The most compromised cinematic release by Marvel to date.
We all saw it, we all talked about it, and we certainly all read about it. To say that the responses to Joss Whedon's action-packed Marvel sequel were mixed, would be an understatement. Some found that Age of Ultron surpassed its predecessor, while others felt that the director was unable to recapture the magic of his 2012 hit. The latter, unfortunately, has proven to be the most prevalent. It's truly never an easy thing to see a beloved franchise churn out a disappointing installment, particularly because it will never be forgotten. It instantly becomes the movie that fans bring up in an angrier tone when talking about the series, and though [The Avengers: Age Of Ultron](tag:293035) is not considered a Phantom Menace sized disappointment, the sequel will always be the one that fell. Marvel has had misfires, but the anticipation and the fact that it was an Avengers movie, only augments fans' rage.
That is the image Age of Ultron has been painted in, from even the time before its release. Reviews mentioned troubling criticisms such as the start of superhero fatigue and a lack of true wonder, which the first Avengers film wore like armor. So naturally, I came to the theater on that anticipated premiere night with considerable worry, and the feeling that I was about to be disappointed. What happened when the projector started rolling, was curious.
I saw all of the criticisms. I felt some of them myself, and I understood exactly where they all came from. But something wasn't sitting quite well with me. Although I saw the reasons for disappointment, they didn't feel quite whole, as if the scales had been tipped so unfairly out of this movie's favor, that you would have thought a team of deities had designed the perfect failure for cruel pleasure. Overall, I walked out feeling that the movie was a success, but still found myself bothered by the popular criticisms.
Much to the benefit of understanding, I saw the movie twice more in theaters, then again online. And I must say, it gets better with each viewing, and like I said, I understand and see things much clearer now. The complications of why I seem to enjoy it more than others, has led me to a deep analysis of exactly what went wrong with the reception of this movie. What I have concluded, I ask you to strongly consider with an open mind, as it may be hard to see through what is the most compromised cinematic release by Marvel to date.
And by the way, there will be spoilers....Duh.
Marketing Company Must Die
Let's face it. Many of us, including myself to a tee, eventually had the dialogue to that first Avengers teaser memorized. We hummed the deliciously creepy Pinocchio song, and got chills when Ultron consistently declared his obsession with–and lack of–strings. We were emotionally haunted as Natasha's fingers intertwined with Hulk's, an endlessly touching shot that told us their dynamic that began with the disaster from the first movie, was going to be rightfully continued. We didn't quite expect a romantic direction, but we'll get to that later. The point is, as we watched it this amazing trailer, we were in heaven. Three things happened to all of us at once: exhilaration, tears, and let's just say the third emotion is that thing that usually happens late at night when the lights are off and your wife just got adventurous.
We were getting a dark sequel. We were getting a dark, sad, emotional sequel. We were getting a story about loss–FROM JOSS WHEDON. Loss and Joss have gone hand in hand since he built his immortal fan-base from the ground up with the tear-jerking TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. His expertise in emotional storytelling was being injected into the next tale of our favorite heroes. Admit it, you wanted one of the big three to die, because this trailer promised us a damn dark movie and you wanted it more than anything.
The trailer was a lie. This is the first reason why any instinctive oppositions to this movie are not actually the movie's fault. It's difficult trying to explain such a relationship between trailer and movie, but here's my analogy that I have come up with to really paint the picture: At some point someone tells you that on the last day of your life, you will get to taste the best and most delicious apple on the damn planet. That special fruit is coming your way, and man are you excited. The day arrives, you're all ready to taste this apple, but when it's handed to you, you find out that it is not, in fact, an apple. Not even a little bit. It's an orange. The best orange in the entire world. You eat it, and it's great, but you're distracted by the fact that this is not what you were promised. You were promised an apple, and you got an orange. As the old saying tells us, these two fruits aren't so easy to compare. All you can focus on is the sensation you yourself have created in your mind throughout the anticipation. And who can blame you? THEY TOLD YOU IT WAS GONNA BE AN APPLE, GODDAMMIT. You're so angry that you discard the orange and don't realize that if someone had told you from day one, that it was an orange you would be tasting, you would have enjoyed the hell out of it.
Noticing now that I just rambled on about an apple and an orange, I'll move the article along. The idea is very important: AoU was not what we were promised, not what we imagined for all those tortuous months of waiting. Needless to say, we were offended when we saw the finishing product. But that product was not WORSE than the original deal that that damn trailer made with us. It's just so unbelievably different that you were outraged, and rightfully so. I was as well.
