When Disney had Joss Whedon helm the first Avengers, it became a global success that proved audiences vastly enjoyed the nature of superheroes teaming up to fight the big, bad guy. Over 1.5 billion dollars and a superb critical reception demonstrated that a sequel was on the horizon, and it became more inevitable (as shown in the post-credits of the first Avengers film in 2012). Age of Ultron came out three years later under Whedon’s name, and it was a fine film with a more mixed reception in the second round.
If history has taught us one thing, it’s that a sequel can rarely reach the heights (or top the expectations) of its predecessor. Whedon tried to make this something like The Godfather Part 2 or Empire Strikes Back (two of the best sequels of all time) yet was more involved at a table with a group of people informing him he had to set up the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It becomes an overstuffed and worn-down sequel at times, making you wonder if he could allow this film to be his own flavor. The film then becomes somewhat disjointed, and the feeling of catharsis cannot be fully attained as we spend time wallowing in an overkill of quippy one-liners and facial expressions. The first Avengers film felt properly paced with a fitting use of humor and action, balancing the characters’ faults so they could band together and kick alien’s butts all over New York. Age of Ultron jumps around too much, lacks in originality and creates a lesser impact than its predecessor.
This film, fortunately, does have more of Whedon’s personality through gratifying character interactions, incredible action pieces and a mix of humanity on both sides (heroes and humans). His introduction of the new heroes Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch feel refreshing, and having James Spader channel a silky, chilling vibrance to the main villain Ultron was one hell of a surprise. Its biggest obstacle is that it spends a lot of time setting up the future rather than remaining focused on the task at hand. That being said, that is also what makes this film so remarkable (yet underappreciated) by fans of the MCU.
When one talks about the big blockbusters that define the MCU, they immediately mention the first Avengers due to its brilliance and raising of the expectations for Marvel at the movie theaters. Or Guardians of the Galaxy because of its zany flavor and priceless characters. Captain America: Civil War was thought-provoking, Thor: Ragnarök was bold and extremely fun, Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame are gargantuan blockbusters served with fan cravings and a total aptitude of emotion and thrills. Age of Ultron just takes the backseat and lets the others shine.
What everyone should be aware of is Age of Ultron set up most of these blockbusters. It is the backbone for why all these blockbusters now exist in the MCU and how they garnered billions of dollars and attention. Whedon secures the first moves for these MCU titles: Civil War, Thor: Ragnarök, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame, Black Widow (2020) and (arguably) both Captain Marvel and Doctor Strange solo films. In one massive feature, Whedon had (nearly) captured the entire stage of the MCU’s Phase Three. No wonder why he was exhausted after making this film and had to step away from Disney.
Whedon doesn’t get the credit he deserves for making Age of Ultron. He took a massive leap and envisioned a future for Marvel Studios that they built success off of. Sure, anyone can go and nitpick the Avengers sequel for a lot, but when looking at the grand scheme of the franchise and its success, Whedon was the brilliant mind behind it. In some regard, he can be compared to how Steve Jobs launched Apple to become a trillion-dollar company or how Jeff Bezos made Amazon one of the biggest economic forces in the world.
Marvel Studios has become a gargantuan franchise, Joss Whedon is legit and he left a foundation that the company will reliably look upon for the next decade of films. Age of Ultron does not deserve to go unnoticed in the spectrum of superhero films, and it is still a fun film to watch when one has the time.