Sunday, May 3, 2015


Just back from seeing AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON this morning. I'll get to my thoughts on the film in a minute but first, a short trip down memory lane.
As I noted in a previous blog post, the first issue of THE AVENGERS that I can remember buying was #25. I'd seen issues on the stands before but it was the combination of this off-beat quartet of heroes (Captain America, Hawkeye, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch) facing off against Dr. Doom that won my twelve-cents. I enjoyed the comic but I didn't buy AVENGERS on a regular basis until September 1966.
That's the month when I started buying almost every Marvel comic book on the stands each month. The issue of AVENGERS that I started with was this one:

#33 was the second part of a two-part story in which the Avengers battled the nefarious Sons of the Serpent. The story was by Stan Lee with art by Don Heck. The lineup had changed by this time, with Cap's "Kooky Quartet" expanded with the return of original Avengers Goliath (Hank Pym/Ant-Man/Giant-Man) and the Wasp (Janet Van Dyne). From then on, I purchased AVENGERS every month and it quickly became one of my favorite Marvel titles.

Flash forward to the summer of 1968. I bought new off of the stands (or more likely the spinner rack) the issue in which Ultron first appeared.

 #54 featured another new Avengers line-up (Goliath, Wasp, Hawkeye and Black Panther) against a new iteration of the Masters of Evil (Melter, Whirlwind, Klaw, and Radioactive Man) in a story by the best AVENGERS creative team of all-time: Roy Thomas and John Buscema. Granted, Ultron only makes a cameo in this issue but nonetheless, he's in there. And I read it. So, yeah, I was there at the very beginning of Ultron as a major Avengers foe.

Which explains the stupid grin I probably still have on my face a few hours after seeing AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON. I won't give a detailed review here (besides, most of you hardcore fan boys reading this have probably already seen the film) but I will note several things that I loved about the movie.

First of all, it's still hard for me to believe that I can go to a theater, pay my ten bucks and see a live-action, big budget AVENGERS movie on the big screen. If someone had told me in 1968 (I was twelve at the time) that in 2015, there would be a blockbuster motion picture starring the Avengers and Ultron, I simply would not have believed it. The special effects technology that existed in 1968 were stone knives and arrowheads compared to what we have today. A 1968 AVENGERS movie would most likely have been a rather embarrassing, low-budget and, yes, pathetic attempt to bring these characters to life. Still, I would occasionally play the "what-if" game in my mind, imagining a day when such a film might actually be made and wondering what it could possibly look like. But in my wildest dreams, I never saw in my head what I saw on the screen today.

Captain America. Iron Man. Thor. The Hulk. Hawkeye. The Black Widow. Quicksilver. Scarlet Witch. The Vision. Ultron. Nick Fury. War Machine. The Falcon. Baron Strucker. Ulysses Klaw. Wakanda. Vibranium. Infinity Gems. Thanos. All that and more in one movie? Oh, yeah, I had a fangasm deluxe.

Director Joss Whedon stages some spectacular action set pieces that are leavened with quieter character development scenes. A beauty and beast relationship between Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) and Bruce (Hulk) Banner (Mark Ruffalo) is given a lot of screen time and Clint (Hawkeye) Barton (Jeremy Renner) has one helluva of a secret.

There's a terrific mano-a-mano battle between the Hulk and Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) with Tony in Hulk Buster armor. There are scenes of mass destruction of several cities but the Avengers go out of their way to make sure the people in those cities are safe (unlike the wholesale, wanton destruction of Smallville and Metropolis on display in MAN OF STEEL).

Ultron (James Spader) is a terrific foe. We get the introduction of three new Avengers, two of which, Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) start out as villains only to be redeemed as heroes (as in the comics). The third newcomer is The Vision (Paul Bettany) who was always one of my favorite Avengers.

Lots of seeds are planted for future films. Ulysses Klaw and vibranium will definitely return in the upcoming BLACK PANTHER film as will the nation of Wakanda (we get a fight scene in a Wakandan city but no mention of Prince T'Challa). Thor is off in search of the remaining Infinity Gems (a search that will most likely continue in the next THOR film), an Avenger dies (no telling who!) and there's an entirely new Avengers lineup in place at the end of the film. Oh, and the credits teaser is a short appearance by Thanos, who will figure prominently in the next two AVENGERS films.

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON is not my Avengers. Changes have been made in the characters and story lines. In the comics, Hank Pym created Ultron who in turn created the Vision. Here, Ultron is created by Tony Stark. The Scarlet Witch's powers in the film include the ability to mess with people's minds (a far cry from her original hex power). But I'm okay with these changes and my original beloved Avengers still exist in those old comics that I hold so dear. A film is not a comic book and this iteration of the Avengers is perfectly acceptable to me. Joss Whedon and company certainly haven't ruined these characters and this franchise. If anything, they've brought it to an entirely new audience and generation for whom this version will be their Avengers.

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON is an enormously entertaining, fun comic book super hero film. I loved every minute of it. Highly recommended.

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