Let us set the scene for you, from a true story of very recent vintage: You’re sitting in your car at the Taco Bell drive-thru lane. The staff, as always, has been courteous and efficient, but you nevertheless find yourself with a few moments for reflection in the short journey between double-checking your order on the menu screen and pulling up to the window where the nice person in the headset will hand you a surprisingly heavy bag of your fourthmeal. Just as you inch forward to the window, you see him. Crossing mere feet in front of you.
The man in the Captain America T-shirt.
He looks over at you, entirely by coincidence. Your eyes meet. There’s no nod of recognition. There’s no acknowledgment of any connection, however fleeting, other than that vanishingly brief eye contact, which you presume was, on his end, more of a quick check to ensure that you were not about to lurch forward and splay the giant white star on his chest across your windshield because you were too busy inventorying your chalupas — God forbid they bagged the wrong chalupa, or neglected to toss in a fistful of Fire Sauce packets — to pay attention to pedestrian traffic.
The man in the Captain American shirt continues on and disappears into the night. He’s gone before you can roll down the window and reveal what you desperately wanted to share with him, the thing that could have bound you together that he can now never know: that as improbable Fate would have it, you have just come from an advance screening of Avengers: Age of Ultron. That you would like to answer any questions he might have about it for him, so that when it opens this weekend, he can make the best possible choice about whether to plunk down his presumably hard-earned1 cash for a ticket. That you have things to say about the Hulk, the Iron Man, the new robot with the creepy middle-aged TV star’s voice. About Cap.
Maybe he’s independently wealthy, or incredibly lazy. You don’t know. You can never know.
But the man in the Captain America T-shirt is gone forever. And so, days later, you look down at your keyboard, wistful about that missed connection, about the help you could have offered but didn’t. All you can do now is to roll down your metaphorical car window and answer these important questions for all the people in Captain America T-shirts everywhere.
Did you skip the first Avengers movie?
Hear us out before you roll your eyes and say to yourself, “Of course we’ve seen the first Avengers movie! Are you asking if we’ve spent the last three years in an austere Rapture bunker, in the thrall of a dangerously charismatic leader who hates the Marvel Cinematic Universe2 and all it stands for?” This next bit is going to sound even more improbable than the encounter with Man in the Captain America T-shirt, but the person sitting next to us at the screening admitted — no, offered — that he had not seen The Avengers. No, this individual was not seated on an ice floe in the middle of the Arctic, nor in a Russian dissident prison on a mattress filled with shredded Pussy Riot CDs. His explanation was simple. Sane, even — perhaps the sanest thing we’ve ever heard: It’s impossible to keep up with everything.
What up, Warner Bros.’ Kevin Tsujihara!
It is impossible to keep up with everything. Consider that from Iron Man to Age of Ultron — including, indeed, the third-highest-grossing movie of all time — there have been 11 of these things. Think of what we could have done with that 25 or 30 hours instead of trying to keep track of the comings and goings of Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, and Natasha Romanoff. The paintings we may have painted, the poetry we could have read, the quiet dinners we could have eaten together around the family table instead of the multiplex-grade nachos we shoveled down in front of an IMAX screen. Imagine the pressure release of allowing yourself to miss something like this once in a while. And then —
SEE IT. Let’s be COMPLETELY HONEST with each other: We were never going to do any of those things over going to see these movies. These movies ARE AWESOME. If anything, you are BETTER OFF having missed the first one. COME IN FRESH and experience the PANTS-TIGHTENING WONDER OF THE ASSEMBLED GLORY OF THE MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE. You can EAT DINNER WITH YOUR FAMILY whenever you want. You can EVEN HAVE NACHOS.3
Did you see — and enjoy — the first Avengers movie?
Grantland and Marvel are BOTH OWNED BY DISNEY. Don’t HEAP YOUR TIME-MANAGEMENT and LIFE-CHOICE REGRETS on UNCLE WALT.
Good news, true believers currently experiencing severe withdrawal tremors from being separated from the MCU since last summer’s Captain America: Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy. Imagine finishing up your Avengers Blu-ray for the 10th time, rubbing the side of the commemorative Mjolnir balanced at the center of your coffee table, and watching as an Asgardian genie appeared to grant your fondest wish. And that wish was: “More.” Because that red-bearded genie — does he bear a suspicious resemblance to Joss Whedon? Nah, just a weird coincidence — is bound by ancient sorcery to fulfill any of your commands that also support the box-office viability of this linchpin cinematic product, Avengers: Age of Ultron. There are more cerebellum-destabilizing explosions, more wiseass quips uttered in the heat of extinction-level battle events, more drone Iron Men flying around, more city-size chunks of earth threatening to be dropped on the unsuspecting populace below than you ever dared dream. Everybody from the first one — minus the guy they resurrected for the TV show, sort-of-R.I.P., Agent Phil Coulson — is back. Yes, even Hawkeye, but we’ll get to him later. There are more new characters. There are more cameos from old characters. There’s a witch who gives you bad dreams4 and a kid with a terrible dye job who’s really fast. You wanted more, you got more. Enjoy the more.
