(This review contains SPOILERS. For a spoiler-free version, click here.)
I think I have never been so excited about a sequel as I have been about AoU. 142 minutes written and directed by Joss Whedon – it’s going to be awesome!
And it was. Eventually. At first I was too emotionally compromised to see the beauty of the ending, but it is actually perfect. I have already listed several positive moments in my spoiler-free review, but I wanted to take a closer look at why the film is so awesome and why I wasn’t cheering immediately after the credits rolled.
The Starting Point
The first sequence shows the Avengers in perfect unity fighting Hydra agents near Strucker’s base, which we saw at the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The most striking thing about this for me was the cinematography: the camera flies through the action, alternating between which Avenger it focuses on, just like in the first film where it ended with the famous Avengers Assemble shot.
What I took from this was that they basically used the most amazing sequence of Avengers I to start off Avengers II, setting the bar incredibly high for the things to come. It also functions as a wonderful attention-grabber, immediately sinking hooks into the audience, plus it establishes the team as a harmonious group.
The Avengers rescue the sceptre that Hydra stole and celebrate in the remodelled Avengers Tower, which for me was heart-warming because it held so many funny and character-defining moments, from Tony and Thor not-so-covertly comparing whose girlfriend is more badass to every male specimen trying their hand at lifting Mjolnir as seen in the promotional clip. No one is worthy of the hammer, though.
Knowing Joss Whedon, I was sure that even though this looked like a gratuitous fan-pleasing sequence, it would in fact carry significance later on – which it did. Once Vision is born, no one really trusts him (it?), Thor most of all. Then Vision hands him Mjolnir, picking it up effortlessly and thus gains the trust of the team, which I think is a brilliant bit of storytelling and also hilariously executed. (The reaction shot of Vision handing over the hammer shows every Avengers’ faces in focus with the hammer being offered in the foreground, out of focus… Gotta love that!)
Of course, then Ultron happens because like 99% of AI scientists, Tony Stark spares no real thought for the possible repercussions of creating an artificial consciousness without having a way to contain it. I’m a bit of an AI geek, so I loved the way the film handled the dilemma and showed the intelligence explosion and Ultron apparently killing Jarvis. (Which was awful! You can’t simply kill Jarvis!!! Reason #1 for my state of emotional compromise.)
As hinted at in the trailers, Wanda Maximoff uses her powers to mess with the Avengers, first with Tony when he finds the sceptre by showing him a vision of his future where he is to blame for the death of every single one of his teammates and the end of the world (which spurs Tony into creating Ultron in the first place), then by undermining the Avengers’ attack on Ultron.
We get a glimpse at Natasha’s backstory, Thor seeing something related to the infinity stones, and Steve gets his dance with Peggy but he is not at all at ease. I love how they all set up for different sub-plots: Natasha’s backstory defines the way she approaches her feelings for Bruce, Thor solves their problem near the end and also gets the dramaturgical equivalent of an open door for Thor 3 (which I guess will deal with Infinity Stones in the build up for Infinity Wars) and Steve… Oh, Steve. His vision helps him realize that he is not the same man who went into the ice 70 years ago, that he does not want a quiet life. He is a soldier and he always will be, which finally answers Sam’s question from CA2, “What makes you happy?”, to which Steve responded “I don’t know”.
The Road To Civil War
It also sets up Steve’s “dark side”. After they contain the Hulk who caused a lot of mayhem and destruction and get to their safe house, Tony explains he does not trust a man without a dark side as he and Steve argue – but we simply haven’t seen Steve’s yet.
Tony and Steve continuously tear at each other’s throats throughout the film, mostly because Tony does things like create an AI without conferring with the team or thinking it through and Steve takes issue with him. Eventually they find a way to work together again and save the world, but in the end Steve stays at the New Avengers base and Tony drives off into the sunset, filled with guilt about being the one who started this mess in the first place.
At first, I hated that ending. I want our heroes to live happily ever after in the Tower and have movie nights on Thursdays. But without conflict, there is no plot, so I guess I’m all out of luck… Besides – do you see how BRILLIANT this is??? Tony is disillusioned, believes himself to be a danger. Of course he will support a law that forces the enhanced (coughs mutants coughs) to register! And of course Steve will oppose it because going against pre-emptive means of potential threat control is his MO (coughs Project Insight coughs). OF COURSE they will clash epically because they have been doing so since the very first part of Avengers! And it’s going to be horrible and I’ll be dreading this movie until it comes… (#2 of why I just want to curl up underneath a blanket when I think of the MCU right now…and #1 reason for why I started writing fic as soon as I left the cinema.)
How To Handle Romance, or: I see what you did there
First of all, I am a vigorous Clint/Phil and Bruce/Tony shipper, so I met the Bruce/Natasha moments that filled the trailer with bias-induced scepticism.
However, after seeing the film I have to admit Joss and his crew handled that pretty well, with a lot of unresolved tension and Steve acting like Nat’s older brother – minus the “If you break her heart I’ll end you, Banner” talk, probably because Bruce spends the entire movie resisting the pull of romance. Which I found incredibly powerful: While the Hulk has become an integral part of the team and Natasha has developed a way to put the Hulk to sleep after missions, Bruce is still so filled with self-loathing that any advance on Natasha’s part falls flat.
