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I ... am not sure if I liked this movie. But I didn't dislike it! I found it interesting, surprising at times, and ... not the story I wanted, but maybe a story that will be good for the fandom? I'm looking forward to the fanfic and the discussion in a lot of ways.

Driving back from the theatre, which is not a short drive, I tried to remember what the main plot points of this movie were. It took a good portion of the drive. Basically, this movie's plot is connected by a series of wild guesses that turn out to be right.

But it does have fights, quips, exposition, and characterization, concurrent and consecutive. And it does have a plot, and it's a plot that I think could make sense, though I do feel like plot (along with exposition, actually) got a bit short shrifted to make room for fights, quips, and characterization.

1) The Avengers reclaim the sceptre from Hydra (the sceptre Loki had in The Avengers). Wanda influences Tony (to exactly what purpose I'm not sure, but it seems to be a riff on the same theme as Iron Man 3, but from a different direction. Instead of creating demons through thoughtlessness, it's creating demons through fear. This is interesting, Tony has changed quite a bit, but he still makes the same mistakes?).

2) Tony and Bruce decide to create Ultron, using the sceptre, in order to create peace and protect them from aliens.

3) Party! Character stuff. No major plot until Ultron shows up, but it's all fun. Bruce & Natasha, Steve talking to Bruce about not waiting, I think something about trust? The trust thing is interesting, because it was an important conversation between Steve and Natasha in Cap2.

3) Ultron ... I'm actually not sure what happened here. I think it might have something to do with infinity stones? Anyway, Ultron happens, and Ultron wants to destroy The Avengers. I also think it might have something to do with Hydra, and Tony's "create peace" having a lot of similarities to Hydra's "create peace", but I might have added that connection in myself. Something about the same history flipping visuals here and in Cap2 where computer guy explains Hydra's overall plan. Actually, that connection doesn't quite work, so maybe it wasn't supposed to be there.

4) The Avengers go to Africa on some wild hunch about vibranium, and hey, they run into Ultron and the Maximoffs, and all of them except Clint get a dose of mind control. Bruce Hulks out and Tony fights him. It also turns out that Tony has a relief organization which is going to come here and help with the large amount of damage left behind. (I like that they acknowledge the damage... I'm not sure exactly how I feel about this, though. Tony created an organization to help with the damage he inevitably leaves behind him? Is that a little weird?)

5) They retreat to Clint's farm. Character stuff for Clint! He has a wife, who supports his Avengering, and thinks the Avengers need him.

6) Thor leaves to investigate his vision, Fury shows up, and they end up going to Seoul because they have this wild guess that Ultron is getting one of the scientists from the party to make him a body. Oh, and Tony goes to the "Internet Hub" or something like that, where supposedly all internet traffic passes through, which is ridiculous because the internet is specifically designed to not have any one place where all the data goes. It's distributed, so that it can route around outages.

7) Ultron reveals an infinity stone, I think it was in the sceptre, but at the time, I was just totally confused. I somehow thought it was in the vibranium...but that doesn't make sense, so I think it was in the sceptre. The Maximoffs figure out that Ultron is batshit crazy. They team up with Steve and Natasha and Clint. The new body (with the infinity stone) gets sent to Tony for some reason. I actually have no idea what they expected Tony to do about it (why was Tony going to be able to avoid the bad thing that was going to happen?), but something was going to blow up if they tried to destroy this body themselves.

8) Tony decides to load Jarvis into the body (or not exactly Jarvis, but whatever was left of Jarvis after Jarvis fled Ultron into the internet). He distracts Clint and convinces Bruce. (For someone who ruined his life with science, Bruce is a total pushover.) (Also, we got to see Natasha worried about Clint in the last movie, now we get to see Clint worried about Natasha.) They're not quite done when Steve and the Maximoffs and I think Clint show up and say 'What the hell are you doing?' There's a fight, for some reason this is the last moment for getting the body to work, and then Thor shows up to feed power into the body with lightning because he had a vision (I can't remember exactly what about the vision meant it was a good idea to create Vision, though). He's alive!!!!!!

9) Final battle time. Everyone goes to, umm, oh yeah, it was the fortress where the sceptre was being kept originally. They try really hard to keep anyone in the nearby town from getting hurt, which I definitely appreciate.

