality trait, and it was: loud. Hawkeye was given a massive, awkward wodge of backstory that would actually have been endearing and heartwarming if it hadn't felt so utterly out of place, like it belonged in a different film.

And Natasha? My God, why would you DO this to Natasha Romanov, aka the Black Widow, aka one of the most compelling, complex, fascinating female characters the MCU has? Age of Ugggh basically portrayed her as Fay Wray, a female character whose main worth lies in taming or unleashing the power of the beast - in this case, the Hulk.

I am a shipper, man. I'll ship anyone with anybody, and after the hints in the trailers I was 100% there for some Brutasha. I love both these characters, and I thought it would be nice to see some tenderness between them. But it fell completely flat on screen. Not only was there zero romantic or sexual chemistry between the actors (and that's a feat, since both of them are beautiful and fantastic actors - I'm blaming the direction there) but the romance diminished Natasha. It was her whole arc. That was it. Natasha Pines For Bruce: The Movie.

The smirking, morally conflicted, flawed-yet-fighting Natasha of CA:TWS, who left Steve and went out on her own to figure out who she really was now that all her covers were blown, was utterly subsumed by a woman who, apparently, had figured out that who she was and all she wanted to be was Bruce Banner's girlfriend.

And when Bruce told her she was out of her mind for wanting to be with him (thanks, Bruce, your sensitivity to mental health issues was totally appreciated there) and that he was a monster, who probably couldn't have sex and could never have children (why would you assume that Natasha is too stupid to realise this, or that children are the most important thing to her anyway?), Natasha responded to him with a terrible story about how, as part of the systematic torture and abuse of her childhood in the Red Room, she had been sterilised, and then said 'Still think you're the only monster on the team?'

Yes, that's right. Apparently the filmmakers are totally comfortable with having a female character label herself as monstrous because she can't have biological kids. Natasha Romanov - former child assassin, current superhero, woman on a mission to discover her own true identity and make the world a better place - is a monster BECAUSE SHE CANNOT GIVE BIRTH. Apparently, a baby would be '...the only thing that might be more important than a mission' (???) and not being able to have babies '...makes everything easier. Even killing'. It's official! Being infertile erases a woman's conscience, while while having babies renders them incapable of performing their missions.

I guess all that stuff about red in the ledger was basically a euphemism for menstruation.

This is so blatantly, hatefully misogynistic that I am still in a haze of disbelief that it could possibly have screened in 2015, written and directed by a man WHO CALLS HIMSELF A FEMINIST.

Ultimately, Age of Ugggh was an empty spectacle that only worked to lessen the MCU's established characters, and weaken the quality of their overall work. I'm so glad that Joss Whedon is departing at this point, and I really, really hope that the writers and directors who follow him don't allow themselves to be unduly influenced by his continuing role as an advisor to Marvel. Because this film blew so badly that, thinking about it now, I kind of want to cry.


Krispy said...

Augh, I'm so sorry the movie fell so flat for you, Z! I just saw it last night (it's not even out in the US yet), and I liked it overall - but I think it's because I had super low expectations. I haven't let myself watch or read anything about it really (yours is the first review I'm reading!), so other than the theatrical trailers and hearing that this flick received more mixed reviews than the last - which I loved but in hindsight felt a little sparse in some areas.

So I think I liked this film because it seemed denser. I enjoyed Ultron and seeing the team as a team. But like I said, I saw it last night so I'm still processing and I appreciate reading all of your points. I do think the film suffered from "middle book/movie" syndrome - in that it feels very much like a bridge to somewhere else - which may account for some of your feelings of "what was the point of this."

