Avengers: Age of Ultron picks up where Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Iron Man 3 left off. In Iron Man 3, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) confronted the fact that “The Battle of New York” (known to movie fans as the plot of The Avengers) had left him scarred. By the end of that film, he was contemplating the end of his superhero career. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, Stark begins to consider the next step – how he should be replaced.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier saw Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) realize that the all powerful military-intelligence organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D., previously led by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), was actually a front for a post-Nazi spy organization called H.Y.D.R.A. Captain America oversaw the downfall of that organization, and has reassembled the super group he led in The Avengers in order to mop up S.H.I.E.L.D.’s mess.
An early victory over H.Y.D.R.A. allows the Avengers to reclaim the scepter (a weapon wielded by
Tom Hiddleston’s Loki in the previous film). Stark begins to analyze the scepter and realizes that it contains a powerful computer. He recruits his teammate, Dr. Bruce Banner/the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and his digital butler J.A.R.V.I.S. (Paul Bettany) to help him use this alien device to allow him to take a great technological leap and create artificial intelligence. If I remember The Avengers correctly, S.H.I.E.L.D. previously attempted to use alien weaponry to create advanced weapons using alien technology which led to an alien invasion of Manhattan. I must have an inaccurate memory of that because surely someone would have said that to Stark if that’s what happened.
Together, Stark, Banner, and J.A.R.V.I.S. create an artificial intelligence dubbed Ultron (James Spader). After about twenty seconds of existence, Ultron concludes that the Avengers are the problem with humanity (for some reason). Ultron downloads himself into one of Stark’s robotic assistants, and wages war on the team. Along the way, Ultron aligns himself with a pair of twins Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olson) and builds himself a new body (also played by Paul Bettany) that he intends to use to destroy the Avengers once and for all (again, for some reason).
Look, this movie isn’t about the plot, it’s about the spectacle. All your favorite superheroes are back fighting alongside each other and trading screwball dialogue as they do. I enjoyed this movie, but I have to admit that eleven or so movies into this franchise, the creative seams are beginning to show. There’s a needless repetition here. Once again a villain has decided to rain death from above down on the Earth. Once again, the villain finds a way to get his hooks into Bruce Banner and unleash the giant green rage monster inside him in order to distract the heroes while he gets away with his evil plan.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some fresh wrinkles on the same old themes. Much has been made in the press over Natasha Romanov/Black Widow’s (Scarlett Johansson) rumination on her characters inability to be a mother. But all the characters (yes, all of them, even the male ones) find themselves confronted by the possibility that their uniqueness means that they will never be able to have ordinary homes or families. And that leads to the film’s strongest idea: Ultron was right. These people aren’t even humans anymore. Maybe we aren’t theirs to save – or avenge.
Age of Ultron for all its faults actually does do a pretty good job of addressing that question. They have to do a few narrative contortions to get there, but once they do Age of Ultron does actually suggest an answer – and set up a half dozen sequels that will take us everywhere from a fictional African republic to the far side of the universe.
Bertolt Brecht once wrote, “Unhappy is the land that needs heroes.” If he was right nowhere is safe. Age of Ultron is to be believed, we might just be okay.