As much as I enjoyed Batman vs. Superman:Dawn of Justice (I wasn’t taking the mick, I actually enjoyed it) it’s clear that there were some flaws that held it back from being the full fledged superhero beat-em-up it could’ve been,with Zack Snyder directing being one of them. It’s because of these discrepancies that critics have jumped all over this film like hyenas over a mammoth carcass to pick it apart.
However, Avengers: Age of Ultron, whilst again an enjoyable and entertaining superhero film, suffered from the same problems as Batman vs. Superman *shock, horror, gasp.* Whilst Joss Whedon remains an awesome director, the pressures of such a monumental film and the plans Marvel have for the future of the franchise meant there were a few things that held Age of Ultron back from being THE perfect Avengers film.
Despite both films maintaining mutual issues, Age of Ultron got off a lot easier critically, than Dawn of Justice did. Now, I’m all about fairness on this blog and lets face it, I’ve already poked the angry bear by saying that I enjoyed Batman vs. Superman, so why not wake the fucker up and wrestle him in the process? (Even it does mean I end up eaten).
*pokes bear* hello beasty
4- Shoehorning in Franchise Setups
Both of these films have done what no other film of the genre has done before in trying to tie together each subsequent feature to form an ever growing cinematic universe. The problem here however is as a result, the most recent films have had to maintain common threads between films in order to keep the universe rooted, resulting in things like Captain America: Civil War being, basically, another Avengers film. No, this doesn’t make Batman vs. Superman “basically a Justice League film”, as Civil War currently has eleven active superheroes participating in the movie. Batman vs. Superman had three, two of which were the titular characters.
Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice was seen as the first step towards a Justice League franchise, and as a result, needed to at least hint at remaining members of the Justice League team existing within DC’s cinematic universe. The result was messy and definitely forced (but kind of forgivable as seeing short clips of The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg was kind of cool). However revealing the rest of the future Justice League in an email chain between Batman and Wonder Woman was a pretty lame idea and didn’t have any connection to the overarching story, it was kind of just…there. Batman’s fever dream, as cool looking as it was also raised more questions than it answered, and despite potentially setting up a Thanos-esque larger threat for the DCU, it was some pretty obscure foreshadowing.
Age of Ultron suffered from a similar problem. As the midpoint of the MCU’s Phase Two, Age of Ultron not only had to build its own story, but was also expected to drop subtle hints to future features and characters, and we got that in overabundence. We met Ulysses Klaue and watched Iron Man and The Hulk trash Wakanda (which could have really happened anywhere) to introduce Black Panther’s homeland (which could have waited until Civil War but there you go), had some altercations between Cap and Iron Man hinting at the start of Civil War, we had Thor’s entire arc where he abandons the team for half of the film and chills in a lightning hot tub to set up “Thor: Ragnarok” and of course find out about the Infinity Stones in order to set up Age of Ultron’s own sequel, Avengers: Infinity War (another two parter…oh joy).
With so many films to set up, it’s understandable that some of the plot threads got a bit muddled. Civil War’s setup culminates in an argument between the iron avenger and the star-spangled shield slinger, which kind of gets swept under the rug by the film’s conclusion resulting in, almost, an undermining of the Civil War storyline, with Cap and Iron Man forgiving each other by the film’s end. This is a problem, as it now takes more to get from Age of Ultron to Civil War than it would from The Winter Soldier to Civil War, seeing as Winter Soldier set up Cap’s distrust of the government and explained Bucky being where he is.
Much like Batman’s dream, Thor’s Norse spa excursion, beyond revealing the infinity stones, focuses on the looming Ragnarok and barely connects to the overarching story. The films probably would not have lost anything had these been omitted.
Whilst these didn’t ruin my overall enjoyment, they did have me questioning their presence in the films as to what purpose they served beyond enhancing the franchise? Arguably, without them, the film’s would have run a lot smoother.
3 – Under Utilisation of Iconic Villains
For films of this scale, villains like The Crimson Dynamo or Metallo just would not do. To present the greatest threat possible, you need the most powerful and iconic villains. Ultron is easily the most powerful enemy faced by the Avengers and Lex Luthor is Superman’s arch-nemesis, and credited as one of the most resourceful and intelligent characters of the DC Universe. The potential for both of these villains was unending, giving the protagonists of both films their first true signs of struggle.
