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At long last, I have finally seen Avengers: Age of Ultron. In most ways, it was everything I'd hoped it would be, and then some. But there's some small, tiny, almost-not-even-there part of me that felt there was something slightly lacking in the second installment of the Avengers film series and the eleventh installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Although this is a review, I will talk about the important events that led up to the new film before identifying the strengths of Avengers: Age of Ultron as well as its weaknesses, so long as I'm able to articulate them. I'll also end with where…

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Overall Score - 91%

91%

Percent

The Avengers: Age of Ultron was an incredibly satisfying culmination of Marvel's Phase Two lineup. Between the high stakes, the fast pace, the awesome new characters, and a compelling new villain, fans of the comics as well as the casual movie-goer will be pleased with this Avengers sequel. Director Joss Whedon set the bar extremely high with the first film, making it almost impossible to top himself, but it doesn't seem like that's what Age of Ultron was meant to do.

Despite some degree of plot convolution and certain characters' tunnel vision, the Ultron storyline was a very natural progression for these characters. Perhaps most importantly, while the film's climactic ending might have wrapped things up just a little too neatly, it ushers us into the next Avengers Era with a brand new roster to boot.

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At long last, I have finally seen Avengers: Age of Ultron. In most ways, it was everything I’d hoped it would be, and then some. But there’s some small, tiny, almost-not-even-there part of me that felt there was something slightly lacking in the second installment of the Avengers film series and the eleventh installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Although this is a review, I will talk about the important events that led up to the new film before identifying the strengths of Avengers: Age of Ultron as well as its weaknesses, so long as I’m able to articulate them. I’ll also end with where we can expect the franchise to go moving forward, so let’s jump right into it.

Disclaimer: While I discuss major plot points of Avengers: Age of Ultron, this review does not contain spoilers that give away the ending.

Phase One and Two: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes Assembled

The first film (The Avengers, 2012), the sixth in the franchise at the time, was a culmination of events that occurred over the course of the preceding five films and was the first time that we say all of the key players from the Marvel films team up to combat a shared threat. While each of the preceding films were important to varying extents, the movies that were most essential and lead up to the events in The Avengers were Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger because, among other reasons, these films were saturated in some of the scientific and borderline-mystical concepts that set the stage for The Avengers, particularly the cube.

cosmic cube from marvel movies
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

The cube, called the Cosmic Cube in the comics and the Tesseract in the films, was rather mysterious at first, seen here and there as the conduit behind powerful technologies and scientific anomalies, most of which involved travel of some sort like teleporting and wormholes. It was first seen at the very end of Thor and was eventually sent to Asgard for Thor and Odin to guard before it was taken. It appeared to be similar to the glowing gem that powered Loki’s scepter, which also became more important as the franchise progressed.

The cube is responsible for the super-soldier serum that was used to turn Steve Rogers, who had been scrawny and weak, into the buff and superhumanly strong titular hero in Captain America: The First Avenger. The gem embedded in Loki’s scepter has power that’s different from that of the cube, giving him the ability to possess and control the minds of several secondary characters in The Avengers and use them to open a wormhole over Stark Tower in New York City through which an alien army could invade; this event ended up being the catalyst for the Avengers becoming an official team. In short, the cube was used to travel between dimensions and to open portals as well as being primarily used as a power source and the final ingredient in the super-soldier serum while the gem in Loki’s scepter has some sort of power over the mind. Though each of these gems are similarly powerful and dangerous, each seem to have a very specific, separate power.

Thanos from Guardians of the Galaxy
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

It’s also during these earlier Phase One films that we learn of Thanos, essentially the overlord of what the Avengers have been combating both individually and as a team. We, the audience, learn that the Tesseract/cube is one of several other singularities of great power, though our titular heroes weren’t able to see the larger picture like we could. The cube has passed through quite a few hands, mostly being used as an energy source since none of the characters seemed to have the technology that would allow them to harness its true power. The gem in Loki’s scepter, given to him by Thanos to aid in Loki’s misdeeds, is another such singularity and one of the six Infinity Stones. In Thor: The Dark World, the Aether that possessed and almost killed Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) was another Infinity Stone and the Orb seen in Guardians of the Galaxy is the fourth. We’ve still not yet encountered the final two.

