ultron farm

Down To Earth

For all of Age of Ultron’s spectacle – Whedon is phenomenal at both staging big, action-packed set-pieces and keeping all the action clear, which is evident in the film’s big, country-levitating conclusion – what makes the film ultimately so rewarding are the quiet moments. The script wants to explore these people beyond their heroics; it wants to give them inner lives.

At the forefront of all of this is the awkward, sweet relationship blossoming between Bruce Banner and Natasha Romanoff. This pairing wasn’t exactly a fan-favorite, but there’s a real chemistry between Scarlett Johansson and Mark Ruffalo, and the bond between the character genuinely works. They’re the two outsiders in the group – Banner’s “power” is unleashing an uncontrollable rage monster, and Natasha’s “power” is that she’s really, really good at killing people. These aren’t exactly noble endeavors, especially when compared to the likes of flag-wearing Captain America, billionaire philanthropist Iron Man, and outright god Thor.

The romance between Natasha and Banner unfolds at its own leisurely pace. Late in the film, Whedon stops everything completely in order to let the two characters have a heart-to-heart, where they both confess their feelings, and also their fears that a relationship between the two would never really work. “I have no place in this world,” Natasha argues. Banner is right there with her on that one. Near Age of Ultron’s conclusion, Bruce presents an offer that sounds ideal: he and Natasha should run away together, and leave the rest of the fighting to the Avengers. It’s appealing in its simplicity, but Natasha can’t let it happen. She reacts to this proposition by pushing Banner off a very high spot, knowing he’ll bounce back as the Hulk. She literally sacrifices any last shot at happiness she might have for the mission, because the mission is all she knows. Natasha is, in a sense, just like Captain America here: for her, the war is never over.

Perhaps the most shocking moment in Age of Ultron’s runtime is a side-trip to a farmhouse owned by Clint Barton, AKA Hawkeye. In Ultron, Hawkeye is the only “normal” member of the team, and Whedon underscores this by giving him a secret family. He has a child, and a pregnant wife, Laura (Linda Cardellini), and what looks like a stable, comfortable, downright happy life. Modern superhero movies don’t normally have time for moments like this, and you can practically sense producers behind-the-scenes begging Whedon to cut this sequence out. But it’s essential to the film – it underlines how abnormal the Avengers are as a whole, while also underlining what it is they’re fighting for. “You don’t think The Avengers need me?” Clint asks Laura at one point. “Actually, I think they do,” she replies. “They’re gods, and they need someone to keep them down to Earth.”

Age of Ultron Widow

Grace In Their Failings

If the Frankenstein parallels between Tony creating Ultron weren’t enough to begin with, Age of Ultron throws yet another big Frankenstein moment into the film very late in the game. Ultron wants to create a monster of his own – a new synthetic body he can upload his consciousness into. The Avengers get ahold of the body before that can happen, and Tony uploads his A.I. program J.A.R.V.I.S. into the body instead. (In yet another Frankenstein parallel, the body is brought to life with some lighting from Thor’s hammer). The creation ends up becoming the character Vision, who decides to wear a cape because he just happens to see one on Thor.

Vision is a poorly shoehorned character – he arrives so close to the end that it’s almost impossible for him to have any real impact, even though Paul Bettany does his best. But the idea of Vision is almost good enough to make up for any failings in character development. He’s the anti-Ultron: someone just as smart, just as powerful, but far more benevolent. He sees all the same things Ultron sees – humankind’s failings, miseries, and destructive natures – and still hopes for the best.

“Humans are odd,” Vision tells Ultron. “They think order and chaos are somehow opposites and try to control what won’t be. But there is grace in their failings. I think you missed that.”

“They’re doomed,” Ultron counters.

“Yes,” agrees Vision. “But a thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts.”

And then he blows Ultron up.

This ending conversation between two manmade monsters underlines what makes Age of Ultron so rewarding. For all its flaws; for all its clunkiness, and its confusing narrative moments, and its occasionally bland supporting characters, Age of Ultron is a film that wants to present its audience with bigger, bolder ideas. There’s more at work here than just big spectacle and special effects. It’s like Laura Barton said – The Avengers made its characters gods; Age of Ultron brought them back down to earth.

The Avengers will always be the perfect go-to for blockbuster spectacle done right. Age of Ultron, however, is what you should seek out if you’re longing for something more. It’s a chaotic, messy film, but it has so much on its mind. There’s nothing else quite like it in the MCU. And that’s worth celebrating.

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