The farm functions as a foil to them; Bruce makes a point of never being able to provide an idyllic house or even kids. Cut to: Natasha’s revelation that she has been sterilized. Personally, I found the moment a little heavy-handed, but I have never had the wish to have children of my own, so I fathom a lot of the drama of that scene is simply squandered on me. At least it helps Bruce take tentative steps towards making this thing an actual thing – he saves Natasha from Ultron near the end and they share a Big Dramatic Kiss… Though that is all they get.
I was extremely curious as to how they would solve this and it works so well I can’t even be sad about it: Bruce just hulked out on a city, causing lots of damage and probably killing people, so of course he is going to take an unlocatable Quinjet and get off the grid because removing himself from civilization is what Bruce has always done. Natasha is heartbroken and BAM, here we have great plot potential for the Black Widow movie! If Bruce doesn’t make an appearance in that one, I’ll lose my faith in Marvel’s storytelling abilities, seriously.
But a short note on The Farm or: WTF CLINT?! What the trailers hide is that Clint actually has a pregnant wife and two kids. I was shocked and didn’t want to believe it, just like Tony who kept insisting the wife and kids are agents. I was irritated as well, to say the least – just like Steve who took issue with Clint keeping such a big secret from the team. I’m still pissed, but as a die-hard Clint/Phil shipper I am heavily biased against any woman Marvel could pair Clint up with.
From a narrative point of view, the wife was a tad boring. Her major purpose was to serve as a foil to Brue and Natasha, which means she lacked a lot of substance. I only saw the film once, so I might be wrong, but we don’t get any backstory about her, other than the fact that they were already together when Clint joined SHIELD. sighs As much as I liked the Bruce/Natasha angle despite everything, this entire thing with Clint still doesn’t excite me.
The Ending aka Nothing Lasts Forever
It is a storytelling convention to state the theme more or less explicitly somewhere in the movie and it took me a while to realize which moment that was in AoU.
“Nothing lasts forever,” Natasha says once and it sums up the film perfectly. Where the Avengers are a great team at the beginning, they fall apart because of Wanda, then get it together in time to safe the world, only to disband eventually.
Which shocked me and irritated the hell out of me at first until I started thinking about why they would do something like that to us. Without conflict, there is no plot. If AoU had ended with the Avengers united and happy, then staging sequels for single characters would have been extremely difficult to pull off. Like this, Thor is off to Asgard to investigate his suspicions, Natasha and Bruce are apart despite their feelings for each other, Tony leaves significantly chastised and ready to defend a law that will divide our beloved heroes, and Steve has recognised he needs a war to fight and freedom to defend to feel whole. Plus, we have a new team of Avengers to play with.
It might hurt right now and it will most definitely hurt in the future, but we’ll be happier for it because it gives us more films to anticipate with bated breath (let alone great potential for fix-it fics!).
More Reasons To Love This Film
… which don’t have an overall theme and no particular hierarchy.
Clint not being manipulated: I was rather worried that they would make Clint another one of Wanda’s victims and was so happy when they didn’t. Clint has had enough people mess with his mind for a lifetime and including it again would have been dramaturgically redundant.
Science Bros: Tony and Bruce have a LOT of screen time together and do touch quite a bit. As an ardent member of the Science Boyfriends squat, that made me incredibly happy. I expect a ton of fanfic, okay? [Side note: I also expect at least one fic in which it is not Clint’s wife but Phil who awaits the Avengers at the farm. Don’t disappoint me, fandom!]
Sam Wilson is back – Thor and Steve’s epic bromance: I loved Sam in CA2, especially because he made me enjoy Steve whom I had found to be incredibly boring as a character prior to that film, but give him a great sidekick and everything’s awesome! Sam only appeared at the beginning and the end during AoU, so he couldn’t help make Steve funnier. This time this task falls to Thor, whom I like for being comic relief but not for much more. He simply bores me, I’m sorry. Not this time around, however – Steve and Thor’s one-liner exchanges were definite highlights in AoU and I bow to Joss Whedon for coming up with that and giving them such a brilliant dynamic.
What is up with Bucky: It’s just a small exchange, but we do learn what is going on with Bucky. Apparently he is still MIA even though Sam kept looking for him after Steve had to go back to avenging.
Pietro and Wanda Maximoff: They are great characters, period. I loved how Pietro developed a filial dynamic with Clint and was incredibly sad to see Pietro die but thankfully we get to keep Wanda around.
The Action: Let’s not forget, this is primarily an action blockbuster, and they did this justice. I found the action sequences to be engaging, innovative even, and a LOT OF FUN.
While the film could have been a little more fast-paced in the middle (the second act is dragging, Mr. Whedon) and despite a few minor points of criticism, it is yet another amazing Marvel Movie that paves the way for whatever they want to throw at us next.
PS: It also compelled me into writing some angsty fix-it fic that is going to be Steve/Tony of all things… You can read it on AO3 if you’re interested!