Remember when we all first saw the Iron Man 3 trailer and wondered why it looked like such a Christopher Nolan impression? The joke-y, devil-may-care Tony Stark had somehow been replaced by a traumatized shell of his former self, and the franchise’s standard “guy in big metal suit” villain was gone in favor of some post-9/11 terrorist type, played as very grim and serious by Ben Kingsley. Marvel had gone out of its way to that point to ape The Dark Knight in having key individuals claim in interviews that Kingsley was so brilliant, Heath Ledger-Joker good, that the crew actually gave him a standing ovation on set after one scene. Now, we finally got a look at him, and he was just an Osama bin Laden impression with a truly silly-sounding voice, forcing us to openly wonder which villain from 2013’s upcoming comic book movies sounded worse: Iron Man 3’s The Mandarin or Dark Knight Rises’ Bane? To be fair, it wasn’t necessarily that Iron Man 3 looked like a bad movie; it just didn’t really look like an Iron Man movie. The Christopher Nolan-ification of Hollywood’s franchise movies had finally gone too far, right?
And then the movie finally came out and everything we thought we knew about it going in was entirely wrong. It was actually the funniest Iron Man yet, and the regrettably cliched villain showcased in the trailers was purposefully cliched because he turned out to just be an actor playing a version of a terrorist some think group thought up to create demand for the super soldiers it wanted to sell. BadAssDigest’s Devin Faraci, the man from whom seemingly all legit comic book movie rumors originate, came out and praised Iron Man 3 for managing to surprise even him, not doing any of the things the pre-release rumor mill had led us to believe. The marketing straight up lied to us, but other than the “How dare they do that to The Mandarin!” crowd nobody seemed to care, that is if the $1.2 billion worldwide gross is any indication.
Keep every word of that in mind when you watch the trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron, which was supposed to premiere during next week’s Agents of Shield, then a bootleg UK version leaked late last night, and now Marvel has put it out there officially, jokingly blaming Hydra for the leak:
You see, internet – this is why we can’t have nice things. Agents of Shield, which is much, much better this season, is struggling in the ratings. It could have seriously used a bump from being the exclusive home of the Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer. Why hast thou forsaken Phil Coulson?
But I digress. Everything we’ve heard about Age of Ultron to this point has painted a picture of a very grim, standard “dark sequel,” Joss Whedon saying he wanted to put the characters through the emotional wringer, continued whispers of “Could they actually kill one of the characters for good?”, etc. Plus, it seems as if the internet has completely moved past Age of Ultron to ponder why the heck Iron Man is going to be in Captain America 3, and what’s all this craziness about Avengers 3 being split into two different movies, the first of which won’t even feature Hulk, Thor, or Captain America? Well, Age of Ultron’s trailer is here to remind us that, hey, we haven’t actually seen this movie yet. Can we stop our dang rumor mill and briefly look up in awe at the trailer to the sequel to the biggest film of all time not made by James Cameron?
That is a trailer to a movie we have been led to believe we are getting. The first Avengers was about bringing the team together, and the sequel will be about completely tearing them apart, Tony Stark losing his confidence after an artificial intelligence he created to help police the world goes all Skynet/Terminator on the world’s ass. So, we see the stunning shot of Thor actually lifting Tony off the ground by his neck, ponder what could leave the characters appearing so traumatized at one point, particularly Bruce Banner, and marvel at just how generally dark this movie looks. Heck, it even has a darker visual palette than its predecessor, Whedon clearly responding to those who said The Avengers didn’t look particularly cinematic. However, as Forbes’ Scott Mendelson argued:
This is such a textbook “dark sequel” trailer that it borders on parody, complete with narration by the new villain explaining that the moral simplicity established by the first film was just an illusion, that the heroes haven’t really made anything better, that yada-yada-yada. There is nothing wrong with a sequel going darker, as frankly most of them do, and there is nothing wrong with a good “dark sequel” trailer, which this very much is. But there is something amusingly predictable about the trailer’s construction, with the notion that you could arguably cut together a version of it using clips from the various trailers for The Dark Knight, Skyfall, and Star Trek Into Darkness among others. But if we judge the trailer outside of the whole “dark sequel” context, it’s a pretty spectacular piece of marketing, one that elevates itself both by the “I’ve Got No Strings” music choices and by James Spader’s vocals as the title villain. Much of what he says is “new villain” boilerplate (I was waiting for a “We’re not that different you and I!”) but you hire an actor like Spader to make that stuff sound good.
Personally, the “I’ve Got No Strings” thematic approach has fallen completely flat with me. I didn’t think it sounded particularly interesting when it was first teased by Entertainment Weekly over the summer or when it was highlighted in the Age of Ultron sizzle reel premiered at San Diego Comic-Con. It positions Ultron as a mischievous Pinnochio to Tony Stark’s Geppetto, but right now it’s kind of the “I’ve got red in my ledger” of Age of Ultron: It just doesn’t quite work for me, Whedon trying to be a little too clever.
I still can’t wait to see this movie. There is enough in the rumor mill to suggest that this might not be another Iron Man 3 – this trailer might really be the type of movie we’re getting, like a movie-length version of one of Whedon’s gut-wrenching, mostly serious Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes. If so, that’ll probably be okay, and comic book enthusiasts must simply be ecstatic that we’re apparently getting a fight between Hulk and Iron Man in the Hulkbuster armor. Both Captain America: Winter Soldier and Thor: The Dark World turned out to at least be in keeping with the tone of their respective trailers, although Thor‘s final act is far funnier than you would have expected it to be. However, there is just something about this Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer that seems so, as Mendelson said, “dark sequel” generic that I can’t help but wonder if we’re being played. If not, bring it on.
What about you? Am I over-thinking it? If this is to be a serious Avengers movie, does that kind of misunderstand that we loved the first movie, warts and all, because it was just so fun? Does James Spader’s Ultron come off as hopelessly generic to you? Or unbelievably awesome? Let me know in the comments.