With Joss Whedon's absurdly lucrative ensemble film, Avengers: Age of Ultron, hitting theaters this weekend, I decided to launch a new series of editorials that showcase the most valuable player of each MCU film. Not only will these passionate pieces explore the standouts of each film, but they will also shine a telling light on what that character brought to the films that would have been absent otherwise. For the sake of relevance, I'll start with Age of Ultron, but check back next week for the MVP of Guardians of the Galaxy.
Seven years ago this month, Marvel Studios embarked on a quest so ambitious, so insane, so unbelievably bold that many predicted this seemingly foolish move would be the end of the famed House of Ideas. Backed by all-star casts and budgets that could single-handedly end our country's crippling debt, Kevin Feige and his team of stalwarts at Marvel began laying the first stones for a cinematic universe that would span years. At the time, most didn't even know why Feige's name kept popping up whenever Iron Man received even a paragraph of positive press. “Who the hell is this guy?” they'd ask through mouthfuls of misplaced cynicism. But when the aforementioned franchise opener finally hit theater screens, a silence fell over the haters. What could they say that wouldn't earn them a swift kick to the ego? That their predictions had been so wrong that it embarrassed them? That Iron Man not only raised the bar, but sent it spinning into space for its inevitable sequels and companion films to try to find and top later down the road? All expectations had been met before being blown away, sending people into frenzied fits of crazed anticipation as they feverishly awaited whatever Marvel threw at them next.
Each film that followed introduced us to a slew of eccentric characters that have either single-handedly made the film they first appeared in worth watching or faded into cinematic obscurity, the likelihood of a possible return waning with each successive film. Obadiah Stane, Malekith the Accursed, Whiplash, and quite a few others fell victim to the latter of the two fates, which is a damn shame considering how entertaining and silly these characters were.
But this column won't focus on those one-and-done characters whose time in the limelight fell under the shadow of their own mediocrity. No, here I'll discuss those who endeared themselves to us by being bona-fide bad-asses and made their mark on a rapidly expanding universe. They could be heroes, villains, henchmen, or sidekicks, or really anyone we feel deserves that coveted title of Marvel MVP.
Because I enjoy staying relevant, I've decided to start this series with the MVP of the studio's biggest, most ridiculous entry yet: Avengers: Age of Ultron. Unsurprisingly, hand-picking one player out of a cast of over a dozen presents its own set of issues. Tons of new characters enjoy reverent introductions from Mighty Marvel Maestro Joss Whedon, who mapped out how and when these fresh faces would appear years before they reared their pretty heads onscreen. To pick one would be to undercut the incredible importance of all the other awesome guys and gals who make this movie the fun theater outing that it is, but I'm doing it anyway because I don't give a shit. Not even one.
So, enough preamble. Who earns the title of Age of Ultron's MVP?
The winner is..................Wanda Maximoff (Scarlet Witch)! Not only does she sport some of the coolest, most complex powers of any of her teammates, but she's a silent force of unspeakable power who simply cannot be contained. Intimidating, right?
Unlike her wise-cracking brother and metal-moving father, she revels in serious manipulation and mind-fuckery rather than messing you up with super speed and juvenile humor. She's by no means a physical foe; her methods and motivations are akin to those of the devious Loki, who spent the last movie provoking the Hulk into smashing shit he shouldn't be smashing (like the Helicarrier). One could argue that this horrifying form of psychological warfare trumps the physical destruction that many characters limit themselves to.
The scariest part? Whedon's version of the character isn't even in the same league as her comic-book counterpart. In the comics, she's capable of controlling reality and tampering with forces beyond the reach or comprehension of almost any Marvel character, making her the most powerful Avenger and the last person you want to mess with in any way. She's got some strange sexual preferences (ahem, Vision), and lacks the emotional stability you'd hope would accompany such frightening powers.
Eccentricity aside, Scarlet Witch has repeatedly proved her mettle both on the battlefield and in the company of her quippy teammates. Elizabeth Olsen, the actress who portrays her in Whedon's big-budget superhero extravaganza, brings this powerhouse to life in brilliant fashion, doubling as one of Marvel's coolest villains and as one of its most valiant heroes.
Age of Ultron's best, most awe-inspiring action sequences involve Olsen's devious manipulator in some way, throwing her headlong into the fray and stepping back to watch her tear through Ultron's mindless minions or coax the Hulk out of hiding and into a city of helpless civilians. In many ways, she's more formidable than Ultron himself, challenging the Avengers on a cerebral level rather than on a physical one.
So, what do you think? Does Elizabeth Olsen's Scarlet Witch deserve this coveted (and totally fictional) award? Sound off in the comments below!