[MILD SPOILERS for Avengers: Age of Ultron ahead.]
Marvel Studios' The Avengers: Age of Ultron is easily the most anticipated superhero movie of 2015 - and will no doubt continue to dominate headlines, just a few months out from its theatrical debut. Despite being continually in the spotlight, certain elements of the film have managed to remain at least partially under-wraps - like, the finer details of how this movie sets up for events that will transpire during Phase III of Marvel's Shared Film Universe (be it Civil War on Earth or the rise of the new Sorcerer Supreme).
First, though, Age of Ultron will see Earth's Mightiest Heroes dealing with a problem left hanging since the post-credits scene in Captain America: The Winter Soldier - namely, Hydra's Baron Von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann), who not only has Loki's scepter, but controls the super-powered siblings best known as Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). Not exactly an ideal situation for the good guys.
The Avengers' assault on Strucker's fortress (hidden in the mountains of Eastern Europe) has been glimpsed in the Age of Ultron trailers so far, with the indication being that this will serve as the opening sequence for writer/director Joss Whedon's sequel. We can now confirm as much, as Empire Magazine [via Movieweb] reports this scene will serve as a James Bond movie style prologue to the film - the self-contained mission that the team manages with relative ease, before the trouble with Ultron (James Spader) begins.
Here are some more specific details, describing a clip from that larger sequence in Age of Ultron:
"As Stark is flying the ship, [Robert] Downey Jr. goes and sits in the pilot's seat. [Jeremy] Renner lies down on a table in the middle of the jet and clutches his stomach while a fake drip is attached to his arm. It's clear that, whatever went down at von Strucker's, it has left the Avengers' ace archer in considerable distress.
As the dialogue plays out, it becomes clear that [Mark Ruffalo's] Bruce Banner has Hulked out, or what he calls a "code green," during the assault on Strucker's fortress, and is deeply troubled by it. [Scarlett Johansson's] Natasha tries to reassure him - 'If you hadn't been there, there would have been double the casualties.' Banner grimaces, and replies with, 'You know, sometimes exactly what I want to hear isn't exactly what I want to hear.'
Seeking back-up, Natasha turns to [Chris Hemsworth's] Norse god. 'Thor, report on the Hulk?' she asks. Hemsworth immediately lights up and lets rip with a rousing tribute to all the violence unleashed by the Hulk, filled with words like 'screams' and 'victims' and 'whimpering.' Seeing that it has the opposite effect to that intended on Banner, the God of Thunder turns God of Blunter, stammering and stumbling, digging himself deeper into a hole."
By the sound of it, the opening minutes will establish two key plot threads in Age of Ultron - Bruce Banner's (Mark Ruffalo) issues with controlling "The Other Guy" and the evolved relationship between Bruce and Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) - and the darker tone of the film (compared to its predecessor), while still offering up more of Whedon's trademark dialogue and witty banter, via Thor's (Chris Hemsworth) failed attempts to pull Bruce out of his emotional funk.
The opening for the original Avengers (Loki stealing the Tesseract from a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility) has frequently been cited as one of the movie's weak spots, but the assault on Strucker's castle in Age of Ultron sounds as though it could easily be improvement, in that department. If all goes according to plan, that turn of events will also setup nicely for what's expected to be the biggest and baddest adventure featuring Marvel's big screen superheroes to date.
The Avengers: Age of Ultron releases in theaters on May 1st, 2015, followed by Ant-Man on July 17th, 2015, Captain America: Civil War on May 6th, 2016, Doctor Strange on November 4th, 2016, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 on May 5th, 2017, Thor: Ragnarok on July 28th, 2017, Black Panther on November 3rd, 2017, Avengers: Infinity War – Part 1 on May 4th, 2018, Captain Marvel on July 6th, 2018, Inhumans on November 2nd, 2018, and Avengers: Infinity War – Part 2 on May 3rd, 2019.