Known Infinity Stones from MCU
Photo courtesy of Comic Planet Culture

We know that Thanos wants all six of the Infinity Stones because wielding all of them together will give him omnipotent power. If you want to learn more about the Infinity Stones and what they do individually, check out this concise article by Comic Planet Culture. The Iron Man trilogy was far less involved with the overarching Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) mythos and the Infinity Stones than the Thor and Captain America films, but Iron Man 3 was the first film after The Avengers and saw Tony Stark experiencing post-traumatic stress from the experience of the alien invasion in New York City. It also shows him expressing the desire to retire as Iron Man, which becomes a major motivator for him moving forward.

The second Captain America film, The Winter Soldier, showed us that S.H.I.E.L.D., our heroes’ governing agency, was not only being unknowingly controlled by the bad guys, but the bad guys were actually the ones who created S.H.I.E.L.D. to begin with, sewing seeds of true destruction under the guise of being the good guys. Needless to say, this left Captain America distrustful of the government. It also left Captain America with a loose end in need of tying: The task of finding his friend Bucky, who had been the brainwashed assassin Winter Soldier, hoping to help him repent for his misdeeds by turning him into a hero. In a post-credits scene after Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we seen Wolfgang von Strucker in possession of Loki’s scepter and two unnamed captives, one who can run superhumanly fast and another who’s seems magically telekinetic.

Scarlet Witch
Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch

Although Guardians of the Galaxy was technically part of the lineup leading into Age of UltronGuardians of the Galaxy was mostly a self-contained installment in the franchise. Guardians was the first film that took place in space on planets other than Earth and even though the first Avengers film depicted an alien invasion, all of the films have taken place here on Earth at ground-level with the exception of Asgard in the Thor films. While Thor: The Dark World gave us a taste of alternate “realms,” Guardians took the Marvel Cinematic Universe into the cosmos, showing us worlds that have only been alluded to until this point. This marked a very new direction for Marvel because the films had been very grounded; everything occurred on Earth and even the most mystical, magical things had scientific explanations. Even the Thor films, which appeared to be mystical and magical, tend to explain much of the mysterious as a different or new form of science and technology. However, Guardians let us travel through space in space ships while upcoming films, especially Doctor Strange, promise a more supernatural side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that hasn’t yet been shown.

Going into Age of Ultron, we know this of our heroes: Tony Stark wants to retire and setup a “bouncer for the world” so that the others can retire as well, Captain America is distrustful of “the man,” Thor wants to find and secure Loki’s scepter so the power of its gem can’t be harnessed for evil, Bruce Banner/Hulk is considering disappearing so he can’t Hulk-out and kill everybody, and Black Widow and Hawkeye pretty just go with the flow.

Age of Ultron: Synopsis

The movie begins with the team—Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Black Widow, and Hulkeye—infiltrating von Strucker’s high-tech hilltop hideout in Sokovia with the intent of retrieving Loki’s scepter. Although they team is successful, they have their first encounter with the two “captives” that we first saw in the post-credits scene at the end of The Winter Soldier, who end up being brother-and-sister duo Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, also known as Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, seemingly aligned against the Avengers.

Avengers: Age of Ultron still
Photo courtesy of Newsarama

Able to see what Tony Stark will inevitably unleash by meddling with the scepter’s gem, Scarlet Witch allows them to leave with Loki’s scepter. The team return to Stark/Avengers Tower in New York where Tony asks Thor if he can “run some tests” on the powerful jewel embedded in the scepter before Thor returns it to Asgard. When Tony and Bruce Banner get the scepter into the lab, we finally learn what the hell the stone actually is, and possibly what the other Infinity Stones are too. We learn that rather than being a power source like Tony had previously guessed, the stone in Loki’s sceptor was more like a computer than anything else, but a computer that could think independently and was more complex than anything Tony and Bruce had ever seen: Real artificial intelligence.

At this point we see Tony’s desperation to render the Avengers obsolete by creating an efficient robot army that can do their avenging for them cloud his judgement, essentially a suit of armor or a “bouncer” for the entire planet; he convinces Banner to attempt to convert the stone’s inner computer into an artificial intelligence program, then upload it into Tony’s suits of armor. When they can’t seem to figure it out, Jarvis (Tony’s digital assistant that’s sort of like his personal Siri) tells Tony he’ll keep trying while the team has their victory party for retrieving the scepter from von Strucker.

