Intermission: Avengers Q&A: social

With only a few more months until Avengers: Age of Ultron his theaters, there’s still a lot we don’t know.

Avengers: Age of Ultron has now had a teaser and two full trailers, both of which are full of easter eggs for fans but in terms of story have offered only the broadest details: Tony Stark (maybe?) builds some robots to help The Avengers. One of these robots is named Ultron, and he goes bad. Also, two twins with poor fashion sense are around and have magic (?) powers – maybe they’re bad guys, maybe not. At some point, Iron Man has to put on a bigger suit of armor to fight The Hulk, which is sad because they’re friends. That’s pretty-much what we know.

Or is it? Marvel deliberately packs its promotional materials with comics-related details to keep fans generating free ancillary marketing by way of “investigation” meme-sharing, but if you look beyond the cameos and shout-outs I think there’s a lot more to be gleaned from these trailers than meets the eye. And since I’m going to be somewhat occupied this weekend, well… among the columns that could be drafted in advance, this was the best option.

So! What are the big things we still don’t know about 2015’s most-anticipated non-Star Wars blockbuster? Warning for those trying to go into Age of Ultron spoiler-free, spoilers (and speculative spoilers) follow.

WHAT ARE THE AVENGERS, POST-S.H.I.E.L.D.?
The Avengers declared themselves independent of S.H.I.E.L.D. at the end of Part 1, but the implication was left open that Nick Fury thought he could re-assemble them if necessary. But post-Winter Soldier? Officially, there is no S.H.I.E.L.D. anymore and most S.H.I.E.L.D. agents (which would include Hawkeye and Black Widow) are laying low what with the public now turned against The Agency.

So who’s running the show? From the looks of things, the team has been re-assembled (and busy) for a while, using Stark’s new Avengers Tower as a base, when this sequel kicks off. So we know where the money and tech are coming from (and it’s safe to assume Captain America is the nominal leader/field-commander because… well, he’s Captain America), but are they accountable to anyone? By what legal sanction are they bopping around the globe fighting evil, exactly? Sure, it’d be kind of hard for any government to “boss around” a team that includes a literal god in its membership, but still…

WHERE DOES ULTRON COME FROM?
In the Marvel Comics Universe, Ultron is a rogue A.I. originally created by Hank “Ant-Man” Pym that rebels against its creator, becomes obsessed with said creator’s wife (Janet “The Wasp” van Dyne) and turns into a self-improving supervillain. But Pym isn’t set to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe until the Ant-Man movie, so which of the current Avengers will end up being guilty of his creation?

The smart money says Iron Man, obviously. It makes the most sense (tech hero for tech villain) and Tony Stark is still the superstar of the Marvel Universe (even as they’ve wisely moved away from going back to him as a permanent crutch) while they’ve got him. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bruce Banner pitched in, too – everyone loves the Science Bros schtick. The rationale seems to be pretty clear by now, too: The Avengers are stretched thin post-S.H.I.E.L.D., and a backup army of crimefighting robots must’ve seem like a good solution to that.

But why does he go bad? In the comics, the basic idea is that Ultron is an Artificial Intelligence that goes insane. The manifestation of that insanity has taken different forms over the decades, but even in the beginning it required a certain amount of time to build up. Time isn’t something a movie like this has a lot of, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there isn’t a “magic bullet” answer to where Ultron goes wrong. The trailers already have Stark mocking the “enchanted” aspect of Thor’s powers, and Thor lecturing him about meddling in things he doesn’t understand elsewhere, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he went and tried incorporating something cosmic into the ‘bots, leading to Ultron. Current rumors suggest that Ultron was originally Chitauri tech.

WHAT SIDE ARE THE TWINS ON?
We know that Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are in the movie. We know that they will likely start out as prisoners (?) of Baron Von Strucker. It’s highly suspected that they will be the first cinematic tie-ins to the Inhumans plot thread that officially entered the Marvel Cinematic Universe at the mid-season break of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s widely assumed that they will be Avengers at some point.

But for now, what are they? Brainwashed bad guys? Reluctant heroes? Allies to Ultron? In the comics, they both started out as lower-tier villains, only deciding to try their hands at heroism when a bunch of membership vacancies opened up in The Avengers roster. Will they be bad guys (or bad guy-adjacent?) here to go good later?

