Of all the weeks in the year, I had exams last to last week. Yup, the week housing Avengers: Age of Ultron, the season finales to Powers and The Last Man on Earth, Free Comic Book Day 2015, the climax to Endgame and the series finale for both Secret Avengers and The Multiversity, and I had exams. And all these reviews will make their way to this blog, eventually.
For now, seeing as millions of people have probably seen the movie already, I think I’ll have more fun discussing what I just saw than telling you why you should watch it.
So I started writing a typical spoiler review here, giving my thoughts on events of the film in the order in which they occurred. Then I realized there is just so much in here to discussed, and some of it matters a lot more to me than the rest. So what I’m going to do is take these bullet points and discuss them in greater detail than than I would otherwise be able to.
1. Quicksilver vs Quicksilver: Now I know you’re thinking, “Wasn’t he about to discuss important stuff? What happened to that?” But in a world where we have X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Flash, and Avengers: Age of Ultron, and we haven’t even seen Ezra Miller’s Flash yet, you can’t not compare them.
X-Men: DoFP obviously depicted Quicksilver’s powers better in terms of us being able to see what the world is like for a person who is that fast, brain and all (a department in which The Flash has been seriously lacking), but what matters more to me is how well these powers were used in the movie. DoFP’s Quicksilver came in for one scene, showed us how his powers make him more badass than most mutants in that world, and then left before the final battle. That was basically the movie-makers saying, “We know how to show you a speedster’s abilities, isn’t that great?”, making that section of the movie feel disjointed from the rest, more of a plot convenience than a development. In Age of Ultron, however, we were introduced to Quicksilver, first as a formidable opponent to the Avengers, and later as a force to be reckoned with when he joined their side. That made his death tragic not just due to its emotional impact on Wanda, but also because the world had lost one of its most able protectors. In other words, Age of Ultron wins.
2. Avengers vs Avengers: Trust me, this is the last vs point.
Let’s look at what we loved about the first movie, shall we?
The action, for one, was exciting. With the team more coordinated, and a greater variety of superpowers on display, all the battles with the Avengers united were even cooler (or is it more cool?). As far as one-on-one fights go, did anything in the Avengers really match up against Hulk-vs-Veronica?
The humor was great, too. It’s a Joss Whedon movie, after all. While it’s hard to compare two Whedon creations on their humor, two of the jokes really need to be mentioned. First, the running gag about Cap and language. That was hilarious, right? I mean, I would know, but you see, the movie was f*****g censored! If I ever decide to leave India for good, you can blame the censor board.
Did you know why the Hulkbuster was called Veronica? I didn’t, either, but Whedon revealed recently that it was because Banner’s original love interest was Betty Ross. Mind blown?
The thing I loved most about The Avengers, though, was seeing these strong personalities clash on pretty much everything. Here, though, we saw clashes at a much deeper level. We saw Black Widow, whose dark side finally rose to the surface, shattering her calm and controlled persona (more on that later), and Captain Rogers, where we don’t even know if he has a dark side. We saw Banner, whose self-loathing prevented him from making meaningful human connections, and we saw Hawkeye, who pretty much has his relationships figured out and a life to return home to, making him arguably the least expendable of the Avengers.
As you have probably realized by now, I preferred the sequel. There is one department where I thought the first movie fared better, and that was the villain. Ultron may have one of the coolest voiced in Marvel (who’s willing to bet that Dr Strange is going to own that title?), but Loki felt more complex and relatable. And yet, Ultron still did have the benefit of feeling like a more personal threat.
3. Death: This was the movie where they made Hawkeye awesome. This was the movie that made him matter. We saw a relatively normal family to which his survival mattered, and we even had an emotional goodbye between them, with Clint promising that mission would be his last before he returned to a normal life. They even had a baby on the way!
All these signs very clearly, yet subtly pointed to his upcoming demise. If he died in battle soon after that, that would have been as emotional a sendoff as he could be given.
But then, during the battle, he gave a speech to Wanda, elevating him from a good Avenger to a great Avenger. With his talk of his place in the team not making sense, but still fighting the good fight, that was pretty much a pre-death speech. Now, if you’ve seen/read anything by Joss Whedon before, you know his love for subverting storytelling tropes. In other words, Clint’s death was so obvious that his not dying was even more obvious, if that makes any sense.
So who would die, then? For clearly, someone was going to die in a Joss Whedon movie, even if they were to be brought back later. Unfortunate as it is, that was spoiled in the trailer, because who would Wanda be screaming her head off for but her brother? It’s moments like these that tell me I should stop watching trailers altogether, but does that mean I’m not going to watch the Civil War trailer when it comes out? Nope.
4. The New Avengers: A lot of people were concerned with how the movie would deal with nine avengers and a villain, but Whedon is the only one I know of who is better at dealing with ensembles than Bryan Singer.
The twins were great. Obviously, in just one movie, it was impossible to flesh them out as complete characters without ignoring the others, but what was necessary was for them to be different from the rest in a way beyond their powers. For me, that difference lies in their impulsiveness, in terms of how at any moment, they just go with what they feel is right. That makes Scarlet Witch a very interesting piece of the puzzle moving forward, because she’s obviously going to have trouble working under a leader, and what if a future villain comes along with a convincing argument for his/her cause? Will she switch sides as easily as she did (twice) in this movie?
The standout character of this movie for me was not Ultron (he was awesome too, but I couldn’t connect with him on the same level as Loki or Fisk), but Vision. After six movies, I’m still not convinced that Thor is more worthy of Mjolnir’s power than Captain America, but the third act of one movie convinced me that Vision is worthy. This is how I would sum up what’s so awesome about Vision. In the whole Civil War registration debate, I’m strongly pro-registration, but if Vision went anti-registration, I would doubt my stance before doubting his.
