The following review contains spoilers for “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” Proceed at your own risk.
In a scene from “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” the team of superheroes (and friends) are having a victory party at their headquarters to celebrate a win against enemy organization Hydra. Former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill, in a conversation with Tony Stark and Thor, makes a point of asking where their significant others are hiding. Pepper Potts’ absence is explained away by asserting that she’s too busy running a company to show up—and as for Jane Foster, apparently the god of thunder has no idea whatsoever where his girlfriend is, adding that he can’t even really keep track of which country she might be in.
This “where my ladies at?” scene pretty much encapsulates the majority of the thoughts running through my head during the bulk of this movie. While this film does pass the Bechdel test in several instances, and provides us with a few examples of strong female characters, they’re not given much to work with.
Maria Hill’s role is basically made up of a few witty comments and action sequences where she gets to draw her gun. Helen Cho, a brilliant scientist, is seemingly brought in for the purpose of being manipulated by Ultron later on. Cho manages to survive her encounter with the deadly robot, which is a surprise given Joss Whedon’s tendency for killing his darlings. Wanda Maximoff contributes a great deal to the Avengers’ unraveling, and holds her own during several battles, though only after being on the receiving end of a “man up” pep-talk from Hawkeye (which I’m still questioning the necessity of). It also would have been really nice to see the amazing Linda Cardellini in a role that wasn’t essentially reduced to the barefoot-and-pregnant trope.
As for Black Widow? I did appreciate getting a glimpse into her inner thoughts—the flashback scenes to the Red Room as a result of an induced hallucination were sheer genius, and something I would have liked to see more of (a sneak peek at a solo movie backstory, perhaps?). On the other hand, it felt like her role in the movie was merely reduced to a love interest with a few fight scenes sprinkled in for good measure. Granted, Johansson’s real-life pregnancy at the time of filming may have contributed to this—and I’m not saying I have objections to the idea of her character and Bruce Banner pursuing something resembling a relationship. But it just didn’t seem necessary in the greater arc of the story, and almost dragged down the pacing at times. And while Natasha managed to hold her own fairly brilliantly against Ultron, I have to wonder if it was necessary for her to adopt the damsel-in-distress moniker just in time for Banner to swoop in and rescue her. She MacGyvers a rig that sends a signal to Hawkeye via Morse code; she couldn’t have muscled her way out of her prison cell once she’s essentially left alone?
There are mixed opinions circulating around the Internet in regards to the scene where Natasha tells Banner that she won’t be able to have children. It’s the result of a procedure that was done to her upon her initiation as a spy, which essentially sterilized her. I didn’t view this moment as anything problematic. To me, Natasha’s grief in the scene signaled the loss of agency, the right to choose robbed of her the moment she became a fully-fledged spy. It might have been something that worked to her advantage before, but now she’s trying to scrub out the red in her ledger. She may not want to be a spy forever, and she’s just coming to terms with the fact that her future will be forever affected by her past. It added a complexity to her character that was refreshing, and three-dimensional – but when juxtaposed alongside what happens in the rest of the film, has a gravity to it that felt out-of-place.
The inclusion of Erik Selvig to this movie is the latest in a series of films that inexplicably continue to bring his character back, in scenes that serve no purpose. During the first “Avengers” film, many fans wondered why Erik was being utilized to such a degree when a character such as Jane Foster would have made a lot more sense—and even served equal purpose in driving the Avengers’ mission forward. Again, this most likely had to do with actor availability—but it just makes the absence of a great character like Jane in “Ultron” even more obviously felt.
There were aspects of the film I liked; the end of the movie is clearly setting up for the next generation of Avengers—several of whom are people of color. I appreciated the fact that Wanda is essentially the one who gets the second-to-last final standoff with Ultron, ripping his heart from his chest in her grief. I’m also a fan of Vision, though this might be in part due to my love for Paul Bettany, who brings a sort of childlike innocence to the character (which makes sense, as Vision was born yesterday). I loved the cameos from Hayley Atwell and Idris Elba, though both were woefully underused. And I will never not be a fan of Bruce and Tony as science bros 4 life.
But I can understand why most reviews on this film have been mixed, with fans not entirely in love with it—while there’s a lot to enjoy about “Ultron,” but there’s also a lot that isn’t so great either. Joss Whedon has announced he’ll be stepping away as director for the next “Avengers” film, and as much as I loathe to say it—it might be time for a fresh take on this franchise.
(Though I have to believe that Quicksilver is not really dead. They resurrected Coulson; nothing is impossible at this point.)
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