WHERE IS JANE FOSTER?
Alright. Let’s talk Behind the Scenes stuff: Natalie Portman has been trying to get out of her Marvel gig ever since Black Swan re-charged her career profile after she’d already signed for Thor. Marvel only held on to her for the sequel because they hired her choice of director, Patty Jenkins, for Thor: The Dark World… and then they fired her over creative differences. Allegedly she didn’t even show up for re-shoots – that last money-shot of Thor embracing Jane as he arrives back on Earth featured Chris Hemsworth’s real-life girlfriend Elsa Pataky doubling for Portman.

Basically: Look for Jane Foster to depart the scene one way or another in the near future, probably as part of Thor 3: Ragnarok. But for now, what is she doing during the events of this movie? Thor seems to be spending a lot of time with his buddies, and while other Avenger pals like Maria Hill and War Machine are chilling on the visible-periphery Jane is nowhere to be seen. Is she busy? Did they break up?

WHO IS SLEEPING WITH WHO?
Okay. Let’s talk turkey: Superhero team-members date each other. It’s a big part of team franchises in the comics, and Marvel Studios is more than well aware of what a big part “shipping” plays in fandom – particularly the vaunted Female Fandom whose size and presence helps obscure the MCU’s diversity problems. It’s also a can’t-miss way to build drama. But thus far, apart from the “bromance” of Stark and Banner, there isn’t really a great Avengers love-story.

Or is there?

It’s basically assumed among many fans that Black Widow and Hawkeye are an item, or at the very least more than the buddies-at-arms they’re said to have been pre-Avengers – check out Widow’s discreet “arrow” necklace in Winter Soldier. But then again, there’s not much on-screen between them that would suggest a romantic couple other than the fact that (to comics fans) they’ve been a pair in the books and (to general audiences) the default-assumption that male/female friendships must proceed to romance at some point.

And there’s nothing to suggest that they’re a “thing” in the Age of Ultron trailers: They aren’t sitting together or interacting during that “party at Stark’s place” scene (she’s sitting alone nearest to Banner, he’s sitting behind Maria Hill), they don’t appear to be teamed during much of the action, oh – and the necklace? It’s nowhere to be seen now. So what are they doing? Well, Hawkeye is mostly brooding in the backdrop in strategic “the more inconspicuous I am, the less the audience thinks about how useful ‘pretty good with a bow’ really is” time-biding.

Widow, on the other hand, has a whole bunch of scenes that place her in close proximity to one other Avenger in particular: Bruce Banner, The Incredible Hulk. The two of them are sitting more-or-less together in the party scene (he gestures for her to try lifting Mjolnir,) and in the first trailer when everyone stands up in wide-shots on Ultron’s arrival she has her hand at his back. In Trailer #2, they share what appears to be a sorrowful exchange of looks during the same action scene where Hulk is being pounded by Iron Man’s “Hulkbuster” armor. If you were watching this absent any foreknowledge of the series, one would have to assume that they were (at least!) “involved.”

If true, I imagine this will be met with apocalyptic fury by “Black/Hawk” shippers, but in terms of movie narrative I’d say it makes a certain amount of sense: Remember, Black Widow was assigned to bring in and look after Hulk in the first film, and she was the first fellow Avenger he encountered after hulking-out on the Helicarrier. Also, it likely that they have things in common: Trailer #1 showed a bizarre shot of a girls’ ballet school, while Trailer #2 showed Widow experiencing some kind of medical-related torture in a similar location. This seems to indicate that we’ll be getting Natasha Romanov’s backstory in Age of Ultron, and if it’s anything like it is in the comics it’s going to be dark, convoluted and super-bizarre (she’s A LOT older than she looks, for example, and has been brainwashed/rewired multiple times). Of all the current Avengers, she’s the only one who was a villain (and a bad one) beforehand, so it’s possible she and “The Monster” would have an understanding. Just sayin’.

Unexpected? Maybe. Blasphemy? Could be. But what might it mean? Well, that ties into some other Big Questions and even more wild speculation than can fit in this space. Check back next week, when we’ll ask (among others things) burning questions like:

WHERE ARE THE AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. AMID ALL THIS?

WHY DO THE SCIENCE BROS BREAK UP?

HOW DO WE GET TO CIVIL WAR FROM HERE?

And, last but not least…

IS SOMEONE GOING TO DIE? IF SO, WHOM?

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Bob Chipman
Bob Chipman is a critic and author.

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