NOTE: The following explanation post contains MAJOR SPOILERS for Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Avengers: Age of Ultron concludes on an interesting note, one that moves the team's heroes into new places and new directions as it lays the groundwork for the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
By the end of the film, Earth's Mightiest heroes have defeated Ultron and recruited some new super-powered beings along the way, but not without a great cost. After all, it was the Avengers who created the danger this time and all of the death and destruction resulting from that, is on them.
As for what's next, the heroes as we knew them are on new journeys and the Avengers have once again taken a new form with a new objective and new base of operations. Where does that leave the Avengers Initiative and S.H.I.E.L.D. going forward? And for the heroes who left the team, what's next? Let's take a deeper look and explain what we know going into the final chapter of Phase 2: Ant-Man.
The New Avengers
Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) dies a hero in the final battle against Ultron (James Spader) in Sokovia and his sacrifice becomes a turning point that solidifies his twin sister's (Elizabeth Olsen's Scarlet Witch) role as a full-fledged member of the Avengers alongside fellow newcomer, the mind gem-powered Vision (Paul Bettany) who believes in protecting life at all costs. While the new additions would seemingly bring the core roster up to eight, four of the original six main heroes part ways by the end of the film:
- Tony Stark steps away from being the team's armored Avenger after the Ultron incident.
- Clint Barton returns to his family ranch.
- Hulk runs away.
- Thor returns to Asgard.
That brings us back down to four and the remaining two slots are filled in by proven allies, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and James Rhodes (Don Cheadle). The New Avengers after the Age of Ultron stand as the following:
- Captain America
- Black Widow
- War Machine
- Scarlet Witch
Vision essentially fills in for Thor; War Machine for Iron Man; Falcon is the new Hawkeye, and Scarlet Witch - although wielding a wildly different but equally dangerous ability set - replaces Hulk as the team's power house. It's a very different roster, but one that keeps a similar mix of normals vs. otherworldly with a significant boost in diversity.
This particular roster combination of six will not last very long since the majority of Earth-based characters introduced in the Marvel Cinematic Universe will have some role to play in Captain America: Civil War, including some new faces, and there's always a chance one or two new characters will join the team from this summer's Ant-Man - the last movie of Phase 2. And by the time Avengers: Infinity War comes around in 2018-19, you can expect to see every hero you've met (who's still alive) at some point during the two-part event movie.
New Avengers Facility
It's unclear who supports the Avengers at the end of the film and who funded their new base in Upstate New York, but according to Joss Whedon this scene takes place a few months after the Ultron battle - enough time for a new base to be established and for Clint's child to be born. With S.H.I.E.L.D. sort of back in the picture (ignoring Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series on ABC as the movie did) after Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) flew a Helicarrier in to help evacuate Sokovia, we can only assume the new Avengers "facility" introduced at the end of the film has full access to S.H.I.E.L.D. resources once again (courtesy of Nick Fury) and does not rely on Tony Stark's tower in New York, or his money, like they did ever since the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
The new base, which looks like a bunker mixed with a hangar covered in Avengers "A" logos, where the new team assembles under the leadership of Black Widow and Cap is shown to possess its own fleet of S.H.I.E.L.D. Quinjets, and of course, Fury is there. There are boot camp training exercises happening around the base which must be for S.H.I.E.L.D. personnel as well.
The Avengers needed their own base going into Civil War to separate them from Stark's base since a line will be divided between them in the near future...
During the film, two events make the Avengers appear as public enemy number one. The first is when the Hulk loses control in the South African city (thanks to Scarlet Witch's mind control tricks) which results in Stark having to call in the "Veronica" weapons platform and suit up in the Hulkbuster armor to put Hulk down and get him out of the urban center. The result of this battle, as Maria Hill points out to the team, means the Avengers must go into hiding because they are responsible for so much death and destruction. She hints that an arrest warrant may be going out for Banner.
The second, and much bigger issue, is Ultron himself and the final battle in Sokovia. A segment of the city is turned into a flying meteor that Ultron aims to drop on the world to create an extinction level event, and everything that happens is a direct result of the actions of The Avengers. Ultron and his army exist only because of Stark's ambition and recklessness.
In both instances the world is put in danger and in both instances it is because of the Avengers. They are responsible, but who governs, regulates and punishes them? This story lays the groundwork for the Marvel Cinematic Universe's Civil War where someone is going to have to regulate super-powered heroes. The Stark Relief Foundation is not enough to maintain accountability or justify the casualties.
Note: The inclusion of South Africa, Ultron's gathering of the rare metal Vibranium and the introduction of weapons dealer Ulysses "Klaw" Klaue (Andy Serkis) is setting up Black Panther, a character who is also introduced next year in Captain America: Civil War before getting his own movie in 2018.
From Midgard to Asgard
Thor has one of the most interesting, if inexplicable, story arcs in the film. The vision induced by Scarlet Witch somehow gives Thor a glimpse into other events happening in the universe, perhaps even the future, and while it's unclear how exactly this happens or what he's actually seeing, things get much more confusing when he leaves the team to seek understanding of what he saw.
Thor meets up with Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) and the next time we see them together they are at some magical underground pool of water, never before seen in the MCU, which helps Thor revisit the visions. There are clearly parts of this sequence cut from the theatrical version of the movie and it remains the largest plot hole in the film. The magical water however, is used to inform Thor - the only Avenger who has a greater understanding of the universe - that the Infinity Stones are in play and that four of them have surfaced in recent years.