So I prompt you to consider this: if the trailers had been accurate, if they had shown us what we would truly be getting when May finally came, with an accurate depiction of the tone and villain (was that chilling shot of him saying "There are no strings...on me" even IN the movie?), we would have digested that for the nine months leading up to release. You would have built a fantasy in your mind of THAT movie, and been satisfied with another outstanding contribution to the planet by King Whedon. On top of that, take a moment and really think about the marketing campaign for the first Avengers. Accurate as hell, right? Shots of people running from Loki's menacing grin, his voiceovers playing as proof that British people make literally everything sound cooler, and of course, our heroes fighting to a rock n' roll type soundtrack. One of those trailers even played to a famous rock song, but I can't remember which one. That is the Avengers movie, they told us what we were getting and we got it. Can you imagine if the first Avengers trailer was playing to a creepy song that sticks with you forever, and it turned out that Loki was actually not British in the movie? Yeah, I'd have thrown popcorn.
Personally, I'd like to find whoever the hell it is that made that AoU trailer look so dark, and touch Loki's scepter to his/her heart and make them do my bidding. But, I'm not that resourceful, so this article is my vessel for justice.
Point: The movie's lack of dark tone would not have been a problem in the slightest, if it hadn't been promised to us as seductively as possible. We were promised an apple for what felt like forever, and we got an orange. The marketing company is to blame.
Marketing Company Must Die...Because They Can't Get Their Sh** Together
Why on this Odin-forsaken Earth, would I want to watch a movie that I've seen half the footage for?
We all remember when the next few teasers started rolling out. It was exciting, but after a while, especially once actual scenes were being released, it started to feel like a bit much.
I get it. Market your movie so that people will see it. That's how it works. But there is a fine line between marketing and spoiling an experience. The sheer amount of footage released to the public for the first Avengers movie, compared to AoU, is miniscule. That's why we were able to watch with appalled glee at how great Joss' work was in that first film. We weren't finishing lines for the actors.
What I also believe to be a result of the competition between CBM's nowadays, a lot of opportunities for surprise were ruined because of how many amazing things were in the trailers. Think about how blown away and shocked the entire audience would have been, if out of nowhere, the Hulkbuster showed up. It would have been a scene remembered forever. Instead, it fades into the background of things shown in the trailer–the first trailer, at that.
Now, some might say that others and I should not have watched all those scenes, but we all know how weak our willpower is when it comes to new and exciting footage. The marketing company released over twelve scenes from the movie, using this to their advantage. And for the record, I did not come close to watching all of them; there's a point in your life where you see a video called "Avengers: Age of Ultron - Clip #12" and just have to back away.
One of the clips released that shocked me in its spoilery-ness, was the scene were Vision is born. Why would I want to watch such a pivotal moment like that, weeks before the movie?
Other surprises that could have blown us away, but were shown in marketing instead, include: Nick Fury's presence (we probably could have guessed he'd show up, but don't ruin the fun!), and the scene where all the Avengers fly onto the screen in a line, from the opening battle in the snow (would have been nice to see the new shot of them all together, for the first time in the actual theater).
In October of last year, Kevin Feige, along with Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr, and surprise Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman, showcased a thrilling lineup of Marvel's entire Phase 3 schedule. Fans swooned as much as when Nick Fury was seen using the A-word in the Iron Man post credits scene. This information was considered an oasis of awesomenesss, but what were the underlying effects of this Marvel Expo?
Well, they have been more damaging to the general momentum of the studio that any of us first thought.
Take a look at the progression of Marvel in Phase 1, and most of Phase 2. From the minute that the aforementioned Fury cameo opened up a mulitverse of possibilities, fans could only speculate on what was then a fantasy. The Incredible Hulk confirmed the linkage between Marvel Studio's films, with Tony Stark's cameo marking the high point of an otherwise dry film. Then, Iron Man 2 gave us something we certainly didn't expect: a post credits scene that depicted the discovery of Thor's hammer. From then, fans were the dominant beings on the planet, having all their dreams come true. When Joss Whedon was nailed down as the director of the upcoming Avengers film, the existence of heaven went from possibility to likelihood. Fast forward through an entertaining period-piece of a Captain America movie, seeing the Avengers movie actually confirmed its existence.
Why was this Phase 1 so exciting? Tension. Guessing games. Speculation. The same things were in motion for most of Phase 2, with all of us having only post credits scenes to go on. We knew the Infinity storyline was out there somewhere, but anything else from a Ms. Marvel movie to Doctor Strange was anyone's guess. The surprise hit Guardians of the Galaxy even had us considering a cameo from one of the guardians in Avengers 2.