Captain America in Age of Ultron
Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios

As the party winds down, there’s a funny sequence—shown in the trailer—during which each of the heroes take turns trying to lift Thor’s hammer, which can only be wielded by “the worthy.” They each try and fail although Captain America was able to budge it a bit, much to Thor’s surprise. Meanwhile, the stone’s mystical artificial intelligence finally yielded a successful A.I. program—Ultron—which not only uploaded into a mangled suit of armor but also destroyed Jarvis before bursting in on the team of partying heroes to tell them that, instead of being heroes, they’re the reason for the chaos in the world. When the team smash Ultron’s body, Ultron traveled via the internet to Sokovia, where he quickly builds himself a new body and sets to work on a sinister plan using the scepter, for which he recruits Scarlet Witch, who had foreseen Ultron’s arrival, and Quicksilver. The Maximoff twins align with Ultron against the Avengers due to their own personal vendetta against Tony Stark and the weapons of mass destruction that used to be his company’s primary industry.

Ultron from Avengers: Age of Ultron
Photo courtesy of Deadline

Back at Stark/Avengers Town, the team confronts Tony for his recklessness and for messing with powers he didn’t understand. Tony argues that the New York invasion was proof that they’re out of their league and that desperate times called for desperate measures, but even though Tony’s argument is somewhat valid we’re left with the impression that Tony doesn’t completely think these things through for one reason or another and is impulsive about experimenting with dangerous mystical technologies.

We learn that Ultron’s plan is to obtain vibranium—the same indestructible metal from which Captain America’s shield is made—and use the vibranium along with the scepter’s stone and artificial superhuman tissue to create a powerful hybrid android body into which he can upload his consciousness in order to become the first iteration of what he considers to be the next phase of evolution. Also as part of the plan, he intends to wipe out humanity to make way for his new race of human-robot androids. The particular recipe Ultron is using for his new body would create a form that’s more powerful than all the Avengers combined, making Ultron virtually unstoppable and the first in an unstoppable new race.

Meanwhile, after having a vision induced by the Scarlet Witch’s mind-warping power, Thor goes into a mystical cave to investigate the vision further and see if he can’t experience more of the vision to get some answers. In the vision, Thor finally learns about the Infinity Stones and although it’s unsure the full extent of what he knows, he leaves the cave with the knowledge that it’s no coincidence that the Avengers have been encountering these powerful stones one after another, and that the Avengers have been somebody’s pawns in a plot to collect the powerful stones and harness their power for evil.

Avengers: Age of Ultron
Photo courtesy of Entertainment Weekly

Using the scepter to control the mind of a genius geneticist, Ultron succeeds in having the android body created, removing the stone from the scepter and embedding it in the android body’s forehead, which is when we learn that the stone that’s been in the scepter is the Mind Stone of the Infinity Stones and explains its ability to affect the mind. However, the Avengers learn of Ultron’s plan, stealing the android body and the scepter before Ultron can upload his consciousness into it.

Back at Stark/Avengers Tower with the android body and the scepter, Tony pleads with Bruce Banner to help him try to upload an artificial intelligence program into the body, but this time combining the stone’s mystical inner computer with the restored Jarvis program so that the A.I. doesn’t become malicious like Ultron. Tony argues that they can’t beat Ultron without the powerful android on their side, leaving them with no choice but to use to vast potential of the android body against Ultron. Bruce argues back that this is exactly what led to their current predicament, but eventually concedes and they begin uploading a Jarvis-based version of the stone’s A.I. into the body.

Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver
Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios

Captain America comes in, along with Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver who have changed their allegiance to the Avengers after discovering that Ultron wants to wipe out humanity, and they all try to stop Tony. But when Thor drops in and throws some lightning into the case containing the android body, the Vision rises. Thor explains that his vision told him they’d need the Vision, and particularly the power of the Mind Stone in the Vision’s forehead, if they want to beat Ultron as well as the other impending threat, explaining to the team everything he learned in his vision.

The Vision from Avengers: Age of Ultron
Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios

With the Vision as the answer to their prayers, the team—now consisting of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Bruce Banner, Hawkeye, Black Widow, and new recruits Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver—heads to Sokovia to stop Ultron before he can decimate humanity.