5. Connections: Just like the first movie, this one wasn’t just about the heroes coming together, it was about making us feel like all the movies truly did happen in the same reality.
On a large scale, we had the heroes finding out about the infinity stones, a concept first introduced in Guardians of the Galaxy, uniting individual plot points from Captain America: The First Avenger (the Tesseract), The Avengers (Loki’s mind control scepter) and Thor: The Dark World (the Aether). Interestingly, Thanos’ Infinity Gauntlet from the mid-credits scene is left-handed while the one in Thor was right-handed. A world with two infinity gauntlets is a world I don’t want to live in.
On a much smaller scale, though, it connected with both the ABC series. The last HYDRA base they were raiding in the opening scene was one whose location was given to Maria Hill by Director Coulson of S.H.I.E.L.D., who also provided them with the helicarrier. And the academy where Natasha Romanoff was turned into an assassin has been in existence for more than half a century, as you would know if you saw Agent Carter season 1. #itsallconnected, indeed.
6. Strong Female Characters: Stories do more than just entertain. Good stories make people believe they are in the ‘reality’ established by the creator(s), and make them care for the fate of beings that don’t exist. Such a deep level of involvement has the potential to fundamentally affect their view of the world they live in.
On the other hand, since said stories are created by people and for people, they also act as representatives of existing mentalities.
This leads people looking for change, feminists, in this case, to demand more than just good storytelling from stories. They want stories to represent a better world than the one we inhabit, and also ask these stories to help change the world into that idealistic society.
Stories have a bad history in terms of depictions of women. More often than not, they were given clearly defined roles in stories, like the ‘love interest’ and the ‘damsel in distress’, being defined by their relationships to their male counterparts. Individual creators were rarely to blame, they were, after all, keeping story first, writing what they felt most comfortable with. What is annoying is how great a percentage of creators were more comfortable with strong male characters than female.
I have identified two primary ways in which creators try to subvert the tropes mentioned above. One is to fit into a new trope, a variation of the action girl. This character is usually very solemn, great at her job, takes no nonsense and is the one in the team who tells the guys to take their mission seriously. Most of the characters portrayed by Zoe Saldana fit into the trope. This often prevents the character from feeling real, because the creators are afraid of showing cracks in her badassery, due to the potential of backlash.
The other way is the one that Joss Whedon is so well known for. It is to make the world feel more well-balanced, having both strong and weak females next to both strong and weak males. Also, both the strong males and the strong females have weaknesses in them. This often gains the creators acclaim (I don’t remember anyone complaining when Catelyn broke down in Game of Thrones episode 10, or all the times Danaerys showed her reliance on Drogo), but also occasionally leads to backlash. The example that stands out for me is Skyler White, whose portrayal has similarities to Widow’s. Both are confident badasses, better at their job than male counterparts, but are also complex characters who can only take so much before they break down. And when they inevitably did, the creators got hate mail rather than the applause they deserved.
Widow’s and Scarlet Witch’s arcs both heavily involved their relationship with a man, but they were a lot more than just that.
In The Avengers, Widow faced the possibility of losing the person who brought her over from the dark side. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, she was forced to make most of her secrets public. Here, she was forced to relive her dark past. If she didn’t suffer from some self-loathing, I’d be shocked. Her relationship with Banner, meanwhile, was a great means of rebuilding her, by getting reassurance from the other monster on the team. It wasn’t one-sided, either. Each monster needed the other to see their better sides.
Scarlet Witch didn’t get time for deep characterization, but her most basic trait: being free-willed, making spur-of-the-moment decisions, already made her fiercely independent. And while her relationship with Pietro was crucial to a character, it wasn’t a relationship of dependence.
Joss Whedon is a feminist, and this movie, like all of his work before it, demonstrated that.
7. Set-up: Movies like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Iron Man 2 have been criticized as movies whose plot mattered only to set up the next installment in the franchise. But when a movie has a plot and ideas of its own, each getting a satisfying resolution, it can set up themes for the follow-up. Two of the best sequels ever, Toy Story 2 and The Dark Knight, did exactly that.
Toy Story 2 asked what toys, who need their owners, will do when their owners no longer need them. Toy Story 3 showed us. The Dark Knight asked what civilized citizens would become in the absence of hope, with Joker predicting a scenario of people turning on each other that played out in TDKR.
So when I talk about Avengers: AoU being great at setting up the future of the MCU, I’m not talking about the infinity stones or the mid-credits scene. I’m referring to Civil War.
This movie’s idea was taking risks ‘for the greater good’, as evidenced by Tony’s desire to create Ultron and Cap’s attempts to protect as many civilians as possible. But there was another theme in the subtext, the idea that the the MCU Earth is a place where the fates of the many depend on the whims of the few. It’s a fact no one seemed to mind till now, but with the failure of Ultron, and possibly another catastrophe in Civil War, it makes sense that Tony will want to rectify that. Cap, however, believes in facing every issue as it arises, giving greater importance to individual freedom and rights, which was apparent from his dislike of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s activities in The Winter Soldier and, once again, from his attempts at saving every civilian even if it meant risking global annihilation. Thus, Civil War.
As this was a spoiler discussion, there is no point recommending the movie to you. However,
I recommend: If you liked Age of Ultron, check out Dollhouse, a 2-season, 26 episode TV Series by Joss Whedon where he explores the pros and cons of AI and related concepts to a much greater depth.
Also, this will only be a discussion if I know your thoughts on what this movie did well, what it didn’t, and what themes I missed. Comment here, or reply on Twitter.