At this point in the evolution of the MCU, there are nearly a dozen (!!!) films, three television shows, several DVD-exclusive shorts, and an untold amount of tie-in comic books worth of content. Holy shit, that’s daunting. Honestly, I’m just not the right kind of comic book dork to find that amount of MCU content exciting. If there were a Fantagraphics Cinematic Universe you could bet I’d be at the theater for every new release, but that much Marvel content sounds more like work than play to me. Of the eleven MCU films released so far I’ve seen exactly three: Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Avengers: Age of Ultron. To me, the draw of tuning in for these films was that they felt like a highlight reel instead of having to watch all MCU content, which at this point would take days on end.
This approach worked out fairly well with the first Avengers film, which had only(!!!) five preceding films of build-up, whereas I had felt totally left behind at the beginning of its sequel, Age of Ultron. Starting with an in medias res action sequence in the snow and quickly followed by some sciencey montages & well-needed (I’m guessing) R&R, the Avengers team had now left me, the casual viewer, far behind and was struggled for a near 40-min stretch to me back to the table. It took almost the entire first third of the film for me to get invested in the story while all the loud things were going boom, but once I was brought up to speed, I was just as on-board as any other giddy child in the theater. For what it’s worth, I think the exact moment was sometime around when Iron Man was trying to punch The Hulk to sleep or maybe only a few minutes before.
Once Age of Ultron gets rolling on its own merit, disconnected from its place in the MCU, it’s a fairly exciting action spectacle. Cities are destroyed, superhumans run around doing their superhuman things, good triumphs over evil, etc. I just wish it didn’t take so long to get there. The MVPs of distinguishing this movie from its MCU brethren are the newest characters. Not the genetically modified twins introduced in the opening scenes, but the man-made characters that come later in the film, Vision & Ultron. Especially Ultron. As the title hints, the film doesn’t really stand out on its own until Ultron hijacks the plot from the ten preceding movies. He’s such an arrestingly odd, smarmy villain, expertly voiced by James Spader, that he makes all the work that it took to get to him feel worthwhile.
Despite the shaky start, I eventually found myself giving into Age of Ultron’s ridiculous spectacle and even had a few moments where I completely nerded out (particularly in a well-teased moment involving Thor’s hammer) and felt like part of the participatory audience. I’m just wondering how long Marvel can keep pulling off this trick for the casual viewer. According to their current release schedule, Avengers 3 will have at least sixteen films preceding it. Avengers 4 is likely to have nearly two dozen. If it already takes 40min of exposition to rope the casual viewer into these film’s storylines, I’m wondering if they can even continue to take us along at all or if they’ll (smartly) choose to leave us behind.