This weekend you’re going to do your duty as a movie fan and see Avengers: Age of Ultron, right? It’s not that it’s an essential piece of cinema, maybe not even for the enjoyment of the rest of the continuing Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it will be the thing to talk about all next week and you’ll want to have an opinion on whether you found it to be either a sufficiently exhilarating superhero blockbuster that represents the comic books entertainingly well enough or an exhausting, sloppy mess without a hold on its subplots or narrative pace.
And regardless of where you fall, you’ll want to share in some additional suggested-viewing recommendations from yours truly. These are good talking points for those water cooler chats about the movie (show off your knowledge of cuttlefish!), but mostly they’re here to assist in your appreciation of or desire to move on from the Avengers sequel. I’ve selected movies that deal with similar themes and movies that directly informed or led to elements of Age of Ultron, plus some titles AoU simply reminded me of and that I think are worthy of mention.
As usual, the contents of the following list of movies to watch now may contain SPOILERS for this week’s new release.
Ex Machina (2015)
There’s a better movie about the creation of artificial intelligence currently in theaters, and it’s this character-driven feature from Alex Garland. You know how in AoU the development and discussion of A.I. was so swiftly and slightly addressed? Consider Ex Machina an appendix to fill in the essential info and drama the Avengers movie is missing. You may also wonder how it is that Tony Stark of all people didn’t go with a sexy robot (though he and Bruce Banner both have sexy female computer systems revealed later).
Robots love “Pinocchio.” Carlo Collodi’s novel was a favorite of Johnny Five in Short Circuit 2 (along with “Frankenstein”), and now we’ve got Ultron (voiced by James Spader) singing and quoting “I’ve Got No Strings” from this classic Disney animated version. But the reference isn’t totally apt. As the franchise continues, Vision should be the one who relates more to the wooden puppet who wishes he were real. For another nice, direct bridge between Pinocchio and robots, also see A.I. Artificial Intelligence.
Modern Times (1936)
Two of the heroes in AoU are played by actors who’ve previously played Charlie Chaplin in a movie: Robert Downey Jr. in the biopic Chaplin and Aaron Taylor-Johnson very anachronistically as a boy in Shanghai Knights. So, the silent film star deserves representation on this list. Here’s one that appropriately deals with the evils of machines. Not quite robots let alone A.I., but a fair equivalent 79 years ago.
The World’s End (2013)
With the wrong done to Edgar Wright by Marvel (you can bet he’ll be represented when we do an installment of this feature for Ant-Man), he gets a shout out and an extra push for this movie, his last (for a while thanks to the Ant-Man time consumption) and one that shares a few things with AoU. I don’t want to spoil exactly why it’s relevant except to say that there are evil robots commanded by a central villain with motives sort of similar to Ultron’s.
Want to see Chris Hemsworth in another movie from this year where the insides of computers are also visualized? I don’t love this latest film from Michael Mann, mainly due to how it’s shot, but I can say there’s not really anything like it. Anyway, the Avengers probably could have used the powers of a black hat hacker on their side against Ultron. They came close, in the scene where, as FSR regular Dan Schindel notes, “Thor cosplays as Hemworth’s character from Blackhat.”
Less Than Zero (1987)
Want to see Downey and Spader clash in another movie, from almost 30 years ago? The former gives probably his first truly great performance in this Bret Easton Ellis adaptation as a young drug addict, while the latter plays a dealer who drags him further and further into Hell to make up for a debt. Ultron is a decent villain, thanks to Spader’s personification, but he’s got nothing on the evils of Rip.
Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)
Elizabeth Olsen’s breakout indie, the one that showed promise of a major new talent and star, is still her best movie, arguably still her only great one. Somewhat similar to her Scarlet Witch role in AoU, here she plays a young woman who joins up with a sketchy cult only to later realize there’s another, better family out there for her. John Hawkes is more frightening as the cult’s leader than any Marvel villain, too. Also recommended if you haven’t already seen it: Godzilla, in which Olsen plays the wife of Taylor-Johnson, who in AoU plays her brother.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
I could give a slot this week to an earlier movie starring Taylor-Johnson – say, his other superhero movie, Kick-Ass – but I’d rather highlight this non-MCU Marvel-based movie to address why his character had to die at the end of AoU. Quicksilver can only really continue in one franchise, and X-Men was quicker to put him in a movie. And apparently that other version (played by Evan Peters) will be back for X-Men: Apocalypse. I’m sure killing him off was a respectful way of conceding to Fox.
Blade II (2002)
Do you wish there had been more Strucker? He’s not the most interesting of villains, but Thomas Kretschmann did play him pretty amusingly in his brief spotlight. Well, you can now go back 13 years to the earlier days of Marvel Comics adaptation for this Blade sequel helmed by Guillermo del Toro. Kretschmann plays the main villain here, albeit still not too prominently, and the character, Damaskinos, has got two evil kids who in a way are his equivalent of Strucker’s guinea pigs, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch.
Kings of Camouflage (2007)
When Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) tells Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch about his fear of cuttlefish, he mentions that he saw a documentary about them. If he saw the best one, maybe he watched this episode of the PBS series NOVA. There are some underwater shots that make the cephalopod out to be the stuff of nightmares.
Leon: The Professional (1994)
Natalie Portman’s Jane was missed but honored in AoU, but now to honor the actress you can watch her breakout movie, which I’m always happy to recommend. And my real excuse this time is that there’s a moment when Klaue yells “All of them!” at one of his minions and it gave me a flashback to Gary Oldman yelling “Everyone!” at one of his minions in a similar instance. You’ll see, it’s an instance worth seeing the movie for.
Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)
This underrated delight is my go to movie anytime there are nightmarish hallucination sequences for various characters (see my review of the Doctor Who episode “Mummy on the Orient Express”). I’m not certain that Scarlet Witch’s spells made Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow and Captain America specifically see that which they’re afraid of, but Klaue’s cuttlefish comment made that seem to be the point of her power. As for Black Widow’s flashback-based visions, though, many people have mentioned its similarities to part of another recommendation, Jacob’s Ladder.
Castle in the Sky (1986)
At the end of AoU, I spotted a credit to Studio Ghibli for use of the Laputa Robot from this animated feature by Hayao Miyazaki, the studio’s first release. I’m not sure where in the Avengers sequel the robot appears, but that won’t stop me from recommending it. There are indeed robots, and also the floating city of Laputa sort of looks like the raised Sokovia.
Related Topics: Movie DNA