Spoilers for "Avengers: Age of Ultron" lie ahead!
We've already ranked all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies from least good (none of them are really the WORST) to all-time best, but how do the actual heroes themselves stack up, both as superpowered fighters AND as complex emotional characters? Let's find out -- and yes, that includes the new guys.
Poor new baby Pietro had a lot to overcome -- his X-Men counterpart from "Days in Future Past", for example, and the fact that speedster types are so common in superhero lore. He performed wonderfully, don't get me wrong, but compared to the intriguing personalities and really cool powers that everyone else on the team gets? Ironically, he gets left in the dust.
The mighty thunder god gets to let loose and be the comic relief in "Age of Ultron," and his interactions with other characters from our earthly realm of Midgard are always great to watch (be sure to ask him about bilgesnipes). But Thor is sometimes too straightforward a character for me to get invested in. As the son of Odin he's born of immense privilege and outer physical strength, and his journey over the course of the Marvel movies is all about learning to be humble -- which, to be honest, I'm starting to get bored of as a hero narrative.
Mark Ruffalo will forever and always be our favorite human being, which is why it pains me to put him so low on this list -- and he does a lot to portray Bruce's vulnerability and struggle with a fantastic nuance. But overall his movie arc is pretty one note ("oh no! I'm TOO out of CONTROL!") and doesn't deal with so much of the comic character's more interesting themes of anxiety and abuse.
It's possible that my love for the comic book character -- specifically in Matt Fraction and David Aja's Eisner nominated run -- is clouding my head here a bit, but Clint REALLY shines in "Age of Ultron." It's fascinating to finally see what his inner life is like, and he even starts to take on a bit of Coulson's former role as the hardworking normal guy in a crowd of heroes. Not that he isn't one either, of course... Just that he has to try a little harder than everyone else, which is endearing.
Iron ManMarvel Studios
Like Thor, Tony's arc is all about understanding his own privilege and skills and creating for himself a meaningful inner emotional life to reflect the gifts he's been given (also, learning that his actions have consequences is a big part of his arc as well). Of course, Tony's also much quippier AND much more damaged psychologically than Thor is, so he's inherently more interesting as a character.
Scarlet WitchMarvel Studios
Wanda Maximoff is a surprisingly complicated character to nail, in no small part due to her even more complicated history -- basically, comic book writers in recent years have tended to boil her down to a grieving, villainous madwoman, which reaaaally isn't great. But "Age of Ultron" does a wonderful job of taking those unfortunately iconic aspects of her character and retooling them, so that her grief and her powers don't define her as much as her willingness to step forward and be an Avenger does. And all that aside, her powers are gorgeous to look at and unlike anything we've seen in the MCU so far.
Guys. You don't know this yet, but you are going to be OBSESSED with the Vision. He doesn't appear in the film for very long, but suffice to say that he's the type of character you want to know and understand every little detail about. Plus, who doesn't love a good artificially intelligent life-form trying to understand what it means to be human? He's like "Star Trek: The Next Generation" android Data, but British and cape-ified.
Don't let the fact that I am immensely biased in Black Widow's favor fool you. She's one of the most fascinating characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and a lot of that has to do with her dichotomous and mysterious nature: she's a team player, but she doesn't feel like she belongs. She cracks jokes and knows her teammates well, but she's still emotionally distant from them. She's more human than most of the group, but she feels like the biggest monster of them all. The only concrete, resolute thing about her is that she will do whatever it takes to complete a mission, ignoring any threats to her own personal safety or well being. That is inspiring as heck -- and sort of demands a standalone Black Widow film to really unpack to its proper potential, MARVEL. *cough*
Iron Man may be the brains of the Avengers (or, at least the guy who pays for everything), but Captain America is the heart. Like Thor, he's a fairly straightforward guy to understand, but his emotional arc over the course of "The First Avenger", "The Avengers", "Winter Soldier", and now "Age Of Ultron" is so, so satisfying. He's the scrappy underdog with a heart of gold, the out of place company man who's more loyal to the cause than the organization, and the isolated time traveller all in one. I don't care if you think he's too boring or a total square: he represents the core values of the Avengers more than anyone, and he belongs on the top of this list.
"Avengers: Age Of Ultron" hits theaters today.