The Age of Ultron: Why Marvel not sticking to the story is a great thing
It's time to be honest with ourselves, comic book fans, and embrace one of our most enduring qualities as a group: We're not always the most open-minded when it comes to change or deviating from source material. Look at any comments section on an article about change, whether it's that costume designers decided to nix Superman's red undies, or something more major, like making the decision to send Wolverine back in time for the X-Men: Days Of Future Past storyline instead of Kitty Pride. The odds of you running into "They're ruining my childhood!"/"destroying everything!" within the first few comments is about as likely as waking up in the morning and the sky being above your head.
On one hand, it's understandable. These are the characters and stories that fired up our imaginations as kids and teenagers, inspired us, became intertwined with our formative years, helped shape how we thought, and, for those of us who really found the pages of our comic books resonating within, influenced who we'd become, for better or worse. So it can sometimes feel like a bit of a slap in the face when Hollywood executives so callously change up or completely disregard the things that are so important to us.
On the other, however, change is not inherently a bad thing; progress does - and should - happen. Sometimes we fans tend to be so protective of our childhood heroes that we get trapped in a sort of backward-thinking nostalgia, frozen in time without moving forward like Han Solo trapped in a block of carbonite. Rather than embracing the idea that the most enduring icons are constantly changing, and that is why they endure, we fear that everything will change, so we resist any change, even if that change makes a better story or enables our beloved heroes and heroines to evolve.
When the news broke months ago that The Avengers 2 had been officially titled The Avengers: Age Of Ultron, any fans familiar with the comics immediately knew the villain of the film, Ultron, one of the most enduring villains in all of Marvel's universe. They knew what the storyline would be.
Except they didn't.
Director Joss Whedon changed the game, and, predictably, riled fans when he announced that he would be deviating from the comic book storyline and putting a new twist on Ultron's origin story, with it being Tony Stark (Iron Man) creating Ultron and not Hank Pym (Ant-Man) creating the world-destroying android, as Pym did in the comics. Cue the outrage. Cue the wailing and gnashing of teeth. Cue fans asking their beloved nerd guru, "What the hell, Whedon?"
But I submit that this change won't ruin everything and will, in fact, make for a better movie. I know, I know. But hear me out. Set aside your suspicions and your doubts, comic fans, and come with me as I give you the reasons why this unexpected plot twist is not a betrayal, but a kick-ass development.
It just makes sense
Set aside your feelings about Hank Pym and your inclination to be upset he won't get the credit for the creation of Ultron for a moment, and consider this solely from the perspective of what's best for the movie franchise. Marvel tackled a hugely ambitious project with its building of the Marvel Cinematic Universe on the screen and so far, there hasn't been a single major misstep. It's amazing when you think of it. Not one. Something with that many moving pieces is bound to fail at some point, whether from a timing perspective or a crucial mistake - except it hasn't.
This has been because everyone has had a clear vision of where the MCU would go, from the top Marvel and Disney execs all the way down to the lowliest PA. From a timing perspective, it's just simply not the right time to bring Hank Pym into the story. We already know he is definitely getting his own origin story, courtesy of the much-maligned, upcoming Ant-Man. Ant-Man is being released in November of 2015, The Avengers 2 in May of that same year. It just doesn't make sense to try to shoehorn him in to the second Avengers film before his own story has even been told. It would be an obvious insertion at best and a ham-fisted debacle at worst. A good portion of Age of Ultron would have to be dedicated to catching audiences up to speed on Hank Pym's backstory, and with an expanded storyline for Black Widow, as well as the introduction of both Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, in the words of Sweet Brown, ain't nobody got time for that.
We already have a lot of complex storylines to interweave with this second ensemble installment and throwing Ant-Man into the mix simply to satisfy tradition will make for a more confusing, crowded story. A worse story, actually. We don't want it going all Spider-Man 3 and falling apart on us, now do we?
I didn't think so.
The framework is already there
It's not that fans can't possibly fathom genius billionaire playboy philanthropist Tony Stark creating Ultron, it's just that they wanted the original genius behind Ultron to be the reason for his existence. But from the land of fun facts, this isn't actually the first time Tony Stark has been Ultron's creator: It happened once before in the animated Avengers movie, Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow.
The stage is already set, too: We already have J.A.R.V.I.S., and we already saw the downside of our Just A Rather Very Intelligent System (didn't know what's what "J.A.R.V.I.S." stood for, did ya?) in Iron Man 3 when the AI system goes wonky and defies Tony's orders:
It's not farfetched to envision a scenario in which this is taken one step further and we find a still grief-stricken Stark newly rededicated to the idea of building an even better suit, a bigger weapon, a more perfect defense between humanity and the threats all around it. It's not hard to picture a storyline in which a malfunctioning J.A.R.V.I.S. (or some version of his sentient AI technology) hardwires itself into another prototype Mark suit, makes upgrades to itself, and turns into a cybernetic killing machine.