But then came the expo.
Tension. Guessing games. Speculation. All gone!
We had everything confirmed. Civil War, Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Inhumans, Infinity War, and let's face it, Spider-Man was going to go back to Marvel eventually. One of the most common enjoyments of Marvel's movies had been taken away, the guessing was non-existent! Many of us listened to Thor's Infinity Stone exposition while only being able to think about Infinity War, which we knew was in a few years! It made Thor's journey in the movie, which had to be cut due to the short leash that Marvel had on Whedon, seem practically pointless.
But what else did this evil expo do to us? Something even worse: nearly everyone was safe in Age of Ultron. The darkness and hints of death in the trailer I previously mentioned, were canceled out by the knowledge that almost no Avengers could die. With Civil War confirmed, we knew that Cap and Iron Man were utterly safe. With Ragnarok, we knew Thor was safe. That's all of the Big Three, out of danger in AoU. Shortly after, Black Widow and even Hawkeye were confirmed for Civil War. Okay, so now Hulk can die. That's compelling, right? Then, Vision was confirmed for Civil War. Then, when Aou was days away, Elizabeth Olsen said she would be in CW as well.
Possibility of a great loss in the movie? Slim to none.
A bit hard to think that characters are in peril when you know they'll be back to face a greater threat next year. Thanks, Expo.
We did get death in the form of Quicksilver, and yes, it was a wise move in that it set up Scarlet Witch's pained character perfectly. The whole scene puts tears in my eyes, Pietro's sacrifice for Hawkeye and Wanda's silent scream rounding out a moving piece of cinema. That followed by Wanda telling Ultron that she just died, then ripping his mechanical heart out and telling him that that's how it had felt, was truly emotional. But let's all face the music: we watched this movie knowing that our favorite characters were safe and knowing precisely what will happen in the future. Hey Expo, thanks a goddamm lot.
We Love Whedon. And "We" does not include Marvel.
We do. We really do. But Marvel....? Not so much. Not enough to let him do his thing, clearly. I was surprised they let him get away with the Hide-the-Zuccini joke, but raunchy lines don't make up for what they simply wouldn't allow. And that pertains to quite a lot.
Whedon's original script was over three hours long. So of course, many things were going to be cut. But when I say that this director was held back by Marvel, I don't just mean time-wise. Yes, he notoriously was given a tough ultimatum that involved cutting scenes from either Thor's cave journey, or Clint's farm. I think he rightfully chose to cut from the cave scene, as the farm had way too many character moments to eliminate. But I also mean the unspoken rules. The rules that came with Darth Expo (yes, that expo is evil enough to me to be a Sith Lord).
Imagine you're a director. A damn good one, at that. I'm talking James Cameron's Terminator days. Joss Whedon is a genius, and though he has haters (who multiplied in number after AoU's release), you can't deny it. When you're that good and put that much personality into your work, you need to do your thing. Tell the story you want to tell. Now imagine your next project involves characters that must be in certain places by the end of your film, in order to set up the half-decade long plan of the company's movies in a very precise way. Hardly two characters are allowed to die.
The story potential that could have flowed from his writing, was terminated. Just like I wish that expo could be.
Back to the scenes that were cut, real quick. You should also know that aside from obligating him to leave scenes out for time purposes, Marvel flat out did not approve of some of Whedon's content in general. Specifically, the Avengers' entire journey to the farm. A scene that gave much needed screen time to every character, particularly Hawkeye, and they didn't want it because of how it slowed down the pace. Way to focus on character over action, Marvel.
For the record, if there was a three hour Avengers movie by Joss Whedon with more rounded out scenes and better pacing, we would have watched it in a HEARTBEAT. Please just do a director's cut, Joss. Please!
The Widow Speech
Arguably the scene that has sparked the most controversy is the one in which Bruce and Natasha share their deep feelings about love and parenthood. The content of Natasha's soliloqy became a source of infamous Twitter-hate towards Joss Whedon (including pictures of nooses and other various death threats), his handling of the herione becoming so disliked that some believe the character was reduced to the eye-candy sex object she appeared to be in Iron Man 2, cancelling out all of the progress he made with her in the first Avengers.
This very notion, my friends, is ridiculous.
I have spent MONTHS analyzing the peculiar situation of this film, and that means everything, especially an Internet bombshell such as this. So as you read, please note that I am by no means defending Black Widow's story in AoU because of my fanboy desire to keep Marvel's track record clean. I analyze many films, some more intricately than this one, so this is my honest and realized opinion.
