Disclaimer: I enjoyed the film. I really did. I had a hella good time at the cinema, with only the occasional facepalm moment. Age of Ultron has a high entertainment value. But that never has and never will excuse shitty things, and AoU is no exception.
Also, spoilers ahead (for pretty much the entire MCU). And swearing. You have been warned.
Joss Whedon has one thing down cold: Tricking you into thinking whatever you’re watching is amazing while you are watching it, covering up the, once you think about it, glaringly obvious issues whatever product you’re consuming has. Firefly suffered from this. I watched a few episodes and sort of enjoyed them, then didn’t have time and took a break, and while I had time to think about what I’d watched, I realised that, even without the obvious problem of “I’m telling you that humankind is basically a mash-up of the USA and China at that point but I will proceed to show you mostly white people”, no, the show isn’t all that great. Same for Cabin in the Woods. It was fun while it lasted, if you will, but its supposed subversion and parody of common tropes and clichés was actually just mostly common tropes and clichés.
Age of Ultron has the largest gap so far between the fun I had watching it and the number of things that have been driving me nuts about it since I left the cinema. Now I think the writing wasn’t really that good, the “wit” of many conversations was mostly just bad puns and thinly-disguised insults (mostly directed at poor Hawkeye and Cap), and the most genuinely funny thing was everyone teasing Steve, the eternal gentleman, about being opposed to swear words. Clint, on the other hand, got told that his (allegedly) not having a girlfriend is something that needed fixing, and that he’s supposedly impotent. Hilarious.
The short(est) end of the stick goes to Natasha, though. She gets flashbacks alluding to her training in the Black Widow program, telling us a little more about how and why she became who and what she is. Oh, and that bit about being a monster because she can’t have biological children. Nope, that’s what she says, pretty much a direct response to Bruce telling her that he “can’t biologically have children” and therefore isn’t good enough for her (a notion that’s problematic on its own). Now people argue she’s not referring to the sole fact that she was forcibly sterilised as part of her “graduation ceremony”, but rather means that the entire thing, being trained and basically brainwashed to become a merciless killer, but the way the dialogue is written has the line about not being able to bear children come directly before she says to Bruce (probably paraphrased, I’m translating here) “you’re not the only monster in the room”. There is a direct connection made by the script, and you can’t tell me that’s a coincidence. And Bruce doesn’t react. He just looks vaguely doubtful, instead of, dunno, telling Natasha that she’s not a monster because she had this procedure done to her without her consent that rendered her infertile, maybe giving her a chance to say that she doesn’t think that specific thing makes her a monster, but that she meant the whole ordeal she went through when she was young, making it clear that she was referring to her being an assassin for so long, and that she only told him about the sterilisation to make him see that there are other people out there struggling with their inability to have children, that he isn’t alone with this and that it doesn’t make him worthless as a romantic partner. That the monster comment indeed was meant to make him see that because he becomes the Hulk and possibly hurts innocent people when he can’t control himself doesn’t make the Bruce here and now a monster, just like her past as an assassin killing innocent people doesn’t make present-day Natasha a monster (returning to the red-in-her-ledger theme from the first Avengers).
Buuut instead of exploring the struggles of both Natasha and Bruce and how they bonded over sharing the burden, if you will, we get a stupid-ass conversation that measures a human’s worth pretty much entirely by their ability to have biological children. It occurs for both Bruce and Natasha, but in Natasha’s case there’s a whole string of issues attached to it, from centuries of measuring a woman’s worth almost exclusively by how many children/sons she had to the stigma women face even today when they don’t have children (by choice or by circumstance), making the whole thing so much worse for both her and the women in the audience who, for one reason or another, don’t or can’t have children (not to mention that this hints at the horrible notion of what defines a “real woman”, and subsequently a “real man”).
Also, there’s this weird romantic subplot between Natasha and Bruce that just came out of nowhere and progressed from friendship to smooching hella fast. Figuratively speaking. Actual smooching did occur, but only because Natasha needed to distract Bruce for a moment so she could push him into a giant hole in the ground to make him turn into the Hulk to fight Ultron, which turned the already weak romance into a hot mess of “wait, so was she pretending the whole time or was she just desperate for the Hulk in that specific moment?” I’m still not a hundred percent sure.
Let’s move on to Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. Oh boy.
I like those guys. I really do. And Olsen’s performance was really good. But… can we talk for a moment about how they are basically just Wanda and Pietro by name in AoU, and pretty much nothing else except their superpowers? Sure, they couldn’t make them mutants, but why did they have to go and make two Jewish Roma people into two very white people who actually volunteered for fucking HYDRA? As in, the super-Nazis of the MCU? I mean, if they didn’t know it was HYDRA and they just wanted revenge on Tony Stark, okay, but that never gets mentioned? And neither does their heritage? If you had to be an asshole and cast non-Roma actors because you don’t have the balls to break Hollywood’s unspoken “token and no more” rule (and you already had Rhodey/War Machine and Fury and Dr. Cho, so of course you couldn’t cast any more non-white actors, jeez!), then at least don’t completely erase every part of their heritage? Is it too much to ask for a throwaway line or two to tell us that they are Jewish and/or were raised by Roma parents? I mean, Steve gets his line in Avengers about how there is “only one god, and he doesn’t dress this way”, hinting strongly at a (probably protestant) Christian background, so why not give one of the twins a line like that? Someone mentioned a possible comparison of the old church where the twins first meet Ultron and their old synagogue which “is a lot nicer”. Or maybe have them talk privately in Romani, or give one of them a one-liner about how fighting an evil robot isn’t how they “imagine a quiet passover” or whatever. Anything that hints at their comic origins that doesn’t paint them as mutants would have been possible, you chose nothing at all. Awesome. Another lost opportunity.