10) Lots of battle. Lots of trying to save everyone. The city starts floating, I didn't quite catch why. Something to do with totally destroying literally the entire Earth, I think. Gosh, we wouldn't want to have the stakes be too small, would we? Fury and the helicarrier show up to save civilians. Natasha makes Bruce Hulk out, when he wants to run away with her. Pietro dies protecting Clint. Wanda is very upset. (You know, I feel like Clint having kids and Wanda and Pietro having their parents die was supposed to be a ... I dunno, was Clint supposed to be a father figure for them? He does have an interesting sort of inspirational moment with Wanda. Anyway, not sure about that.)

11) Our heroes win!

12) Hulk shuts down communications on Natasha and flies off alone. Natasha and Steve end up training new Avengers at some kind of Avengers facility (no idea if this is new, or if they've had Avengers facilities all along). New Avengers: Wanda, Rhodey, Sam. Am I forgetting someone? Clint goes back to his farm. Thor goes to Asgard to investigate infinity stones. Tony retires from the Avengers, not sure exactly why. Fury is probably still around, and he'll show up again when you least expect him. I don't think we got a resolution for Maria Hill? Vision...umm. Destroyed the last bit of Ultron... Was Vision the one I forgot, among the New Avengers?

13) The End.

It hits all the movie beats (and oddly, it has the team split up in the middle, just like The Avengers, which is a weird thing to repeat...though I suppose this time, except for Thor, it's more of a team decision to do two things at once).

It's doing tons of things. I'm actually sorta looking forward to the fanfic. But I don't think it was an especially good movie. It just wasn't focused enough, I have a hard time understanding it.

I do think it was a very clever movie. It's pretty amazing that it holds together as well as it does, because basically, nothing gets established and then used. It all just shows up out of nowhere, and yet somehow, generally this works. It's a tad annoying, but it's not unbelievable (I mean, within the world of the MCU, given a certain pretty high level of suspension of disbelief, it's not unbelievable.)

The thing that I like about this movie is that it does seem to be trying to tie together not just the stories, but the themes, of some of the individual movies in MCU Phase 2. There was the trust thing (trust is clearly important to Natasha and anyone who wants to have any kind of relationship with her, whether friendship or romantic), and the echoing the Iron Man 3 creating demons thing that I mentioned above. And Tony's general desire to "make it right" and never back down is pretty well established at this point.

I think a big new theme was home and family. Clint, Tony talking about taking Pepper to a farm as a metaphor for home and family, the Maximoffs being family, for that matter. Bruce and Natasha talking about it.

Also, sort of tying in, since team can be found family, we see a lot about what it means to be an Avenger. They're an established team, and it does mean something, and Clint sort of introduces Wanda to that.

Monsters -- also a big theme. As a team and as individuals, they make a giant effort not to be monsters, but also not to lose themselves and who they are (Tony saying "We're mad scientists, we have to own that" or something like that -- though I'm not sure Tony was being smart there, I do think he was being Tony. And as for Bruce capitulating, I sort of wonder if that's part of why Hulk left too? Not just because the world knows that the Hulk is destructive -- which, are they retconning the actual Hulk movie? because the world should already know, right? -- but because he doesn't actually want to own "mad scientist" but he clearly can't resist Tony?)

I don't feel like a lot of these themes came to any resolution, but I wonder if that's the point. In the individual movies, the characters can be right or wrong, come to new revelations, change. In the team movie, perhaps their individual themes have to battle it out without any one perspective ever gaining an upper hand, even thematically?

One thing that I found a bit disappointing (though inevitable, at least if this was the kind of story they wanted to tell) is all the team stuff that clearly happened off screen. Fighting styles that work well together, smooth teamwork, etc. They've become a real functioning team, but we only get to see snapshots. We saw the formation, now we see the team performing as a team. We don't see development.

Oh, and I think that in my personal headcanon, I might consider this happening before Iron Man 3, except for the epilogue, because otherwise Tony wobbles around too much. He blew up all his suits, but he's clearly still got plenty of suits here... And then he retires at the end, for no reason that was led up to. Iron Man 3 clearly happened in between.

The theme/plot element I didn't mention but which ought to be important is Artificial Intelligence. And the reason I didn't mention it is because they use the words Artificial Intelligence, but I have no idea what's actually going on with that.

It has something to do with infinity stones.

And infinity stones are McGuffins, they hide details that aren't important to the story. In The Avengers, we had the Tesseract, and it opened doorways and provided energy. Its abilities were important to the plot, but we know nothing about it besides that it's powerful and does those two things.

In Avengers 2, we have this other infinity stone, and it ... enables AIs? I think? Something mental, at least.

(Do Wanda's powers come from it, BTW? Since it was the sceptre, and her powers had something to do with the sceptre...? Is Wanda tied to Vision in some way now?)

