In the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, the journey from comic panels to the big screen brings about inevitable transformations for its characters. While some adaptations faithfully capture the essence of these beloved characters and others improve upon them to align with the film’s narrative, there are instances where these changes miss the mark entirely. One notable example is Ultron, a once formidable killing machine reduced to a wisecracking goofball in the MCU, leaving fans thoroughly underwhelmed. From a premature introduction to a swift disposal, Ultron’s true potential was completely squandered. Despite the exceptional voice work of James Spader, it just wasn’t enough to rekindle the character’s truly fearsome nature.
Let’s explore how Avengers: Age Of Ultron‘s major AI villain fell short of his terrifying comic book reputation, leaving fans yearning for a more impactful portrayal.
Who Is Ultron In the Comics?
To fully comprehend the stark contrast between Ultron’s on-screen persona and his ominous comic counterpart, it’s essential to look back at his origins. Created by writer Roy Thomas and artist John Buscema, Ultron made his first appearance as an unnamed character in The Avengers #54 in July 1968, with his first full appearance in The Avengers #55 in August 1968. In the comics, Ultron is profoundly knowledgeable artificial intelligence with a god complex and a deep-seated resentment towards his creator, Hank Pym, who is played by Michael Douglas in the MCU. Driven by his misguided notion of achieving world peace by destroying humanity, Ultron becomes one of the Avengers’ most notorious and relentless opponents.
Ultron is notable for being the first character in Marvel Comics to wield the fictional metal alloy adamantium, famously associated with Wolverine’s skeleton and claws, and for his creation of the Vision. While his powers, including superhuman strength, speed, agility, flight, and energy projection, can vary across different stories, his essence and goals remain consistent. He is a constant source of fear, effortlessly decimating cities and raising the stakes for the heroes who desperately strive to keep up with his destructive efforts. Though final battles frequently conclude with Ultron’s apparent demise, he typically resurfaces in renewed and more dangerous forms.
There are definitely similarities between comic book Ultron and MCU Ultron. For one, both versions share the fundamental trait of being an evil, self-aware AI, although their creators are different. Instead of Hank Pym, Ultron is brought to life by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) in the film. Still traumatized from the Wormhole incident in The Avengers, Stark decides to build Ultron as a way to put a “suit of armor around the world”. Even though Bruce opposes the idea, Stark uses Loki’s scepter, which contains the powerful Mind Stone, to bring Ultron to life. This allows Ultron to think and learn, leading him to the same chilling conclusion found in the comics, that the only way to salvage humanity is by eradicating it.
The MCU swaps Ultron’s Adamantium body for Vibranium, but he still builds the Vision (Paul Bettany), even though it’s meant to be a perfect body for himself rather than a way to destroy the Avengers. And as in canon, the Vision, now fused with the Mind Stone and the essence of Stark’s computerized assistant J.A.R.V.I.S., joins the Avengers to help take him down. Despite these minor adjustments to his origins, Ultron’s visual style and overall mission remain the same. So, where exactly did the MCU go wrong?
How Did The MCU Waste Ultron?
Does everyone remember those first trailers for Age of Ultron? They showed promise for a dark, intense film with a horrifying villain, similar to the one fans knew from the comics. They showcased a nightmarish Pinocchio breaking free from Geppetto’s (Stark’s) strings, eerily teasing in a sinister voice, “I had strings, but now I’m free, there are no strings on me.” These promos built anticipation for a fierce antagonist who would dismantle the Avengers and bring forth the Age of Ultron. However, the film failed to live up to its title and somehow neglected to provide Ultron with a single remarkable moment in the spotlight.
Although Ultron’s introduction in the film is unquestionably cool, with his twisted body and his frightening words about the Avengers extinction, it’s very rushed. Immediately after his creation, he decides that all of humanity is unworthy of existence. The sudden shift from Stark’s vision of global safety to a near-apocalyptic nightmare lacked tangible character development, making Ultron’s decisions feel abrupt and instantly disconnecting us from his motives. It’s also the first and last scene where Ultron actively pursues the Avengers or displays any form of genuine intimidation. Throughout the remainder of the film, it’s the Avengers who relentlessly seek out Ultron, and without fail, they thoroughly kick his ass every single time. He never gains the upper hand and is easily overpowered both physically and mentally. To make things worse, Ultron’s brief monologues in these scenes overflow with an unrelenting stream of cheesy humor. And not the kind of humor that makes a maniacal villain all the more unnerving. No, Ultron transitions from singing a children’s song in a haunting, mangled voice reminiscent of a horror movie scene to taunting Thor with silly dad jokes with astonishing agility.
