We sent two Marvel Comics virgins to The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Below is a transcript of their attempt to make sense of the film. Warning: There may be spoilers in what follows. The authors frankly have no idea.
John Swansburg: Hi, Laura!
L.V. Anderson: Hi, John!
JS: So we are about to experience a very important life moment: Tonight, we lose our Marvel virginity. In 3-D.
LVA: I should confess that I am not a complete Marvel virgin, having seen Guardians of the Galaxy. However, in my defense, I didn’t know when I went to see it that it took place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I still don’t totally understand what “the Marvel Cinematic Universe” means.
JS: So you’ve, like, made out with Marvel.
LVA: We’ve gotten to second base.
JS: I should also confess that my Marvel chastity is not uncompromised. I saw the first Iron Man movie, though, like you, I saw it without really knowing it was a Marvel movie. So I think I’ve also been to second base.
LVA: Do you understand how Iron Man relates to the Avengers? Is Iron Man one of the Avengers?
JS: I feel like I’ve seen Robert Downey Jr.’s face on a billboard and thus assume he is an Avenger.
LVA: My understanding is that this movie is the first one of umpteen Marvel movies in which the Avengers get together with Iron Man, the Hulk, and Captain America. Like, I think up until now, the Avengers have had their movies, Iron Man has had his movies, ditto with the Hulk and Captain America. But now they’re teaming up! To fight Ultron, presumably?
JS: Wait, isn’t this the second time they’re teaming up?
LVA: Oh, is it?
JS: Didn’t they Avenge something two summers ago? I’m pretty sure this is not their first Avenging.
LVA: Very possibly. I don’t know what they’re Avenging, exactly. I just know that everyone’s really excited about this movie, and I assumed it was because of the unprecedented combination of dozens of superheroes in a single movie.
JS: This is something about superhero fandom I’ve never understood: Why is it so exciting when superheroes team up? The excitement around a movie does seem to be a function of the number of heroes crammed into it. And yet, superheroes always seem like such brooding loners—it doesn’t seem like a team sport to me. Golf fans don’t spend their time pining for like their five favorite golfers to join forces and take on the Ultimate Par Five.
LVA: Speak for yourself, John.
JS: The Masters: Age of Ultron.
I’m looking forward to experiencing this with you. I feel we will emerge on the other side of this film changed in some ineffable way. The glow of Ultron.
LVA: Right now we are Marvel children. But in a few short hours, we will be a Marvel man and a Marvel woman.
The next morning …
JS: Hi, Laura! We have now seen Avengers: Age of Ultron, and are no longer Marvel virgins. How does your mindstone feel today?
LVA: A little sore, but nothing terrible. Honestly, last night just feels like a dream—a very confusing, nonsensical dream.
JS: That’s apt, because one of the bad guys we met has as her superpower the ability to give her enemies cheesy, confusing dreams. I don’t think I caught her name.
LVA: I’ve been calling her “Girl Twin” in my head. And I’m not totally sure what the dreams were supposed to mean. Were they visions of the Avengers’ worst fears? If so, why is a party on an army base Captain America’s worst fear?
JS: HE DOESN’T KNOW HOW TO DANCE. The foxtrot is his kryptonite.
LVA: Ohhhhh, it all makes sense now.
JS: The most confusing dream was Thor’s, I thought.
LVA: I was just about to say that! Between the dream, the excursion with the professor to the cave, and the birthing of Red Man, I had no idea what was going on with Thor in this movie. Also, Idris Elba should really see an ophthalmologist.
JS: Yes, the Thor plot was definitely the thickest with Marvel mythology.
LVA: I have a very basic question about Thor: Is Thor actually Thor? Like, is he literally supposed to be the Norse god of thunder? I had always thought they just called him Thor because he carries a big hammer around, but this movie made it seem like he truly might be an ancient deity. What do you think?
JS: I think he’s the real deal. Like, he’s actually a Norse god. But maybe—just spitballing here—in the Marvel universe it turns out that the Norse gods weren’t actually gods, but some kind of alien super-race who came to Earth in the past and landed in Scandinavia and were worshipped as gods due to their great power, beautiful tresses, and excellent taste in furniture.
LVA: That makes total sense. We should talk about some of the other Avengers’ powers. Like Scarlett Johansson, whose superpower is apparently being able to ride a motorcycle against traffic.
JS: And Arrowhead, who seems to be Avenging the time he was cut from the Olympic archery team.
LVA: Indeed. Compared with Iron Man, who gets to fly around being invincible, it seems like those two got short shrift.
JS: The disparity in powers was really something. You have Thor (god), Hulk (invincible green monster), and Iron Man (impenetrable suit, bulletproof ironic detachment)—those guys should seemingly be able to handle most global calamities on their own. Then you have Arrowhead (quiver), Spider Lady (good on a hog, sexy voice), and Captain America (once-in-a-generation ultimate Frisbee talent)—these guys seem a little out of their league.
LVA: You forgot another superpower they all have, which is being able to remain in constant conversation during battle. At least, I assume that’s a superpower. Maybe they just have an advanced version of Google Hangouts.
JS: LOL, yeah, I was not prepared for how big a role Witty Banter was going to play in the defense of Earth. Speaking of which, let’s turn to the Big Bad Guy. Laura, tell me what you gleaned about the archvillain in this picture.
