Marvel has spent six years fixing Avengers: Age of Ultron, and WandaVision completes it. Released back in 2015, Avengers: Age of Ultron should have been another home run for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Given the success of The Avengers, then bringing back the same cast and characters, once again directed by Joss Whedon, seemed like it should be a repeat winner, especially with the scale and stakes getting even bigger. Unfortunately for Marvel, things didn’t go to plan.
Avengers: Age of Ultron was by no means a disaster, but its box office total was lower than its predecessor ($1.4 billion compared to $1.5 bn), and the reviews much less rapturous, if still mostly positive (75% on Rotten Tomatoes vs. 91%). The movie has its fans and the strength of Marvel Studios is such that none of the MCU films are truly bad, but on a creative level this was and remains one of its weakest outings, for a variety of reasons. Age of Ultron was plagued by behind-the-scenes problems, with Whedon having frequent and major clashes with the studio execs over everything from Hawkeye’s farm to Thor’s Infinity Stone visions, which ended up being among its more divisive elements.
Similarly, Avengers: Age of Ultron was criticized for its forced Black Widow and Hulk romance, for its titular villain not carrying the required threat, and for feeling much more like setup for what was to come, rather than the major event movie it should have been in its own right. But, one of the things Marvel does well is make moments from the past important in the present and future. It knows what to ignore, but also how to make its lesser movies important and more essential (something, for example, Avengers: Endgame did with Thor: The Dark World through the Frigga storyline), and that’s more apparent with Avengers: Age of Ultron than anything else in the MCU. Marvel has used several movies over the past six years to fix the film, and now that continues into TV with WandaVision.
Although Avengers: Age of Ultron didn’t completely work, the fact it had so much setup for what was to come has made it a relatively easier movie for Marvel to revisit in some ways. Things that were mere teases, at best, in that movie are given a much greater sense of weight in later movies: Steve Rogers moving Thor’s hammer just a fraction becomes the reveal that Captain America truly was worthy of Mjolnir in Avengers Endgame; the post-credits scene with Thanos becomes the centerpiece of the next two Avengers movies; many of its visions, from Cap’s broken shield to the destruction of Asgard to Black Widow’s death, came to pass in one way or another. Marvel has delivered a lot of payoff that Age of Ultron setup but didn’t offer enough of in its own right, but also fixed more of its problematic elements too.
Several Phase 3 movies accomplished this well. Captain America: Civil War brought in the Sokovia Accords which, while clearly planned even before Age of Ultron released, helped to add more weight to the mass destruction seen in that movie. What felt like a repetitive, big CGI final battle (something many earlier MCU movies struggled with) now had much more of a true cost and more tragedy to it. Likewise, the growing tensions in the team come to a head in Civil War as well, those fissures becoming full breaks, which then feeds into the greater payoff of the team – and in particular, Tony Stark and Steve Rogers – putting differences aside and coming back together to stop Thanos in Avengers: Endgame.
Thor’s visions, one of Age of Ultron‘s weirder parts (largely because of how things were chopped and changed), became a part of Thor: Ragnarok‘s brilliant (and hilarious) opening sequence, which dismissed the quest outright, and yet the knowledge learned still factored into later movies as well, showing it wasn’t completely for nought – and, obviously, the Infinity Stones themselves became key to everything., The mentions of Wakanda, its vibranium, and introduction of Ulysses Klaue was fleshed out from a mere reference and plot device into the MCU’s finest example of worldbuilding to date in Black Panther, with Klaue himself turned into a more compelling villain too.
Hawkeye’s farm, one of the most controversial aspects of Avengers: Age of Ultron for how much it slowed the pace down and how much time is spent there, also becomes much more important thanks to Clint Barton’s arc. While missing from Avengers: Infinity War, Clint, his family, and the farm returned in Avengers: Endgame, and viewers got to see him lose everything. By including that and then how much that affected Hawkeye, turning him into Ronin, it makes the farm scene into a crucial part of his journey due to establishing his family, rather than a divergence from the bigger narrative.
The romance between Black Widow and Hulk felt misguided at the time, and Marvel clearly agreed with that sentiment because there’s no attempt to rekindle it when the pair meet again in Avengers: Infinity War. What they do, though, is still manage to nod to it, giving things a tinge of sadness at how it wasn’t able to work out, which is compounded in Endgame. Hulk struggles to do his snap because he’s trying to bring Natasha back, and the emotional weight of that is felt towards the end of the movie too as he reflects on his failure. Endgame itself didn’t do justice to Black Widow or her death, but at the very least the way it references Black Widow and Hulk’s past and meaning to one another feels more organic and crucial than it ever did in Age of Ultron.
WandaVision has continued to improve Avengers: Age of Ultron, by revisiting the movie, its events, and the impact it had. The events of the show are set into motion by Wanda Maximoff’s trauma, and that in part comes from the loss of her brother, Pietro, in Age of Ultron, as well as the loss of her parents to a Stark Industries bomb as well. These are worked intrinsically into the fabric of WandaVision, with those lingering traumas quite clearly shown to be a factor in her creating Westview, as well as being overtly teased in things like the commercials. When Geraldine mentions Quicksilver’s death at the hands of Ultron in WandaVision episode 3 it leads to Wanda banishing her from Westview, and the impact is a reminder of just how much damage Ultron did cause, and how big of a threat he was, something that Age of Ultron itself struggled to fully convey.
Likewise, greater purpose is given to Baron von Strucker, too; where Age of Ultron killed him off quickly in a somewhat rushed opening sequence, this shows something beyond just his defeat, making him a better character too and showing more of the lingering impact he had on Wanda. the death of Pietro is given so much more depth because of WandaVision. At the time, it felt like there was a lack of addressing its impact on Wanda, and that was true in subsequent movies too. But by showing how she tried to suppress those memories, and then Pietro coming back “wrong” (now known to be the work of Agatha Harkness) played upon that grief, it added to it. WandaVision episode 8 takes this much further still, showing the explosion that killed Wanda and Pietro’s parents, and then Scarlet Witch in the aftermath of Age of Ultron. It shows, in a way the MCU had failed to do, just how much grief and sorrow Wanda felt over his death, and for the first time that loss truly hit home and carried the impact it needed to.
This is completed with Vision’s own beautiful line, “what is grief, if not love persevering?” It’s a lovely, poignant moment that better establishes their own relationship and how they came to love one another, while doing a stunning job of adding so much more meaning into the story of Wanda and death of Pietro, key elements from Age of Ultron that had never been properly addressed until now. After its release, many elements of Avengers: Age of Ultron felt weaker or inessential, and while that’s still perhaps true of the movie in isolation, subsequent films and especially WandaVision make it fit much better into the bigger whole of the MCU.