Anyway, because AIs are somewhat more complicated than portals and power generators, it sorta looks like the story is about AI. But I think that if the story were deeply about AI (or even mad science on anything but a superficial quippy/inspirational/whatever level), then even if we didn't know how the AI worked, we'd know something specific about what made the difference between Ultron and Vision. It wouldn't be totally blind territory, because it would be an important part of the story (and it would be Tony's story): I did this, it didn't work, now I'm going to do something that is different and here is how it's different. The decision to create Vision would be about better engineering, not about hope, not about but we need this to work, so we've got to try it again. It wouldn't be just I'm going to try again with this other AI that I like better, but Jarvis is different and couldn't become another Ultron because or better yet I have made changes to Jarvis because I figured out my mistake, and now Jarvis cannot become Ultron because I fixed it.

As it is, I have no idea whether Ultron's original AI design was flawed, or whether the infinity stone did something that warped Ultron, or was it some bit of random chance that made Ultron develop that way? Or any number of other things that I can imagine.

So. Not about AI. Clearly not about infinity stones, except in so much as they're a plot device.

What I do think it's about, what I think is the most important thing going on at a story level, because this is the thing that the main decisions that shape the story hinge on -- I think it's about aliens.

And this is something that goes back to The Avengers. In The Avengers, this team comes together in order to protect Earth from aliens. In this second movie, they're still reacting to that. Tony tries to create Ultron because Earth needs protection from aliens. Bruce goes along with it because, presumably, he agrees that The Avengers are not really a sufficient solution to aliens.

(And, quite frankly, they're not. They're limited in number, and the only reason they won last time was because all the aliens were remote controlled and fell over when their controller got destroyed.)

When I look at this story, and what it's about, I don't really think it's about mad scientists creating AI, it's about how the Avengers are supposed to be the first line of defense, they're supposed to be there when they're needed, and they can't do it. They're a team, they're pretty good at invading fortresses, and overall they're pretty awesome, but they can't defend the entire Earth.

Steve Rogers is not really bothered by this, he'll fight because that's what he does, and if he has to lay down his life, he'll do it because that's what he does.

I feel like Clint has a decent amount of that in him too, and even Natasha.

Bruce doesn't think he's going to die, but he'll fight because it's the least he can do.

Thor probably doesn't imagine dying, and being as Asgardian, is probably less likely to die than anyone but arguably Bruce.

Tony Stark, on the other hand, is like "Been there, almost died, I'd rather do it some other way." So when he sees something that looks like some other way, he acts (possibly influenced by fear of the rest of the team dying as well). This is not really a story about Tony messing up his engineering and then laboriously fixing it with the help of some friends (though it looks a bit like that).

It's a story about not having the slightest idea how to fix a really big problem, and doing something anyway (or not doing it). It's about when you have to do what needs to be done, and whether that's always a good thing, and when that can have unintended consequences. It's a story about being in a world filled with things that you don't sufficiently understand (the universe is full of aliens, and they're powerful, and they have powerful artifacts), and having to do something or go under.

Tony's idea of something is a bit more ambitious than most of the others, it's true, and he always makes the most spectacular mistakes.

But no one actually knows what needs to be done about aliens, or what should be done with the alien artifacts that they have. When Steve and some of the others oppose creating Vision, they don't know that not creating Vision is the right thing to do. They just think it's safer to destroy anything Ultron created, so far as I can tell.

As the second episode of a trilogy, this could be the one where there's lots of obstacles and no big win at the end. So yeah. I'd argue that we got that, with a little disguise around it. They win against Ultron, but there's no big win against the threat of aliens. No one has any idea what to do if aliens that aren't remote controlled ever invade.

And it looks like that's going to happen at some point.

...either that or it was supposed to be about AI but they left out all the AI by accident.

...or maybe it was just supposed to be about a lot of things, with no deep underlying focus or plot direction. I did pretty much feel that way right after seeing it, and I'm not sure I'm convinced by my own alien argument. Oh well.

...or maybe it's really supposed to be about the cost of being on a team like the Avengers? Actually, I think I can fit more of the action into that one. Clint and his wife, Wanda deciding to fight, Pietro dying, Bruce and Natasha and the choices they make about fighting or not, Steve being a different man who doesn't want to go home any more maybe, all we see him wanting now is fighting and training for fighting and that needs to be done...plus the weight of aliens and Tony feeling responsible for everything so he decides he has to create Ultron (and Vision)...


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