What I Loved About Age of Ultron

As you can see, there’s a lot of detail in the plot of Avengers: Age of Ultron, although this is quite understandable being that it was the culmination of eleven films worth of plot. As the Marvel Cinematic Universe develops further, the Avengers films—which have so far punctuated every four to six installments in the franchise—will have more and more plot threads to address, more content that needs to be included, more characters, more more more. They’re getting much more complicated and much longer, but fans of the franchise surely won’t complain about length.

The first thing that I really loved about Age of Ultron is actually praise for the franchise as a whole, and that’s my love for the overarching themes, plots, and mythology and the way that all of the films work together to tell a large, colossal story. I know that the movies are based on existing source material (comic books) and I’ve said before that I don’t follow comics, but I really admire the work that’s gone into the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It surely takes an unbelievable amount of creativity and organization to pull all of this together, and to not just make it work but make it work well. Even if you don’t really care for superhero movies, you have to admit that this is a huge undertaking, immensely complex and tedious, and the films have mostly been very well-done and of the highest quality so far.

I’m very pleased that Joss Whedon, who wrote and directed the first Avengers film, returned for Age of Ultron. In the afterglow of the first film’s release and exponential success, Whedon said that instead of trying to outdo the first film in terms of scale and action, the second film would be more intimate with the conflict being the result of the Avengers’ actions themselves. When the film’s villain was revealed to be Ultron, many speculated that Ultron, actually a product of Ant-Man in the comics, would have to be the product of Tony Stark since Ant-Man has not yet been introduced in the films, which ended up being what actually happened. I feel this was a great place to take the team after the New York City invasion because, just as Whedon intended, it made the film feel much smaller and more intimate even though the stakes were every bit as high as in the first film.

Avengers: Age of Ultron
Photo courtesy of Forbes

Whedon has this way of giving characters lots of character, making each very unique relative to the others, which is incredibly important in a film with an extensive ensemble cast and especially when it’s a cast of superheroes. To the non-comic-reader, we think of superheroes as being essentially one type of person and a team of heroes being one personality in several bodies. Those who aren’t fans of superheroes imagine one-dimensional characters like Superman and don’t see how a team composed of several Supermans could have much depth. However, Whedon portrays many different types of heroes: reluctant heroes, cocky heroes, antiheroes, and so on. Despite the relatively narrow scope of the genre, Whedon gives each hero individuality and a very unique persona. And he surprises you too. For example, because of his name you’d expect Captain America to be a patriot crusader of democracy, but he’s actually more skeptical and distrustful of government than anyone and when if you’ve seen the previous Captain America films as well as the first Avengers film, you understand why, but it’s this type of unexpected nuance that make these characters so much fun to follow and get to know.

Age of Ultron saw the introduction of some very important characters in the Marvel Universe. Specifically, I was beside myself with excitement for Scarlet Witch, who is my favorite Marvel hero bar none because she’s so interesting both in terms of her powers and her character’s story, and for the Vision. It was easier to give Scarlet Witch layers because, in addition to Wanda just being a very interesting character to begin with, she started out being a pseudo-henchwoman of Ultron and then switched over to the Avengers, but the Vision—half robot and half human—would have been much harder to give depth. Even so, the Vision was awesome and I can’t wait to see more of him in upcoming films. It probably doesn’t hurt that I’m a big Paul Bettany fan and maybe it’s because the Vision didn’t appear until the end and didn’t get much screen time, but I couldn’t get enough. Quicksilver, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, was a great character too, much different from the Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past played by Evan Peters and, if you ask me, much better than the X-Men version. I liked the Eastern European accents and the subtle humor that Pietro had in the film.

Scarlet Witch Avengers: Age of Ultron

There were actually more reasons for Joss Whedon bringing Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver into the franchise than the fact that they’re just awesome characters. In The Avengers, all of the characters had essentially the same abilities: Super-strength and fighting abilities, that’s about it. Iron Man had his blasters and Thor had his lightning, but there wasn’t much visually interesting to do with the characters’ powers. The Maximoff twins, especially Scarlet Witch, have very visually dynamic powers, giving Whedon the opportunity to have the characters do something bigger and more entertaining. Additionally, the twins were brought in to provide an alternate perspective on the Avengers; they don’t like America and, like a rising number of the population, they don’t necessarily agree with how the Avengers are always dropping in and meddling in others’ problems, even if it’s in the name of justice and peace. The twins were meant to be the other side of the Avengers coin, dissenting what it is that the Avengers do and what they stand for, but eventually fighting alongside them when they realize that the Avengers’ cause is noble and that they want to save the innocent, resorting to violence only as a means to an end.