This pool of water is essentially what's referred to as an Infinity Well from the Marvel Comics, a well that Thanos glimpses into for an understanding of the universe and how he can dominate it. It's where he hatches his plan to gather the Infinity Stones.
When combined with his foreboding vision of Asgard going to hell (setting up for the events of Thor: Ragnorok), Thor decides to return to Asgard to learn the truth of what's happening there and who's involved with the initial attack on Earth and toying with the Infinity Stones. Something bigger is at work and it's time to learn exactly what in Phase 3.
Note: Thor makes the decision to allow the Avengers to hold onto the Mind Gem via Vision whom he trusts. That stone will be a major factor in Avengers: Infinity War, especially when Thanos wants it back. Can Vision live without the gem?
The Incredible Hulk
Reports from insiders claiming to have had access to an early draft of the Avengers: Age of Ultron script indicated that the film would end with Bruce Banner a.k.a. Hulk flying away on a Quinjet out of the atmosphere, unable to turn it around. This would have been the perfect setup for a Planet Hulk movie (again, part of previous rumors) but it wasn't the case.
Instead, Banner takes the team's Quinjet and heads off into isolation where he can't be of harm to innocent people in populated areas, somewhere in the ocean near Fiji. The film hammers the idea that Hulk and Banner are two separate personalities vying for control, each fearful of the other, and because of this Ruffalo does not trust himself and is no longer a part of the Avengers.
The Hulk is in a convenient place where he can be summoned and brought back into the Avengers fold whenever need be, whenever the world needs him. If Banner is not part of Civil War, and he wasn't in the comics because he was on another planet, then he might be saved for a return in Avengers: Infinity War which would allow Marvel to keep the remaining pictures on Mark Ruffalo's contract for Phase 4.
The Invincible Iron Man
Tony Stark's wide variety of armored suits may not be immune to harm (most, if not all, of his suits have pretty much been destroyed throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe films), but he himself seems immune to liability.
All of the destruction caused by Ultron is essentially due to the actions of Tony Stark. Is that part of the reason he's so ready to "tap out" by the end of the film? The Avengers are established and no longer in need of Iron Man or his resources, but knowing Stark and his extreme fear of what's coming to attack Earth, we all know he's not going to seek out peaceful family life like Hawkeye, despite his joke about that to Captain America.
Stark is absolutely going to continue working on something that can prevent another, even bigger alien invasion, and he may do it outside of S.H.I.E.L.D. (at least, Fury's version of it) and outside of The Avengers. After all, that's entirely what his vision from Scarlet Witch is about and what drives him to create Ultron in the first place.
Tying together Stark's story arc and the other threads clearly paving the path towards Civil War, it's easy to see how Stark will be brought back into the fold next year, again at odds with Steve Rogers, in Captain America: Civil War. The question is, if Ultron didn't begin Civil War, what MCU event will?
Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) has had a family and children all along. We, as viewers, just didn't know it yet. This family storyline is directly lifted from the Ultimate Comics version of the Avengers and is a smart plot device used to explain the absence of Hawkeye during the other events of Phase 2.
Similar to Iron Man, Hulk and Thor, it's also a convenient way to bring Hawkeye back into the fold whenever he's needed, and doesn't suck up schedule time from Jeremy Renner's busy acting career. Of course, if the MCU is drawing from the Ultimate Comics version of Hawkeye, this could mean his family is in danger, and it could mean we're eventually going to see another side of Hawkeye you never thought you'd see.
Renner tells Zap2it while promoting Avengers: Age of Ultron that the Hawkeye we meet in this movie is a little closer to the one he was promised when he signed up, but that there may be even more secrets still to come.
"We did speak together about some of his stories and secrets, and they just couldn't be implemented into the first one. It just didn't have room for it. Even the backstory stuff and secrets revealed in this one weren't quite the ones we talked about. I still can't talk those because they can still happen, and they're just as cool -- even more so now."
Fun tidbit: Pietro (Quicksilver's first name) is the middle-name given to Clint's newborn son, honoring Quicksilver's sacrifice.
Share your thoughts on the status of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, how Avengers 2 ends, and what you want to see next in the comments! And if there are other topics you'd like us to address, feel free to share. We'll delve into the Marvel Cosmic and the Infinity Stones in a separate post about the mid-credits sequence which - like the first Avengers movie - features Thanos.
Coming Up Next: Avengers: Age of Ultron Mid-Credits Scene Explained
Marvel’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” stars Robert Downey Jr., who returns as Iron Man, along with Chris Evans as Captain America, Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk. Together with Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow and Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, and with the additional support of Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Don Cheadle as James Rhodes/War Machine, Cobie Smulders as Agent Maria Hill and Stellan Skarsgård as Erik Selvig, the team must reassemble to defeat James Spader as Ultron, a terrifying technological villain hell-bent on human extinction. Along the way, they confront two mysterious and powerful newcomers, Wanda Maximoff, played by Elizabeth Olsen, and Pietro Maximoff, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and meet an old friend in a new form when Paul Bettany becomes Vision.
The Avengers: Age of Ultron is now in theaters, followed by Ant-Man on July 17 2015, Captain America: Civil War on May 6 2016, Doctor Strange on November 4 2016, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 on May 5 2017, Spider-Man on July 28, 2017, Thor: Ragnarok on November 3 2017, Avengers: Infinity War - Part 1 on May 4 2018, Black Panther on July 6 2018, Captain Marvel on November 2 2018, Avengers: Infinity War - Part 2 on May 3 2019 and Inhumans on July 12, 2019.
Header image edited from art by Jeffery Van Schkijaar