In creating a grand narrative of films, Marvel has entered a competition with itself in needing to ensure that sequels to their previous blockbusters are even bigger spectacles than the ones that came before it. Pioneers of the “after-credits scenes,” Marvel cleverly built massive suspension leading up to their 2012 mega-hit “The Avengers” by way of offering sneak-peeks to a much bigger film through smaller pieces in their narrative. For fans of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, “The Avengers” was more than just the latest superhero film amongst the never-ending wave the genre seems to offer as of late. “The Avengers” was both literally and figuratively an amalgamation of everything that came before it within the MCU. Characters from a collective of films shared the big-screen together and in doing so, Marvel made sure to keep their fans happy by offering what entertainment spectacles do best—the depiction of unparalleled destruction.
The final set piece in “The Avengers” saw downtown Manhattan obliterated on a myriad of levels. Images of overturned cars, giant craters in pavement, average-citizens cowering in fear for their lives, and entire buildings being brought down dominated the screen in a manner that eerily recalled America’s own anxiety after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Yet this depiction of destruction which recalls our own reality is seemingly made alright by way of being fantastical.
Colorful costumed super-heroes zip through the air and run through the streets, battling the forces of evil from space and beyond. The sheer absurdity of the battle brings “The Avengers” back to the realm of fictitious cinema, thereby removing the anxiety behind the film’s realistic and destructive images. With the release of “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” however, Marvel has needed to create a film which is not only a bigger spectacle than “The Avengers” but also its film competitors in the super-hero genre, namely D.C., who released “Man of Steel” in 2013 which featured citywide mass destruction. “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is slowly reaching a limit where images meant to entertain and enthrall become disturbing.
Joss Whedon returns as director/writer and wastes no time in jumping straight into the action. “Avengers: Age of Ultron” begins with a battle between the eponymous superhero group and Hydra, the terrorist organization from the “Captain America” films. There’s hardly anything new here that hasn’t been seen already. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” enhanced its action by way of camera movement, a technique that’s unfortunately absent in “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” Choreography becomes repetitive with the only refreshing aspect being the quips between members of the group, which successfully keeps the tone between action and comedy that Marvel’s films have established for themselves.
The camera movement that is present during these action scenes are jerky due to the constant jumping Whedon uses to showcase everyone, creating a sense of nausea that is further fueled by the various and literal twists and turns of the actors’ bodies. Two new characters are introduced in the midst of the action: Pietro Maximoff, (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and his twin sister Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen). Pietro possesses the power of super-speed while Wanda can use hypnosis and telekinesis.
Wanda kicks off the plot of the film by hypnotizing Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) into seeing an apocalyptic vision where the Avengers have all died and the Earth has succumbed to an alien invasion. Once the battle ends, the twins have disappeared and the Avengers have become successful in retrieving Loki’s scepter from the Hydra base.
Later in secret, Tony Stark and Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) use Loki’s scepter to create the artificial intelligence Ultron, the film’s villain. Fueled by his fear, Stark wishes to create a being who’d be able to pre-emptively defeat the Earth’s enemies. Like its predecessor, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” mimics the United States’ own reality.
Ultron’s function as a machine to enact out premeditated war before a threat can be a threat parallels the United States’ own use of drones in countries where terrorists may exist. “Avengers: Age of Ultron” attains a level of reflexivity where reality is made cinematic and fictional but in doing so foregoes the effects that such images and narratives contain at the cost of cheap entertainment. A franchise dedicated to breaking the billion dollar mark, every new film raises the stakes and the mayhem that comes along with it.
Reprieves between the action pieces offer relief in the way of breathers for both the Avengers and audiences but ultimately showcase Whedon’s inability to evolve as both a writer and director. At the end of the day, the superheroes have to band together, because they’re the only ones who can save the world but oddly enough are the same ones who thrust it into chaos. As if aware of being stuck within a repetitive narrative, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) comments on his wont to not be mind-controlled by Wanda as he’s “already done it once.”
The film is never truly over. Even when the action is done we are given hints to future films within the franchise, be they the inevitable sequel or smaller films that will follow along. Money is at stake here and if more destruction is what brings in audiences then it’s difficult to conceive where the franchise will go with “Avengers: Age of Ultron” destroying one city and leveling another. The next step would be of course to destroy even more cities before moving on to planetary destruction, a la Alderaan or perhaps borrow a page from Bergmann’s “Persona,” and literally destroy itself. One can hope.