Because Marvel shares the rights of Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver with 20th Century Fox, Joss Whedon was able to have total creative control over the characters. In the comics, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver were the children of the powerful mutant Magneto, but in the Marvel Cinematic Universe where there are no X-Men and no mutants. This allowed Whedon to have his own unique vision for Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver who had origins that more thoroughly tied them to the universe constructed in the Marvel films, but who were still very faithful to their characters in the comics. (Marvel recently clarified that despite being the children of a mutant, Wanda and Pietro Maximoff are not mutants themselves and do not get their powers from the mutant gene.) It was important for Whedon to do Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver right because they’re very important in the comics and, depending on the direction of the franchise in the future, could be just as important to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well.

I also love Whedon’s casting choices for the characters introduced in Age of Ultron. At first I was skeptical of his casting Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch; I didn’t feel that she was the best fit for the character visually, but her performance was very compelling and nuanced. She gave the character a ton of depth and made me a real believer in Joss Whedon’s vision for Scarlet Witch. Aaron Taylor-Johnson was great as Quicksilver too, which I’d expected since I’ve enjoyed many of his performances (SavagesKick-Ass). I was also having a hard time imaging James Spader as the voice of the villainous robot Ultron, but his voice was actually perfect for Ultron and gave the robot a pseudo-humanity and charisma that ended up being essential to the character of Ultron.

The Vision in Avengers: Age of Ultron
Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios

Paul Bettany, who had been the voice of Jarvis in the Iron Man films and the first Avengers film, was born to play the Vision, period-end-of-sentence. Having Bettany play the Vision not only lent credence to Tony’s combining Jarvis with the gem’s mystical A.I. to create the Vision, but Paul Bettany totally owned the role of the sentient android. Bettany plays the Vision as having an omnipotent-level awareness and intelligence, but also a certain naivete from being only a day old that gives the character essential depth and makes the Vision a fascinating, compelling character.

Avengers: Age of Ultron movie poster 2015
Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios

The action scenes were riveting in Age of Ultron and the movie seemed to have plenty of them. There’s quite a satisfying sequence about halfway through in which Scarlet Witch bewitches Bruce Banner, turning him into the Hulk and throwing him into a mega-rage, which results in the Hulk rampaging South Africa. Since Scarlet Witch had already taken down just about the whole team with her mind-warping powers, Iron Man had to step into a super-sized “Hulkbuster” version of his suit and beat the Hulk into submission before innocent bystanders could get hurt. Then there’s the climax at the end, which I don’t want to give too much away but involved Sokovia being turned into a floating city/meteor. It was very edge-of-your-seat engaging and I noticed my mouth hanging open more than once throughout the movie.

Joss Whedon had said, nearing the end of the film’s post-production, that unlike most of the other Marvel films, there would be no post-credit sequence, which is typically an expectation of fans. Whedon said he didn’t feel he could top the “Shawarma scene” that followed the credits of The Avengers, and he didn’t want to end up simply repeating himself. Instead, Whedon included a tag that aired shortly after the credits began, showing Thanos grabbing the Infinity Gauntlet, which showed the audience the blank spaces it contains for the six Infinity Stones, and saying that he’ll simply procure the stones himself. This scene no doubt excites the fans and sets up for The Avengers: Infinity War by indicating that, rather than sending his underlings to get the stones for him, he’ll have to go after the Avengers and get the stones himself. Although the scene was very short, it was very exciting to see Thanos again and will have audiences reeling in excitement for the next, and final, installment in the Avengers trilogy.

(However, it’s worth noting that, according to Marvel’s Kevin Feige, the Infinity Gauntlet shown in the Age of Ultron clip is not the same as the one shown in Odin’s vault in the Thor films, which means that there’s actually two Infinity Gauntlets in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.)

What Was Lacking

When the movie was over, my first thought was, “That was awesome!” My second thought was, “I feel like it was missing a certain… je ne sais quoi.” I’ve spent the hours since my viewing wondering what, exactly, I feel like Age of Ultron was missing or lacking because it’s very difficult to put into words, but I’ll try my best.

