Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron is a movie that was almost destined to disappoint some people. The first Avengers film was such a monumental hit, a triumph of bringing disparate elements together — characters from five movies had to meet, not get along, eventually team-up, and split off again and have it make sense. How exactly does one follow that? Nobody knows how difficult it would be to replicate, and has been so forthcoming about the toll it took on him specifically, than writer-director Joss Whedon, who is the closest thing the MCU has to an auteur.
After Ultron came out, Whedon famously said that the movie broke him, and quit Twitter in the process. That candor remains, though is certainly much more upbeat, in the Blu-ray release of Avengers: Age of Ultron. The centerpiece of the disc, which is out in a Blu-ray/3D Blu-ray/Digital edition, has to be Whedon’s feature commentary, in which he spends equal time talking about what he felt worked as he does things that he wished he’d had time to do. Ever self-effacing, always articulate, often irreverent, listening to Whedon discuss is work is a revelatory experience. More on that in the moment.
When I initially watched the film in its theatrical release, I really liked it, but it definitely felt a bit too big, a bit too overpowering, and didn’t get as much time to develop some of the character relationships. Upon watching it again here, I’m struck by just how much those little character moments come to the forefront. Whedon is beyond deft at making these work. And he makes everybody feel real and relatable. I’m usually struck by characters I don’t necessarily care about in other movies who always seem to be favorites in the Avengers movies. While I’ve always liked Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, Thor didn’t do much for me in his first solo outing. Yet, in The Avengers, he became one of my favorites, which carried over to The Dark World where I again felt a little underwhelmed, only to be blown away again by Age of Ultron. Whedon clearly loves and gets that character and it helps us out too.
Ultimately, I think the movie works more than it doesn’t, and some of the action sequences are among the best in Marvel history. While none hold a candle to the amazing Helicarrier attack-implosion in the first Avengers, the Hulkbuster sequence and the car chase through Seoul are major standouts. Hell, even the final battle in this film, while certainly cluttered and hectic, is more fun than the one in the first movie. I can definitely say my enjoyment of the movie was heightened the second time through.
But, if you’re going to buy a Blu-ray, you probably need to have some extras, and as I alluded to before, this set has some good ones. There’s a 20-minute making-of feature that talks about the challenges and ideas from each stage of production. It’s informative but not especially deep. There’s also a nice 7-minute featurette about the Infinity Stones and how they pertain to the MCU films thus far (hint: we’ve seen 4). There’s a little tiny featurette about Age of Ultron‘s massive location shoots, from South Africa to South Korea to South London. There’s also a gag reel and deleted and extended scenes with optional commentary by Joss Whedon.
Which brings us back to the best part of the release: Joss’ feature commentary. He’s not at all shy while talking about things he wishes he’d done better, had more time for, or done differently with hindsight. But he also, at the very beginning of the track, places full blame on himself for anything that doesn’t work in the movie. He says, as both the writer and director, this is as close to the (pardon the expression) “Vision” of what he wanted this movie to be. He’s quick to give credit to the whole production team for successes, but places blame for any shortcomings squarely on his own shoulders. It’s a really lovely and humble way for the director of such a huge tent pole movie to be. We get to hear how he wished he’d gotten to give Banner and Natasha their own movie, and every instance where he set up that Barton was going to die only to pull the rug out from under everybody.
Perhaps one of my favorite revelations is Whedon’s contention that, while not a monster, the real villain of the movie is Tony Stark, whose paranoia about losing “the war” and everyone he cares about leads to Ultron being the murderous megalomaniac he is. It was all there, I just hadn’t really thought about it. That’s why you watch a director’s commentary; if you’re not learning something and gaining insight into the filmmaking process, then there’s really no reason to listen (unless it’s a silly cast commentary). Also, be sure to listen to the end of the movie where Whedon talks about an easter egg he put in the film, not for the Marvel Universe, but for the Whedonverse.
Marvel continues their excellent track record of making Blu-ray releases that are actually worth the money, with features and extras that really do give you a better understanding of everything, straight from the person who made two of the most difficult and amazing pieces of comic book film art in history.
Kyle Anderson is the Weekend Editor and a film and TV critic for Nerdist.com. Follow him on Twitter!