In the scene mentioned above, Bruce and Natasha stand in Hawkeye's previously concealed farmhouse, where his two kids and pregnant wife reside in safety. This atmosphere organically prompts a discussion of the couple's possible future–or lack thereof. Bruce looks around the room, at a loss, telling Natasha that he can't give her this kind of life. His physical incapability to give her children is a gargantuan barrier between the two of them and family. As he reminds her of this obstacle, she looks as emotionally stuck as he does, and tells him that she is no more capable than he is.
Alright, I'm going to break down what she said, in order to properly convey her meaning.
Neither can I. In the Red Room, where I was trained, where I was raised, um...they have a graduation ceremony. They sterilize you....It's efficient. One less thing to worry about. The one thing that might matter more than a mission....Makes everything easier. Even killing. You still think you're the only monster on the team?
There is one prevailing misconception about this soliloquy, and I will honestly tell you that that is all it is. A misconception created by a burning need to see women done no wrong onscreen. I share that desire for amazing female characters, but this is where I draw the line.
People have concluded–far too hastily, in my opinion–that Natasha Romanoff is declaring herself a monster as a direct result of her infertility. People believe that Black Widow is using her incapability to bear children, as evidence that she is less than human.
Now the part where I break this down. The first statement is cut and dry: she's introducing it as a graduation ceremony in the place she was turned into an assassin. Then, she says it plain and simple. "They sterilize you." Then, she says that it is efficient, and that it eliminates any possibility of being compromised in one's actions during a mission. It "makes everything easier." This is the part where I wish I had a good gif to show you guys, because Natasha's facial expression is confirmation that the ceremony's so-called efficiency, is nothing more than what she tells herself as a coping mechanism. This isn't quite where the source of the misconception lies, but it is important to clear the air and affirm that Natasha isn't actually happy about this disability. Then, the tricky part for some people comes along.
You still think you're the only monster on the team?
I'm just gonna state this for the record to kick off this last part: Natasha is not saying, that she is a monster, just because she can't bear children. That is NOT what she is saying.
Now, on to what she is saying. This is an emotional confession from Natasha Romanoff. This is her confiding in Bruce, telling him a deep dark secret. Yes, she hates herself for the situation, but it isn't the infertility that causes this hate.
She is saying that she is a monster because of how easily she can kill.
There. Done. Period. That should be all.
The reason for the sheer unanimity of the conclusion that Joss Whedon is calling infertile women monsters, is beyond me. But I am saying this to anyone who participated in this idea, and is willing to see beyond a single point of view, that that conclusion is wrong.
Perhaps it is the briefness of this speech that confuses people. Perhaps it would have been better if Joss simply made Natasha's explanation longer and more thorough, giving everyone a clearer idea of what she is trying to say.
But let's look at Joss for a moment, and see his past as a good reason why he would never say such a thing about infertility. After this explosion of feminist anger, Joss was attacked online and it became a near general consensus that he had lost his feminist touch. That suddenly, Joss Whedon, the man who gave us Buffy, Faith, Zoe, Inara, and River–the man who is more famous than any other filmmaker for his skill in female writing–had become the opposite of what he'd always been. Why was this such an easy consensus for some people? We should not be using this scene as evidence of Whedon's about-face. We should be using what we have known about Joss all these years, as evidence to prove that it is nothing but a misconception! Ask yourself: why the hell would Joss do this to Natasha? Does it make ANY sense that he would?
No, not all. Further evidence that that is NOT–I repeat, NOT– what Natasha is saying.
So if you choose to continue to misinterpret that speech after reading this, at least know that it isn't what Joss actually meant to say. If anything, this speech was just an error in clarity. Nothing more.
Now, as for the overall treatment of Black Widow in this film, beyond the confinements of just that one scene, I have just a bit more to say.
I know that Black Widow was given the damsel-in-distress role...for about thirty seconds.
I'm not kidding, the amount of screen time that saw her behind those bars in Ultron's lair, may have actually been thirty seconds.
So now let's talk about her romance with Banner. Many people say that Widow was reduced to nothing but a love-interest, because so much time was devoted to her relationship with Bruce. This, I understand the source of. It's very hard to look at a major love story plotline and not see the female as just a love interest. Typically because the woman is obviously given less prominence in the story, while the male is the hero.
But that is not what happened here. Say what you will about the love interest being out of nowhere for these two, but Bruce and Natasha love each other for insanely valid reasons, reasons that are important to their characters. That confession of infertility easing assassination, was a huge step for Natasha. And Bruce leaving at the end after renouncing the opportunity for even non-physical love? These are all real stories.