Although I love a non-stop actionfest as much as the next person, I feel like one of the strengths of the first Avengers film was the downtime between action sequences. There was some great character interaction and a lot of moments where the characters didn’t seem to be vehicles for moving the plot along, but rather were developing as characters: character development. In Age of Ultron, I don’t feel like there was much downtime at all. I feel like every time a character was on screen, he or she was directly perpetuating the plot, which gave the impression of making the film feel very heavy or saturated. It also seemed very dark, which I tend to like, but there wasn’t a lot of relief to balance that darkness out.

There seemed to be a lot of jetsetting too, with the characters traveling from the US to Eastern Europe, back to the US, then to South Africa, then back to the US, and then back to Eastern Europe again. Granted, you didn’t have to suffer through dead travel time, but the fact that the plot involved so much globetrotting was kind of exhausting. And between all the globetrotting, the laid-on-thick action sometimes felt a little convoluted and even messy at times. At a couple points, I remember thinking, “Wait… where are there again? Where does this part take place?” When I sit and think about the plot, it’s hard to think of it as a smooth progression from start to finish, but it’s more like connecting the dots between points that are spaced various distances up, down, left, and right, in order to get to the finish. I have to think about what happens after each scene and plot point individually rather than try to conceptualize the big picture because there was a lot happening in this movie and the mechanisms that moved the plot along were pretty complicated.

Maybe I’m alone in this, but it also felt like there might have been some scenes that were cut short or left out completely at one or two points, and when I looked it up this, in fact, seems to be the case. Specifically, the scene of Thor in the cave investigating his vision felt really half-baked, feeling super brief for being such a pivotal moment in the franchise—the moment when Thor figures out that their encountering the mysterious power gems has been no coincidence. Turns out the studio insisted that Whedon cut most of the scene out, resulting in it being far less significant than was originally planned.

Reception

Like the first Avengers film, reception for Age of Ultron has been incredibly positive. Rotten Tomatoes gives Avengers: Age of Ultron a 74%, which is an impressive score for the site, and calls it an “overstuffed but mostly satisfying sequel.” Metacritic has given the film a 66 out of 100, representing the views of 49 critics, and CinemaScore, which aggregates the audience’s feedback, gives the film an A grade.

Additionally, Age of Ultron has dominated in the box office, which was expected as the first Avengers film set records too. As of today (June 1, 2015), Avengers: Age of Ultron is at $1.322 billion worldwide, making it the sixth highest-grossing film ever behind the likes of AvatarTitanic, and the first Avengers film. It’s also the third Marvel film to ever sell more than $1 billion in tickets, the eighth film by Disney to accomplish that feat, and only the twenty-first film to ever accomplish that level of ticket sales. Avengers: Age of Ultron is the tenth highest-grossing film of all time, the highest grossing of 2015 thus far, the second highest-grossing Marvel film, and the fourth highest-grossing superhero film.

Looking Ahead: Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

As you might have heard by now, Age of Ultron ends with a new lineup for the Avengers team: The Vision, Falcon, War Machine, and Scarlet Witch with Captain America and Black Widow at the helm. Although Iron Man, Hawkeye, Hulk, and Thor are expected to return for one or both parts of the next installment in the Avengers series, only some of them will make appearances before then in Civil War. With Age of Ultron being the penultimate finale of Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this summer’s Ant-Man (see my Ant-Man review here) will be the finale of Phase Two. The first installment of Phase Three will be Captain America: Civil War. Phase Three will consist of a whopping ten total films and culminate with The Avengers: Infinity War, Part I & Part II. 

Phase Three Marvel Cinematic Universe

You might also have heard that Marvel and Sony have been in negotiations over Spider-Man, which is a Marvel title that’s been owned by Sony. Spider-Man is traditionally a member of the Avengers, but Marvel/Disney couldn’t use the character because Sony was busy making and then rebooting their own Spider-Man movies. However, there’s been a negotiation reached in which Spider-Man will be introduced in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, giving Marvel/Disney input in the character’s direction while Sony maintains ownership. Had this deal been made sooner than February of this year, Joss Whedon had hoped for Spider-Man to make his first appearance in mainstream MCU continuity in Age of Ultron.