Welcome, indie darling Elizabeth Olsen, to the artistic opportunity cost of your new Malibu beach house!
SEE IT. And ignore the NAGGING FEELING that maybe there is TOO MUCH MORE, that you are CHOKING ON THE MORE. You never ASKED TO CHOKE ON THE MORE. Why is that JOSS WHEDON GENIE trying to STRANGLE YOU WITH MORE? All you wanted was to GIVE HIM 14 MORE DOLLARS for writing some new THOR JOKES.
Have you ever wondered what would happen if you uploaded James Spader’s malevolent intelligence into a robot body-temple worthy of its magnificence?
The Spaderbot — somewhat annoyingly referred to in the movie as “Ultron” — is everything you could have hoped for in your most disturbingly specific let’s-put-the-creep-from-Cronenberg’s-Crash-into-a-vibranium-shell-and-see-what-happens fantasies, a gleaming abomination you fear is about to step offscreen to pleasure itself to the genocidal misery it’s attempting to wreak upon humanity. Can a robot leer? This robot can leer. Should robots even be able to leer? These weren’t questions we were expecting to contemplate after an Avengers movie, yet here we are — still vaguely unnerved by whatever leer-capture technology Marvel’s CGI warlocks used to graft that ineffable Spaderness to a late-model Terminator chassis — imagining Ultron intentionally steering Tony Stark’s Bugatti into the Uncanny Roadside Ditch for the deviant thrill of luxuriating in the smoldering wreckage. Anyway, cool robot.
SEE IT. James Spader did not spend untold hours with sensors GLUED TO HIS SINISTER MONEYMAKER for you to bail on him now, he’s already got that RED REDDINGTON MONEY. But SKIP IT if you think you won’t be able to shake the VISIONS OF A MASTURBATING T-1000 DOUBLE-PARKED IN YOUR DRIVEWAY. We all have different tolerances for CRONENBERGIAN DREAD.
Do you ache for the redemption of Hawkeye?
One gets the feeling that Jeremy Renner’s agents were less than pleased about Hawkeye’s role as an alabaster-eyed afterthought in the first movie and demanded some sort of guarantee that their client wouldn’t be wasting all that compound-bow training time on a similarly useless return to the Avengers fold. Good news, Hawkeye-heads: There’s a lot more of him in this one, so you can take Kevin Feige’s head shot off the target hay bale in your backyard archery range. There’s an entire story line involving him. There are knowing Whedon-winks to his place on a team full of super-soldiers, swollen-armed gods, and billionaire genius industrialists who just can’t play by the rules.5 There’s a meta-nod to his real-life passion for home renovations. Congratulations, Team Renner, you did not allow your guy to become a punch line for two mega-blockbusters running. Send yourselves a nice gift basket.
Hawkeye is OK with the rules!
SEE IT. Renner is sort of GETTING THE SHAFT on the Bourne franchise, so why not SUPPORT HIS OTHER CINEMATIC UNIVERSE-BUILDING ENDEAVORS? You can also FEEL FREE to imagine a Hawkeye spinoff about FLIPPING HOUSES. Important note: He does not get to PLAY THE PIANO in this one. Even TEAM RENNER couldn’t get them to AGREE TO THE PIANO.
Do you worry a little bit about Captain America?
He seems so lonely. Advanced military Frankenscience has given him a perfect and virtually ageless body, but thrust him into a modern world with which he struggles to connect. Couple the stress of being America’s broad-chested avatar of goodness with the emotional devastation of losing the best years with the love of his life to a decades-long Arctic cryo-nap, and you’ve got the formula for creating a super-mope prone to lamenting that he’s “the world’s leading authority on waiting too long” and complaining about how the gentrification of Brooklyn has put it out of his price range.6 Lighten up, Cap. It’s not so bad for you, really.
It’s hard to tell when he’s joking and when he’s trying to guilt Tony into buying him a city block of brownstones.
SKIP IT. Ugh. Nobody likes a SULLEN PARAGON OF AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM. If he slid up to you in a BAR IN WILLIAMSBURG, you’d be all, “I think my friends are calling me back over to the table, Captain Crankypants. Also, aren’t you LIKE A HUNDRED YEARS OLD?” And next time out he’s got to share HIS ENTIRE MOVIE WITH IRON MAN, so maybe things are going to get mopier before they get better. Cap can’t even have his OWN NICE THINGS anymore.