Now there is a very easy trick, to decide if a character was really "reduced" to nothing but a love interest. The trick is simple, just hard to discover as it isn't talked about.
If you feel that a character has been given the treatment of nothing-but-love-interest, ask yourself one question: did the character have an arc?
This is the reason that characters exist. This is the reason that we bother to listen to a story. A character goes through revelations and self-reflections. That is what a story is. I'm not sure that some people actually understand the severity and depth of an accusation such as "reduced to a love-interest." If they were truly reduced to one thing, then there would be nothing else for that character. Nothing but scenes of him/her staring into another's eyes, swept off their feet and laughing like an idiot because of how much they love the person.
That is a bit of a hyperbole, but I'm trying my best to make a very sensitive point. Bottom-line, if you ask yourself "Did Natasha Romanoff have a story-arc in this movie?" then the answer is a big fat YES. That arc just happened to involve and be driven by someone she cared very deeply about.
Natasha has a dark past. We saw that introduced in the first Avengers, and it was continued in this movie. That's how she comes to love Bruce. As she says in the bar scene: all her friends are fighters. But then here comes Bruce, acting as basically a direct foil for the other Avengers. He is a foil because he is the opposite kind of fighter. Like she says, he busts his ass avoiding the fight, for the very reason that he knows he will come out on top. He doesn't want to win, because he knows the pain he causes when he does. THAT is why they are in love, because Natasha relates to that. She hates being able to win so easily. Why was this fact so easily missed? Well, guess when it was brought up.
During the monster-speech. And we all know how much that speech really got through to most people (not at all).
So this arc was about Natasha finally finding someone who is in a very similar kind of pain as she is. He despises the ease of his victories. He is, yes, a monster. Killing so easily, really only makes you see yourself in that one way.
And so she reaches out to him, something she rarely does in such a way. She opens up about a disgustingly grim thing that happened to her in the Red Room, and how it has affected who she is as an assassin, and we begin to sense that perhaps she found someone that can love her despite that. Bruce feels this towards her as well, and he's not wrong. She does love him.
But then the final fight scene comes. And guess what, while everyone is complaining about how much Black Widow seems so preoccupied with love (oh she loves him, sue her), they're missing the fact that this movie actually takes the character in the OPPOSITE direction. All that AoU did for Widow was prove that love will never, ever come first to her. Not ever. What comes first, is the mission. Helping people. How did the movie really do this?
When Bruce rescues her from the cell (a rescue that is necessary as it furthers their love, and sets up the crucial part that I am about to talk about), the temptation to run away and "just disappear" is stronger than ever. But who grits their teeth and chooses to fight like a pro? Not the male, no. Black Widow pushes Bruce off of a ledge, and says "I adore you...but I need the other guy right now." Her plan works, and the Hulk emerges from the pit.
This part not only confirms that love has no chance of being Widow's top priority, but it also completes the arc. Don't forget the reason why these two relate to each other so much: a fear of victory, a fear of fighting and hurting and being monsters. But Widow overcomes that and literally pushes her lover to a point where he can, as well. They go off to the fight, together, as heroes.
So what's Widow going to say next time you ask her to run away with you and leave the fight behind? "Nope, sorry, I have people to save."
That's assuming you actually get the chance to meet Scarlett Johansson, and though the odds are slim, none of us would have any problem asking her to run away with us. I certainly wouldn't, it's worth the shot.
Thank you for reading this, I hope my views and analyzations really opened some people up to a new perspective. My final advice would be to watch AoU again (and if you adore it as much as I do, again...and again...and again), especially after having read this article. We as a cinema-loving species have gotten to the point where we watch movies for the first time, with just one thought in our heads: don't suck, don't suck, don't suck. And that one thought, is wildly distracting. Whether we are basically searching for flaws that are not there (the Widow speech) or focusing on the characteristic reductions of love (Widow herself), we can easily stray from the true experience. Really, multiple viewings of this movie have only increased my liking for it. It has its flaws, just like the first film did, but very different flaws. I love all the characters, but could have waited till another movie to see Vision, just so it was less crowded and the brother-sister relationship could have had more time. I could have gone without so much humor and a bit more tension. But at the end of the day, it was also compromised by horrendous marketing and lack of leeway for Whedon, and all of the other things I mentioned above.
Thanks again, and like all of you, I am anxiously awaiting the release of Marvel's Civil War. Expect an article on that, and I hope to see you all at the theater. Six times.
P.S. Four months 'til Star Wars! A little off-topic, but we're all thinking it.