Let’s just take a moment to admire what writer/director Joss Whedon accomplished with the first Avengers film. In retrospect it seems obvious, but at the time The Avengers was a huge risk, combining four franchises with wildly different tones into a single action movie. And Whedon pulled it off beautifully. Sure, the first few scenes of The Avengers were awkward and overly talky. And okay, Whedon is not the most visually intriguing director. But he really tied the whole damn thing together, building tension over an hour and a half that ultimately exploded into a long, complicated, and wildly satisfying fight scene. It was such a good, entertaining film that it inspired a kind of alchemy by making every Marvel movie before it seem better in retrospect.
But it’s been three years since The Avengers, and after Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, the stakes are higher now. We know the shared Marvel universe works, and we’re ready for the concept to be taken to a whole new level. The question is, can Whedon raise the stakes again?
Whedon himself seems to be obsessed with the idea of stakes-raising in Avengers: Age of Ultron. This time, the stakes….are personal. But they’re also huge. And the huge stakes of the first movie still have repercussions. And so do all the other Marvel movies that happened between The Avengers and Age of Ultron. And there are other stakes to be resolved in future Marvel movies, too. Hell, there are more stakes in Age of Ultron than were in every season of Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer series combined. Here a stake, there a stake, everywhere a raised stake.