In fact, Whedon had wanted both Spider-Man and Captain Marvel to appear in Age of Ultron, but they ultimately had to be left out. Joss Whedon even went so far as to shoot FX plates in which Captain Marvel was supposed to be flying and land in the new Avengers facility at the end of the film, but since Captain Marvel, like the new Spider-Man, has not yet been cast, and since the studio wants the character to have her own film rather than showing her for the first time fully costumed in the last ten seconds of Age of Ultron, it was decided to use those scenes for Scarlet Witch instead of Captain Marvel.

However, the current plan is for Spider-Man to be introduced in Captain America: Civil War next year and to forego having a third origin film for the character. There are plans for another standalone Spider-Man film to be released in 2017 as a joint venture between Sony and Marvel, but it won’t be an origin story as it’s thought that fans can only see the same material reused almost verbatim so many times. Reports indicate that the studios are casting the next Peter Parker to be very, very young, only 15 or so years old and in high school, and they are also reported to be choosing the actor who will wield the Spider-Man mantle from a shortlist of Peter Parker candidates within the next week.

Those who follow the comics will be familiar with the storyline that’s given the third Captain America film its namesake. The film is supposed to begin with events that, when combined with the mass destruction that has occurred over the course of the previous films, prompt the government to institute a Superhuman Registration Act in order to enforce some level of accountability. According to the source material, Iron Man will be for the Superhuman Registration Act (SRA) while Captain America will be against it, with the remainder of the Avengers falling on one side or the other and dividing the teammates against one another. Captain America: Civil War will hit theaters on May 6, 2016 and will also mark the first appearance of Black Panther.

After Civil War, Marvel will delve more into the supernatural/magical side of the MCU with Doctor Strange, which I’m really, really excited about. Until this point, most of the mystical stuff in the films have still be rooted in science, even if only loosely. Scarlet Witch hints at forces beyond the realms of science, and Doctor Strange will be the first film that will really explores that side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Benedict Cumberbatch will play Stephen Strange, a neurosurgeon who loses his ability to operate after a terrible car accident, after which time he uncovers the hidden world of magic and alternate dimensions that he uses to battle a most menacing foe. Doctor Strange will hit theaters November 4, 2016.

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 will be the next installment of Phase Three, hitting theaters on May 5, 2017. It’s too soon to know much about it, but according to Tim Gunn, who’s the mastermind behind the first Guardians of the Galaxy film and its success, there will be quite a few new characters introduced in the sequel, which will reveal the identity of Starlord/Peter Quill’s father. Speculation is that Starhawk is Quill’s father, especially since Gunn has revealed having a strong affinity for the character and for confirming that Quill’s father isn’t the same as in the comics, but that’s not yet been confirmed. There will also be a new Guardian introduced in Guardians of the Galaxy 2.

Next is the new Spider-Man film, about which not a lot is known besides the release date of July 28, 2017. There’s not even an actor cast yet, but according to the shortlist the new Peter Parker is going to be extremely young, between the ages of 14 and 16. According to Kevin Feige, who pretty much runs the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the upcoming Spider-Man film will take a cue from Batman Begins in that it won’t be an origin story, but will stay true to the spirit of the source material and have plenty of humor like the Spider-Man of the comics always had. As mentioned above, it’s expected that the new Spider-Man will be chosen within the next week or so.

Thor: Ragnarok, the third film in the Thor series, is scheduled for release on November 3, 2017 after the newly announced Spider-Man film took its previous release date and pushed all Marvel films back by one release. The Avengers: Age of Ultron saw Thor returning to Asgard, presumably for the events that will unfold in Ragnarok. In addition to Ragnarok, Chris Hemsworth is contracted to appear in both parts of The Avengers: Infinity War, but will not be appearing in Captain America: Civil War. The storyline in the comics called Ragnarok involves Loki breaking free of his Asgardian prison, releasing Surtur the Fire Giant, and bringing about the end of the world for Asgard, spelling certain death for the likes of Thor, Odin, and Asgard as a whole; however, since both Tom Hiddleston and Chris Hemsworth are slated to appear in the two-part Phase Three finale, it’s unlikely that Ragnarok will spell certain death for Thor.

