During last week Marvel issued a curious tease via Robert Downey Jr’s twitter feed promising a ‘big announcement’. Marvel built toward the announcement by releasing a brand new character poster every day for Avengers: Age of Ultron, each starring a different hero – you can see them all here. The big announcement Marvel was building toward ended up being quite predictable, but still exciting. We were treated to a brand new Age of Ultron trailer packed with new footage, which you can and should watch below – it’s fairly awesome.
The trailer has everything you need to get hyped. Massive destruction, Cap’s shield lodging slightly in Ultron’s chest, hints at a Banner and Widow romance and obligatory cocky banter. When deciding what best to discuss from the trailer I had a couple of choices. I could talk about how I found this trailer less appealing that the initial reveal, but comparing trailers for an unreleased movie feels a little lame. Another option was to discuss interesting parts of the trailer, but everyone’s doing that and probably better than I could – check out IGN’s in-depth written analysis. In the end I’ve decided to talk about a key part of Age of Ultron, the titular baddie: Ultron, and if he can deliver on his villainous promise.
I don’t think it’s too much of a bold statement to say Marvel generally hasn’t had the best luck with it’s Cinematic Universe bad guys. Iron Man’s Obadiah Stane, The Incredible Hulk’s Abomination, Captain America’s Red Skull, Iron Man 2’s Whiplash, Thor 2’s Malaketh, and Guardian of the Galaxy’s Ronin were all varying degree’s of okay, but all ultimately unmemorable. In the whole of Phase 1 only Thor’s Loki delivered on his potential, arguably a more memorable character than his heroic brother. Although I’d argue the trickster god wasn’t all that great in his début appearance in the first Thor movie; only becoming a fantastic nemesis in The Avengers continuing into the Thor sequel The Dark World.
Moving into Phase 2 Marvel had more luck with their villains. First up was Iron Man 3’s Mandarin. As we’ve previously covered Iron Man 3 was highly controversial, and that was primarily down to the Mandarin identity twist. Breaking away from comic tradition the Mandarin was not a magic ring wielding Chinese fellow (still a little bit sketchy, racist even) but a hapless English actor, Trevor Slattery. A narcotics addicted witless fool Slattery assumed the role for the industrious Aldrich Killian in return for more of said narcotics. Love the twist or hate it, The Mandarin is certainly memorable. Captain America Winter Solider also struck gold not only with the elusive titular baddie but too with the Hydra twist which turned everyone in the peacekeeping organisation of SHIELD into a suspect.
So, at this point we can identify a trend – generally Marvels’ villains are getting better. But even so consider that only one Phase 1 villain was great and it took two films for Loki to get to that point. In Phase 2 our great/memorable villains were the Mandarin, The Winter Solider and the organisation of Hydra. Remember one of those is disputed. For the sake of argument we’ll take an imaginary poll: ‘who is the best Marvel Cinematic Universe villain’ and we’ll imagine that Loki would win. So let’s say by great we mean a villain roughly as memorable/great as Thor’s trickster brother. Does Ultron have what it takes to be that good?
The statistics of MCU would say that Ultron has a greater chance of being forgettable than memorable. But that trend has been reversing. Film making is an art, which means it’s hard to quantify and statistically measure the chances of a villain being great. Most, if all, of his potential lies with the film makers – the writers, producers and directors are all key. Ultron already has one advantage in that area – he’s being developed under the watchful eye of Joss Whedon, returning director of the first Avengers. And more importantly the director under whom Loki turned from a okay villain into a marvellous one – in no small part thanks to actor Tom Hiddleston too. Being portrayed by James Spader is only going to help Ultron’s strength as a villain. A fantastic actor Spader is notorious for playing wonderful bad guys.
What’s immediately noticeable about Age of Ultron is it’s heavier reliance on the villain that other Marvel films. The majority of MCU movies aim to tell stories of the heroes, Guardians of Galaxy is a wonderful example of this. GoG’s goal was to establish a team of likeable heroes, and explain what cosmic forces brought them together, melding them into a kick ass of team of criminal misfits. The same is true of other Marvel movies: Iron Man is about the evolution of Tony Stark and Thor follows the warrior becoming more humble. Placing a heavy focus on the heroes journey has allowed Marvel to establish some truly great heroes, but has come at the expense of villain characterisation, which means we end up with two dimensional baddies like Ronan and Malekith.
Ultron immediately kerbs that trend. Check out any of Age of Ultron’s trailers and you’ll hear/see from the villain as much, if not more than the Avengers themselves. His sinister voice, and cold attitude resonate immediately, he’s clearly powerful; his uncaring nature makes him a terrifying prospect. We don’t know enough about Ultron’s birth, his reasoning for hating humanity nor exactly what motivates him just yet which makes it hard to identify his true level of villainy, but the trailers show immense potential. We do know through numerous interviews with the cast and director Joss Whedon that Ultron is a focus of the film, and a force to be reckoned with.
More than that though from the information we can gather Age of Ultron is not only about the fragmentation forming between the Avengers, but Ultron’s role in making it happen and his evolution from birth to maniacal villain. This is a story not only about the Avengers but about their nemesis, and this marks the first time Marvel has afforded a villain the luxury of screen time equal to their heroic counterpart.
Everything is in place. Statistics say that Marvels villains are typically okay, but are caught in a trend of improvement. Joss Whedon, the man behind Marvel’s best villain Loki is at the directorial helm of Age of Ultron. A planned intense focus on Ultron and means his evolution is just as important as that of the heroes. The stars have aligned, I believe that in Ultron we could be looking at Marvel’s greatest villain, one with the potential to surpass Loki. Roll on Avengers: Age of Ultron.