With that being said, both films were guilty of underplaying their seminal antagonists. Now,obligatory disclaimer time ,I think both portrayals were brilliant. James Spader absolutely slayed as Ultron, whilst Jesse Eisenberg shed some much needed fresh light on Lex Luthor. But both films however kept a tight leash on their antagonists and didn’t really give them room for development. Ultron was just evil from the get-go and Lex, whilst descending slowly into madness, didn’t really expose or develop his true motive for going after the Son of Krypton. Also, despite the progression of Ultron and the madness of King Lex, neither really felt like a threat by themselves, which served as a bit of a hindrance in the long run of the films. Sure, Ultron took control of the Iron Legion and Lex Luthor created Doomsday, but neither gave the Avengers or Batman/Superman a true run for their money, seeing as they were either killed or defeated by the movie’s end. Which leads on nicely to my next point –
2 – Killing off Key Villains
At the time of writing this, Marvel have killed off every one of their villains from Phase 2 (Aldrich Killian, Malekith, Alexander Pierce, Ronan, Ultron and Yellowjacket). Throw in The Iron Monger, Red Skull and Whiplash and that’s a lot of dead bad guys. The only villains kept alive have been Loki and…nope, just Loki. Thanos doesn’t count because they haven’t fought him yet, and Bucky wasn’t the true villain of Winter Soldier. Sure I guess we could count Kingpin from Daredevil, but as things stand cinematically, Loki is the only living MCU villain. Ultron, as arguably the Avengers’ most powerful foe, presented an opportunity to leave that threat looming, given that he could keep himself alive through the internet and all. But Vision was created and eliminated him from the equation, understandably to leave room for Thanos. This is a slight inconvenience, as Marvel are slowly but surely running out of A and B list villains to throw at The Avengers, and lets face it, nobody wants to see MODOK battle Iron Man…nobody.
Dawn of Justice had the same problem, in the sense that Doomsday was only in about 15 minutes of the film. With Superman’s other central foe, General Zod snappingly eliminated from the timeline in Man of Steel, it seemed very rushed and a bit of waste to do away with Doomsday in one film, as the character is known for coming back even stronger than previously. DC haven’t run out of villains to use yet, as there’s potential for Vandal Savage, The Joker and even Darkseid (DC’s Thanos equivalent) to contend with the Justice League, but their handling of villains based on the last 2 films has not been great.
1 – Maintaining the Status Quo
Despite the multiple setups and more shoehorning that a Clark’s sale in summer, both Age of Ultron and Dawn of Justice suffer from the same central issue; Neither film enhances the overall narrative of their universe and kind of only exist to maintain their franchises, or, as I like to call it, “frilly filler.”
Throughout the whole of Age of Ultron, the titular enemy rarely seems like a threat. Sure, he kills JARVIS and possesses an Iron Legion suit to spread his programming, but other than that he spends the rest of his time messing with people. All it takes is a battle with Vision and then *poof* he’s gone. Sure we gain some new information from Thor about the Infinity Stones, prompting him to return to Asgard, but that’s the only real progression we see in Age of Ultron. The main fight ends up being Hulkbuster Iron Man vs. The Hulk. Think about that for a second. The main conflict for The Avengers in the film, comes from fighting one of their own members. This kind of makes Ultron a bit player in his own movie. Considering the potential to have a genocidal self-aware robot threatening the Avengers, it was a little bit sad to see that fall by the wayside.
The fight between the titular characters in Dawn of Justice may take up most of the film, and it’s entertaining as hell to see Superman’s power range and Batman’s ingenuity fully explored. However, the fight doesn’t advance the plot and kind of leaves Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman stranded and waiting for Justice League to come around. Sure Doomsday’s beaten, Lex is in jail doing his best Ledger’s Joker impression, and Superman’s “dead”, but nothing has changed from the start of the film. The main characters haven’t gone anywhere, and things are left more or less the same.
Age of Ultron was set to conclude Marvel’s Phase 2 (before Ant Man was pushed forward as a light hearted palette cleanser) and with that had the potential to set up some long-lasting foes for future Avengers solo outings, seeing as Ultron has been quite prominent in the comics. What we got was another throw away villain, another otherewordly army and another Thanos tease. Dawn of Justice carried on the grizzled tone and darkness from Man of Steel, but aside from introducing a bunch of new characters and giving us a hell of a fight scene, it didn’t progress very much, and seemed a bit like filler before the rest of the Justice League films/ Suicide Squad are released.
Like I said at the start, I enjoyed both films and they were definitely entertaining. Age of Ultron may have been a better film overall, due to Marvel’s regular film outings having highlighted their mistakes early, but both kept me engaged. But this doesn’t change the fact that multiple setups, some messy location hopping and under utilisation of some potentially universe changing villains held them both back from achieving their true potential…it’s the movie equivalent of Frieza not getting to reach his Final Form.
Right, now if you’ll excuse me, I’m about to do my best Leonardo DiCaprio impression and get mauled by an angry bear. I leave you with the standard Marvel ending