Really, it's a simple, elegant solution to the problem of introducing Ultron's origins into the Avengers storyline, and actually fits rather seamlessly into the story already told on screen.
Joss has been planning this for a long time
When it was announced that it would be the Age of Ultron storyline Marvel was rolling out next, and not a lead-up to the Civil War storyline, many fans were left scratching their heads, and understandably so. The Ultron angle seemed to have come out of nowhere, but in all reality, it hadn't.
But in an interview with Whedon during last year's Comic-Con, the geek guru revealed that Ultron has been in the plans all along:
I was pitching Ultron before I took the job on the first movie. I was like, 'I don't know if I want to do this, but for the second one, you should totally do Ultron.'
And honestly, his reasons for wanting to utilize the leveled-up killbot are pretty solid:
Because he's been a thorn in their side as much as any other character over the years and particularly back in my history. He was great. He's somebody who can juice things up and he's a real problem for the Avengers. That's not always easy to find. It's not like the Vulture is really going to give them a hard time for 20 minutes.
Looking beyond that most logical of explanations, this means that Whedon has been thinking about this for a long, long time. He's had time to plan, time to tweak, and time to paint a picture of his vision for Marvel and Disney execs. Even with a storyline that diverges from its original path, there has been more than enough time to craft a script that is rock-solid, and a story that has been in the plans since the beginning.
And Whedon wasn't joking. Ultron is not just a villain, but a villain, a supervillain, one of the most formidable in the Marvel universe. Let's be honest. While Loki was a badass and has become absolutely beloved by fans (and rightfully so), the Avengers got off fairly easy in the first film. No major psychological fallout (okay, except for possibly Hawkeye), no irreparable injuries, no deaths (except for Coulson, which had to happen).
But do not expect that to be the case this time around. Anyone familiar with Whedon's work knows that he's a fan of murdering his darlings, and his characters tend to drop like flies - and that's why we love him. A storyline isn't compelling if your protagonists don't face any real danger, if you know they're going to remain untouched. But introduce the possibility that any of them could die, deepening the story and making it more meaningful? Sorry, but sign me up, every time. And with Ultron looming on the horizon, that's exactly the element that will be introduced.
Our superheroes will not make it out of this unscathed
Check out the picture to the left. That is one broken Captain America. Suit ripped to shreds. Unbreakable vibranium shield shattered. Completely slumped over in defeat and grief and despair. This is not your Steve Rogers from the first Avengers film, who faced the possibility of death and a seemingly endless physical battle with nothing worse than a bit of fatigue and more than a little anger. There is no anger here, only grief.
And he's not the only one. Loki and the Chitauri flattened Manhattan, but Ultron destroys everything in his path, up to, and including the entire world. And that includes everyone in his path, even superheroes. They are damaged. Things are irrevocably broken.
For the first time, there is the potential we might actually have to say goodbye, forever, to one of our beloved superheroes. The certainty that they will all make it out alive and in one piece and unchanged goes completely away. That's a new dynamic that will catapault the Marvel Cinematic Universe to the next level, and sets the stage for one of the best storylines in Marvel's history, one that encompasses not just the Avengers, but touches upon the entire universe.
It sets up a Kree-Skrull war storyline
Forget the Civil War. Tony Stark bringing about the existence of Ultron sets up a storyline that's just as cool, and in many ways, would give future screenwriters and directors far more flexibility: The Kree-Skull war, long considered to be the peak of that era. Marvel fans gained a lot from this comic arc: The origin of the Vision-Scarlet Witch romance that rocked storylines for years to come.
When two bloodthirsty, intergalactic races go to battle with each other, it spills over onto Earth, and humans, mutants, and superheroes alike become the collateral damage. And it encompasses everyone we've seen on screen so far: The Avengers, the X-Men, even Spider-Man.
What's more, the superheroes we haven't yet seen still factor heavily into the Kree-Skrull storyline. The Guardians of the Galaxy, who are getting their own silver screen debut next summer, Doctor Strange, Ant-Man, Scarlet Witch, Vision - the list goes on. There is virtually nothing screenwriters can't do with this as a broad storyline, and in the hands of the right writer and director, it will be something amazing. Which leads me to my last point:
Come on, people, it's JOSS WHEDON
Really, I should not need to write anything more than that. This is Joss Whedon we're talking about, the ultimate champion of our nerdy loves. Perhaps no other writer-director has had so many spot-on hits, and television shows and characters who have resonated so well across the board as Whedon.
We entrusted him to steer the good ship Avengers the first time around and look how that turned out. He's earned our faith as fans and our belief that he knows what he's doing. He has this under control, and it's almost certain that his vision is vastly more grand than anything we could conceive. So relax, let go of the past, and embrace the future. It can only be a good thing.