Those were my biggest issues, but the rest of the film is far from perfect. I remember watching the scene where they try to lift Mjölnir when the teaser came out, and when the scene played in the cinema, I was hella confused. Everyone gets some kind of quip when they try to lift the hammer, and Tony made the hilariously funny “joke” that, when he’d lift the hammer and get to rule the world, he’d reinstate prima nocta: the alleged right of feudal lords to sleep with anyone’s new wife before the husband did. Basically legal rape. Yes, they went there. Even though that right is pretty much a myth (at least in Europe, apparently it did exist elsewhere, in different versions, but it never was a wide-spread law).
The original line was something about him being “firm and fair” – not a rape joke. It was good. Fit Tony’s personality as a megalomaniac with a ginormous ego. Why they decided to make him joke about sleeping with someone else’s wife whether said wife consented or not is beyond me. That’s not even something one could attribute to the playboy side of his personality. He’s a womaniser, not a fucking rapist.
The stupid kidnapping of Natasha by Ultron, that served no fucking purpose at all except to give Bruce an opportunity to rescue her. Literally nothing happens, Ultron has no reason to even keep Natasha alive, so why did you just have to include that? Was Natasha too independent for your taste? Couldn’t you imagine a better scenario to show us that even super-spies sometimes need help, and Bruce can be a hero without the Hulk, too? Something that’s not completely stupid and lazy writing, and actually is grounded in the plot and not a done-to-death trope?
Then the suggestion that the fact Clint is supposedly single is something that needed to be “fixed”. Why? What the hell is wrong with people who think that single people are somehow inherently broken? Screw you, Whedon. Seriously.
Speaking of Clint, he’s married and has a family and that’s good for him. And he kept his family a secret from SHIELD and his fellow Avengers to keep them safe. But his wife’s last name is Barton, according to the cast list? For the love of god, why? That’s about the easiest measure to take to prevent anyone from finding out about your family, dude! I’d say something about masculine insecurities here, but a) Hawkeye is fictional, b) he’s probably the least traditionally macho type of the group, and c) my mum kept her last name, too, and it hasn’t shattered my dad’s ego, either, so there really is no excuse for the secret government agent/superhero to not take this extra measure and ask his wife to keep her last name to eliminate one more official connection to him that could be found.
And the myriad of other things that just didn’t make sense in the larger context of the MCU. How did Steve’s search for Bucky go? How did Natasha become so close with Bruce and so good at calming the Hulk? What’s up with the new heroes we saw in previous films, like War Machine and Falcon, where are they when the killer robot shit goes down in Sokovia? Chilling on Hawaii? Somewhere without cell reception? And didn’t Tony basically retire from being Iron Man at the end of Iron Man 3? Shouldn’t he be way more reluctant to don his suit again? Where is Loki hanging out? Shouldn’t he have a vested interest in getting back his Infinity stone if he wants to be king of Asgard? And where the fuck did Fury find an intact helicarrier that he could just take on a ride to Europe after Winter Soldier?! I’m guessing he actually made an ass pull joke in that scene, going by his line in the German version? But that is not a satisfying explanation! Making random shit happen yelling “Magic!” and expecting people to just swallow it is fucking lazy.
A lot of what happened in previous films just doesn’t seem to matter anymore in Age of Ultron, and the writer in me is really angry that someone so famous can get away with this lazy bullshit, and so many people seem to think he and his creation(s) are somehow immune to criticism. No. No, they are not!
I’m pretty cross with Marvel in general and Whedon in particular right now. I probably wouldn’t feel this way if he didn’t constantly talk about how he’s so much of a feminist, and then mention that declaring one’s alignment with specific political views destroys one’s art (in reference to people telling him that writing lines that shame people, especially women, for making choices he doesn’t agree with is not feminism). He even said that you “change people’s (sexists, in this case) minds” through your actions, not through words, and then proceeds to do stuff that’s 100% not what feminism stands for. He says all these things and then throws us lines like the monster one, or the “single people need fixing” reference, and renders his pretty words little more than lipservice to an audience he wants to appeal to because he likes money, I guess?
I’m glad he’s not doing Infinity War. I hope Marvel get their shit together and learn from the criticism they got for AoU. But I probably won’t go see Infinity War at the cinema. I didn’t go see the last few MCU films, and then went to watch AoU because Winter Soldier pleasantly surprised me. Shoulda stayed home and saved me some money.
For me, it’s just not worth it anymore. I just want a fun ride that has some sort of overarching plot attached to it that pays off in a huge, loud, colourful showdown, and instead get told by the film that I’m a broken human being because I don’t have a partner or kids, other people apparently don’t exist because they aren’t “white” enough, and rape is funny. Sorry, but I’m not giving you money to get insulted. Do better in the future, and I might reconsider. The last scene was a good start, with the “new” Avengers being trained by Natasha and Steve. There’s potential there. But I have a feeling it’s going to go to waste one way or another…