LVA: Well, what I had suspected that something named “Ultron” would be just like one of those evil Transformers, and that turned out to be pretty much right. However—and I never thought I’d compare this movie unfavorably with a Michael Bay movie—Ultron’s motivations were completely underdeveloped compared with those of the evil Transformers. Why did he want to destroy mankind? Was it because he was a manifestation of Tony Stark’s worst fears? Or maybe he had just had enough of the Avengers’ witty banter.
JS: He did match their witty banter quip for mildly amusing quip. But I agree, his motivations were quite murky. Also, there was something very unsatisfying about Ultron being, essentially, malware. I felt at times like I was watching a multimillion-dollar dramatization of the last time I used Norton AntiVirus to clean up my PC.
LVA: Haha, indeed. My favorite part was when Ultron escaped to the Internet. Why even bother obtaining nuclear weapons at that point? Just shut down cyberspace and everyone on Earth will feel like the apocalypse has come. The entire plot felt very Cold War, down to the Russian Twins and the final battle in Slepovia. Slekopia. Whatever the name of that Russian town was.
JS: The movie mocked some of the lame conventions of superhero movies—Ultron makes a joke about how he’s not going to explain his dastardly plot to the Avengers—but then he settles on a truly Dr. Evil-ish way of killing off all life on Earth: dropping an Eastern European city on it.
LVA: It’s brilliantly foolproof! Except for that Iron Man figures out within five minutes how to detonate the bomb and drop the city safely, without ever explaining his logic. That bit was a tad anticlimactic.
JS: Srsly. In terms of the politics, I agree it was very Cold War, with all those vaguely Slavic accents. Though there was that one remark that Captain America makes, about how whenever we go to war to prevent war, innocent people die, which kind of felt like a burn on George W. Bush. Or maybe Woodrow Wilson.
OK, back to the good guys. If you had to pick a favorite Avenger, who would it be, and why?
LVA: That’s a tough one. Iron Man and the Hulk are out—too stubborn and brooding, respectively. Natasha spent the whole movie mooning over the Hulk, which was boring. That brings it down to Thor, Captain America, and Jeremy Renner. I think I’m going to go with Jeremy Renner, just because he seemed to have a nice home life with Linda Cardellini. I wanted to hear more about his renovation plans.
What about you?
JS: I knew you were going to say Arrowhead! I think we both agree that the best line of the movie, which was possibly unintentionally funny, comes when Arrowhead’s wife assures him, “I totally support your Avenging.” Man, he better re-grout that bathroom tile once Ultron is vanquished. A good woman like that is hard to find.
I agree with you on Iron Man, Hulk, and Natasha. But my favorite was Thor: I love how cocky he is and how obviously phallic his hammer—and his attachment to his hammer—is.
LVA: I agree. The Hemsworth brother seemed charismatic and confident in spite of some pretty hackneyed superhero-movie dialogue, whereas the other actors seemed to know the only point of their lines was to set up the next action sequence. Of which there were several! I guess when the villain has an infinite army of robots to do his bidding, there’s gonna be a lot of hand-to-hand combat.
JS: I’m glad you mentioned Ultron’s robot legions—that was another thing that bugged me about this movie. If I’m not mistaken, the confirmed death toll of this film about a global extinction event is two: the quickly dispatched Russian baddy, and the noble self-sacrifice of the other twin, the one with the Adidas endorsement. Look, I’m not bloodthirsty. But come on. There’s, like, nothing at stake in this movie; after the 400th android body was dismembered, this viewer was starting to get a little bored.
LVA: I think the Hulk took out some civilians on “the African Coast,” and presumably some Skrakovians also bit the dust. But I agree. For a movie ostensibly interested in the beauty of human existence, there were surprisingly low human stakes.
JS: For a movie with a Thor’s-hammer-sized budget, that African Coast city was comically bad. It looked like it was shot in Milwaukee.
LVA: It probably was!
JS: OK, we should probably wrap this up so we can go Google “Idris Elba Avengers eyes,” but before we sign off, tell me, Laura: Now that you’ve experienced the Marvel magic, will you be coming back for more? And there’s more to come—there were trailers for multiple Marvel projects before this movie. By the power of Odin! Have you bought your ticket to Ant-Man?
LVA: You’re right, we should wrap this up—the sun’s getting real low, big guy. I would see another Marvel movie if I had a friend who wanted someone to go with, but I won’t be lining up for The Fantastic Four, Ant-Man, and the big-screen debuts of whatever other obscure superheroes Marvel Studios has up its sleeve. I am tempted to go back and watch Thor and Captain America, because I liked those characters and want to understand their backstories, but more likely I will just read the Wikipedia pages.
Now that you’re no longer an Avengers virgin, will you become an Avengers Hulk, demolishing every Marvel movie in your path? Or will you transform back into Bruce Banner and go back to watching French New Wave movies?
JS: If the character you described earlier as Red Man were to team up with Method Man for a kind of stoner flick/superhero tentpole mashup, I might be in for that. Otherwise, I think I’m one and done with Marvel. I prefer Melville. But it was very fun sitting in the back row with you, Laura—thanks for embarking on this adventure with me!
LVA: [shoots laser out of fist, knocking Swansburg out] Good talk.