We’re a couple of weeks late to the party, so a review of Avengers: Age of Ultron is probably unnecessary – it’s already the 8th-highest grossing movie of all time, and, after just two weeks, trails only Furious 7 for the top-grossing film of 2015. Safe to say, you’ve probably seen it.
Instead, let’s focus on its place in the pantheon of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s been the most expensive MCU film to date – with a budget just shy of $280 million, ahead of the first Avengers’ $220 million – but is well poised to move, at least, into second place, surpassing Iron Man 3. Its reviews, while favourable, have also placed it squarely in Thor/Hulk territory, not the Guardians/Iron Man territory I’m sure it was hoping for.
But, is that such a bad thing? Do its lukewarm reviews represent a stumble out of the gate in the Marvel/DC race to cinematic superiority?
As the opening salvo in the coming 5-year battle between Marvel and DC, Age of Ultron holds an important position. It establishes a benchmark for critical and financial success, acts as a starting point for upcoming storylines, and puts a bow on the second phase of the MCU’s superhero roll out – the Avengers have assembled, and as of the end of this film, they’ve been re-assembled. It lays the groundwork for everything that is to come, and just as the first play in a football game isn’t a Hail Mary, Ultron is designed to set a tone for what’s to come.
Consider that the only other Marvel properties coming out this year are Ant-Man and Fantastic Four (from Fox); both can be regarded as safe properties that won’t necessarily push any boundaries, but will still see a Marvel-level return at the box office, all while expanding the scope of the Marvel Universe. With Fox’s release of Deadpool in February 2016, Marvel will be four movies in before DC finally releases Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice on March 25.
With the release of Age of Ultron, Marvel has reached a checkpoint before DC has even had a chance to hit the Start button. It helps to establish and expand upon the origin of the New Avengers, while it remains to be seen whether Dawn of Justice will act as the same for the Justice League. Only Wonder Woman will have had a stand-alone film by the time Justice League is released in November 2017; Aquaman and Green Lantern (Ryan Reynolds notwithstanding) have to wait until 2018 and 2020, respectively, for their starring roles.
While DC seems to be hoping that casting announcements and costume leaks for Suicide Squad (2016) and Shazam (2019) will carry the faithful through between major (character) motion pictures, Age of Ultron has given Marvel the freedom to give top billing to Gambit and Dr. Strange (2016), try again to establish Wolverine as a solo vehicle (2017), and breathe new life into the floundering Spider-Man franchise (2017) in between major team films like Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Avengers: Infinity War.
Even though the movie may not have been up to the level of previous titles, its place among the touchstones of comic book movies is assured.
Avengers: Age of Ultron may not have been the movie we deserved, but it was the one we needed.