And I agree with you that much of this movie's effects could be summarized in the beginning of Cap3, I think it helps really put a point on the social climate for what I assume will be the conflict in Cap3. Like I do think we get some of the set-up of "what are the consequences of superheroes" at the end of Avengers 1 and Cap2, but I feel like this movie put a finer point on the kind of global destruction the activity of the Avengers can have - even when they're just trying to save people. Like Avengers 1 and Cap 2 both ended with glancing remarks about how people aren't totally on-board with the superhero thing, but Avengers 1 still gave us a more positive take (with people just being grateful they were saved) and Cap 2 ended by raising the question again but it was still mostly put in a US context. This time we see the destruction just 2 Avengers visited on a city in Wakanda and the hostile feelings the people of Sokovia seem to have against them (or at least Iron Man). And the fact that the enemy in this movie is a product of the Avengers themselves gives us a better look at how their existence could be bad / could have people concerned.

So mostly, I do feel like this was a set-up movie and I think helps build the stakes for Cap 3 more without making it feel rushed - like suddenly people are not down for superheroes?

But THANK YOU for pointing out the problematic aspects of what was done with the Black Widow character. I like the idea of her and Banner connecting over their kind of past trauma and feelings of isolation, but it felt kind of rushed AND like you said, it shifted the focus of her character to a romantic one and just why. I'm okay with romance and I think both of them deserve it, but it was just so kinda randomly there and that was kind of it for her. I did like seeing her continued camaraderie with Cap (esp post Cap 2) and that we got to see her friendship with Hawkeye outside of the job, but yeah, the romance instead of really enhancing her character (which I think is what was intended) kind of detracted; it felt like a step back.

But yeah, this movie - not so successful with character stuff and probably mostly there for set-up to other stuff. I enjoyed Thor though (I always do / the elevator is not worthy), missed Loki (I also always do), and I liked James Spader's Ultron. He was like an evil Tony Stark (personality-wise).

Anyway, thanks for the thoughtful review and for letting me ramble here! Here's hoping the next one is better (and I'm very excited to see where the Russos take Cap3; Winter Soldier was so good!).

Zoë Marriott said...

Oh, you're very welcome! My expectations weren't really high going in, I must admit, but I did expect to at least be able to enjoy it in the kind of mindless way you'd enjoy a Transformers movie - you know, that I'd be absorbed by it while watching, even if later on problems occurred to me. Which is why the feeling that the whole thing was hollow, and this creeping sense that none of it really meant anything that ambushed me *mid-viewing* basically ruined it all for me.

There were some moments of brilliance, definitely, but I felt like they were tent pegs desperately battling to hold up this saggy weight of set-up for other films.

My fingers are crossed for better things in the future.

Laura Mary said...

Try as I might, I just cannot see Natasha’s storyline in the same way (that’s not to say it was flawless by any means!) I liked the fact that we finally got to see a glimpse of real feeling from her for once, rather than sassing about like a sexbot. As soon as the Bruce/Natasha feels came along, I did worry that we’d get some Bella-esque pining, but I didn't see it like that – she had a few moments of vulnerability before getting on with kicking ass with the rest of the team.
I took her comment on being a ‘monster’ as reference to her cold-blooded killing shenanigans – I certainly don’t see it as being a single reference to her infertility. It is part of the whole process that turned her into an assassin/monster. It was one more piece of humanity stripped away from her. *Everything* that was done to her, including being sterilised against her will, has turned her into something she sees as monstrous.

But… to play devil’s advocate for a moment, what if Natasha does see herself as being less than human because she cannot have children? Is it anti femminist to show that? The feelings of worthlessness that come from trying fruitlessly to have a baby… That you are not a real woman, that you have no purpose, that you are damaged in some way, an empty shell, barely human… These are terrible and sad things for any woman to think of herself, but we do, and being able to express those feeings shouldn't be stigmatised.

The Marvel universe ain't great for female characters! I think when they are so few and far between we all want them to be the perfect version of our own vision. Any character is going to divide opinion ultimately! What Marvel really needs is a whole range of women, strong, weak, vulnerable, interesting, likeable, hateable – just good characters! Now get me on the phone to Hollywood…

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