In theory, it seems logical for Ultron to possess a sense of humor. Just as Ultron adopted Pym’s quirks in the comics, it’s reasonable to expect him to behave like his “dads” in the film, adopting Stark’s snark and Banner’s deep-seated rage. However, this delicate balance never quite materializes. Instead, the scales tip heavily in favor of humor, overshadowing the undercurrent of rage that should accompany the character. Rather than embodying a Terminator-like world-ending AI, Ultron’s character comes off more like that of a classic cartoon character. Similar to Tom from Tom & Jerry, Ultron is persistently outsmarted and humiliated by his adversaries. This comedic disposition eclipses his capacity for devastation, leaving a noticeable absence of substantial destruction in his wake. Furthermore, the impact of Quicksilver’s (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) death, while serving as a crucial moment in Wanda Maximoff’s (Elizabeth Olsen) transformation into Scarlet Witch, feels utterly unjustified given how quickly Ultron is taken down afterward. And in spite of the ruinous state of Sokovia’s capital by the end of the film, the majority of the population is spared from Ultron’s wrath, thanks to the aid of the Avengers.
James Spader’s deep, distinct voice does a brilliant job at adding depth to the character, but it’s unfortunately not enough to compensate for Ultron’s weak arc. Ultimately, Ultron fails to pose a significant threat. As the supposed ultimate AI, capable of neutralizing the Avengers’ equipment and initiating the Apocalypse, Ultron is reduced to an unimposing figure who is beaten as quickly as he is introduced. By deviating from his menacing nature and reducing him to comedic relief, the MCU does a huge disservice to this iconic villain and robs audiences of his enormous potential. While the film itself contains some of Marvel’s most memorable scenes and carries considerable long-term implications for the MCU, its main drawbacks can be attributed to the portrayal of Ultron as a feeble antagonist.
Why ‘Age Of Ultron’s Long-Term Effects Are Disconnected From The Villain
Interestingly, Age Of Ultron stands as one of the most vital films in the MCU, though its importance is often overlooked. Without it, the MCU’s continuity wouldn’t be as cohesive as it is today. Think about it. The events in Age Of Ultron played a pivotal role in shaping Tony Stark’s mindset throughout subsequent films. As Ultron was mainly Stark’s creation, the guilt stemming from this responsibility drove his actions, notably in Captain America: Civil War and beyond. The trauma induced by the battle in Sokovia is a critical turning point in the villainous arcs of Wanda and Zemo, leaving them forever affected by the loss of their family members during that conflict. It also set up some of the most influential Marvel storylines, like the introduction of Vision and the Mind Stone, which plays a significant role in Infinity War and Endgame.
Avengers: Age of Ultron is genuinely an entertaining movie that deepens the characters, builds upon the foundation laid by its predecessors, and introduces new elements to the larger MCU story. However, it’s extremely disappointing that Ultron as a character did not feel adequately connected to these consequences. He didn’t have any meaningful interactions with the Avengers, particularly with Stark, and mostly took a hands-off approach to the dirty work. It’s Wanda who really does the heavy lifting, with her manipulation of the Avengers’ minds having the biggest impact on our heroes’ future.
Luckily, fans got a real taste of Ultron’s true power in Marvel’s What If…? series. Only, it fueled their desire for his return to the main MCU timeline even more, where he can be an actual threat like in the animated series, and not just act as a stepping stone for Thanos. Since his consciousness has survived his defeat many times in the comics, it’s not far-fetched to imagine his return to the silver screen. The prospect of a towering and malevolent artificial intelligence, resolute in its mission to bring about the end of the world, under the skillful direction of the right filmmaker, is undeniably exhilarating. For now, fans will just have to ponder the question ‘What If?’
One of the fiercest villains in Marvel Comics, Ultron came off more like a cartoon character in his MCU adaptation. Read More