At long last, we reach the first part of the third Avengers installment, The Avengers: Infinity War, Part I. To be released on May 4, 2018, this will undoubtedly begin the showdown with Thanos over the titular Infinity Gauntlet, the special glove that’s made to house all six Infinity Stones and grant the wearer with omnipotent power over the entire cosmos. Expect to see many of the original Avengers return for this installment such as Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, and Hawkeye. Joss Whedon will not be directing both or either of the final Avengers films, but rather Anthony and Joe Russo will be helming the two-part finale, which will be filmed back-to-back beginning next year. Additionally, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) will appear not only in Thor: Ragnarok, but also both parts of Infinity War.

In the interim between the two installments of Infinity War, there will be two Marvel one-shorts that may or may not lead to their own continued series—although if record is any indication, they are both likely to spawn sequels unless they flop at the box office. First is Black Panther slated for release on July 6, 2018. The character of Black Panther, the first major African American superhero to have his own Marvel film, will be played by Chadwick Boseman after his introduction in Captain America: Civil War. Next will be Captain Marvel on November 2, 2018, which will be the first major superhero film to have a female titular character and the first major appearance of Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel on film. Nicole Perlman, who worked on Guardians, will write the script for Captain Marvel with Meg LeFevre, who penned this summer’s Inside Out.

It’s thought that the Black Panther and Captain Marvel films indicate that those characters will be especially significant in the final Avengers film, The Avengers: Infinity War, Part II, which will be released May 3, 2019 and conclude the conflict with Thanos and his quest for the six Infinity Stones. However, Infinity War Part II is actually the penultimate film of Phase Three with the actual finale being Inhumans, which will be released July 12, 2019. According to the comics, the Inhumans are a race of genetically-enhanced humans that were experimented on by an alien race, then abandoned and left to form their own secret society. Much like the Guardians, the Inhumans are a somewhat smaller Marvel property that Feige has long been reported expressing interest in seeing on the big screen. With the success of Guardians, Inhumans moved forward and has been included in the Marvel Cinematic Universe continuity, being introduced in the second season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television show. After Phase Three, Kevin Feige has Phase Four already mapped out up to 2028, but won’t reveal the titles until we get closer to that time because he doesn’t want to give away who survives, who dies, or who might be appearing between now and then.

In addition to the films, Marvel has begun producing television shows to fill in some of the gaps left by the films as well as to serve as ongoing continuations and companions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was the first and, helmed by Joss Whedon, has been a hit. There’s since been Daredevil and Agent Carter added to the roster, both on Netflix, with additional shows currently in the works. Reportedly there are series called A.K.A. Jessica JonesLuke Cage, and Iron Fist, leading up to a Defenders miniseries in the same vain as the Marvel films lead up to the Avengers movies. There’s also supposed to be a series called Empire of the Dead, based on the comic books of the same name written by George A. Romero and featuring the same universe as his famous Living Dead zombies.

Bottom Line

The Avengers: Age of Ultron was an incredibly satisfying culmination of Marvel’s Phase Two lineup, Ant-Man not included. Between the high stakes, the fast pace, the awesome new characters, and an awesome villain, fans of the comics as well as the casual movie-goer will be pleased with this film. Sure, it might have lacked a certain something that can’t completely be expressed with words, but whatever was missing doesn’t take away from the film being one hell of a ride. I’d definitely see it again.

Compared to the The Avengers (2012), I’d say that there are elements of the film that are stronger than the previous one, but Joss Whedon set the bar extremely high with the first film, making it almost impossible to top himself. Interestingly, it doesn’t seem like that’s what he was trying to do with The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Despite the somewhat convoluted plot that seemed to dart all over the place unexpectedly, the Ultron storyline seemed like a very logical place to take these characters with an ending that, although it seemed to quickly wrap everything up in a pretty happily-ever-after bow, segues into a new era for the Avengers with a new team to boot. It’ll be very interesting to see where the Avengers go as the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to develop, especially after Civil War.

Avengers: Age of Ultron poster
Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios

What did you think of The Avengers: Age of Ultron? Which of the upcoming Marvel releases are you most excited for? Comment below and don’t forget to share on social media.

About the author

My name is Dane. I'm a writer at Android Authority as well as a tech journalist in general. As well, I'm a marketing guru, designer, and a budding web developer. My passions include portmanteaus, artisanal coffees, jackets, and the smell of fresh technology in the morning.