Is your favorite part when Iron Man invents and/or fixes things?
You are in for a techno-thrill of a lifetime. Age of Ultron has it all: a haughty Tony Stark ignoring common sense — and the warnings of his colleagues — to fabricate an experimental artificial intelligence that goes instantaneously rogue; montages of Tony and Bruce Banner whipping through hologram-based operating systems while in the throes of renegade inspiration; Tony convincing Banner to help him upgrade the same evil AI that is threatening to wipe out humanity, because goddammit, he’s got it figured out this time, just put the incredibly dangerous doodad in the regeneration cradle and let’s see if the thing that explodes out from it flies, what could possibly go wrong again?
SEE IT. Stark even TRIES TO FIX A TRACTOR. Give him five minutes and he’ll invent a SERIES OF RUSTY-ASS–JOHN DEERE–REPAIRING ROBOTS WITH BRITISH ACCENTS.
Or do you prefer the parts when Thor explains things?
There’s an underrated elegance to the phenomenon of Thorsplaining. You somehow have more patience for stultifying chatter about Infinity Stones this and scepter that when it’s being delivered by the Norse god of expositional pipe-laying. Throw in a rousing, drunken game of Who Can Lift My Hammer? and you might even be willing to sit through a seminar on transdimensional portals or whatever MacGuffin-related business he’s tasked with gamely nattering on about to inch the plot along.
SEE IT. And thanks, Thor, Team Renner REALLY APPRECIATES that Hawkeye didn’t get STUCK WITH THE SHIT WORK, he’s got NEW HARDWOOD FLOORS TO INSTALL.
While we’re on the subject, have you had enough with the scepter and the stones already?
This thing is like 70 percent scepter, 20 percent stones. The additional 10 percent is devoted to exploring the relationship between the scepter and the stones.
SKIP IT. At this point, even Thanos is like, “HEY, I DON’T EVEN WANT THE INFINITY STONES ANYMORE. Let’s find a less INCREDIBLY BORING WAY to ENSLAVE THE UNIVERSE OR WHATEVER.”
Have you finally had your fill of superheroes punching each other through buildings?
We have unquestionably reached Peak Superheroes Punching Each Other Through Buildings when Tony Stark has designed a task-specific suit for the purpose of more effectively using a member of his own team as an improvised demolition device. Yes, the Hulkbuster armor — so effectively and fangasmically teased in the trailers — is cool. Yes, it’s theoretically fun to watch Iron Man Inside a Bigger Iron Man and the Hulk slug it out at the expense of that national emergency disaster-relief budget. No, it’s not anything you haven’t seen before or will see again, superheroes-punching-each-other-through-buildings-wise, until Marvel’s Phase 5 offering, Avengers: We Found a Mind-Blowing New Way for Superheroes to Punch Each Other Through Buildings.
SKIP IT. Hulk weary of REPETITIOUS DESTRUCTION OF MAJOR METROPOLITAN AREAS. Hulk long for GOOD OLD DAYS OF CHUCKING OCCASIONAL TANK AT TERRIFIED ARMY. Hulk realize SAD INEVITABILITY OF DIMINISHING RETURNS OF WONDER. Hulk also note even diminishing returns of wonder STILL INCLUDE SOME WONDER.
Are you beginning to doubt your ability to ever again experience the uncomplicated joy of watching your childhood dreams finally come to life when you are complaining about a gamma-ray-swollen behemoth and Matryoshka Iron Man beating the living, city-leveling shit out of each other?
We mean, yeah, Hulk sort of just covered that for us. You’re right; it’s complicated. We don’t mean to sound like total killjoys here. There are still simple pleasures like shield alley-oops and Cap and Tony competitively chopping wood and the Avengers VIP lounge banter and incredibly bad Sokovian accents. And perhaps most important, there is no grill-sporting Joker covered in obvious tattoos. That’s not nothing.
SEE IT. For the love of the BEYONDER IN HEAVEN, why not? Maybe all those BROKEN PARTS IN YOUR SOUL WILL BREAK LOOSE and you will HAVE A GOOD TIME ANYWAY.
Are you still thinking about what you would recommend to the man in the Captain America T-shirt, back at the Taco Bell drive-thru?
We are. And we’d probably tell him …
JUST SEE IT. You looked SO HAPPY that we DIDN’T ROLL DOWN THE WINDOW LIKE A CRAZY PERSON and try to explain OUR HAND-WRINGING MISGIVINGS about the MIDDLE CHAPTER in a 22-INSTALLMENT MEGA-OPERA meant to DOMINATE THE ENTIRE WORLD FOR A DECADE while we COUNTED THE FIRE SAUCE PACKETS.
Also, ALWAYS GET THE CHALUPA. You CAN’T GO WRONG WITH THE CHALUPA.