***SPOILER ALERT: This article may contain minor spoilers from Avengers: Age of Ultron***
Disney’s Avengers: Age of Ultron has been in theaters for more than three weeks, and, it is a huge box office hit. It has earned $191.3 million in its opening weekend, slightly lower than expected due in part to the Mayweather vs. Pacquiao fight, and surpassed $1 billion worldwide in two weeks. Before all is said and done, Age of Ultron is widely expected to come close to, if not overthrow, the first Avengers film’s overseas rakings of $1.5 billion and is expected to fall somewhere in the $400-$500 million range at the domestic box office.
Reviews of the film have been mostly positive with a common theme being, while The Avengers is the better of the two films, Age of Ultron is a very good film that at times may be overstuffed with many characters and disparate storylines, whose only purpose is to set up future Marvel films. Some other criticisms of the film have focused on the portrayal of Black Widow and the lack of character development of the film’s titular villain, Ultron. Overall, Age of Ultron is a solid sequel to The Avengers and neatly leads into Disney’s next two expected blockbuster Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films, Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity Wars, the latter of which is expected to be the climactic battle between the Avengers and the Mad Titan, Thanos, over the Infinity Stones that Marvel has led us up to over the course of a dozen-plus films. Age of Ultron ends with a new Avengers line-up, the Mind Stone entrusted to The Vision, and Thor leaving to investigate why four of the six Infinity Stones have appeared in the galaxy in the last few years. We’re expected to see the results of his investigation in the third Thor film, Thor: Ragnarok.
In the context of the MCU, Age of Ultron does very well, but how does it stack up as a stand-alone film? Film critic websites such as Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes give the film a score of 66% and 74%, respectively, with the former describing Age of Ultron as having, “generally positive reviews.” At first glance, those scores look decent but not spectacular when you compare it to all the hype the film has received, not to mention the killing Age of Ultron is making at the box office. Let’s compare those numbers to another one of Disney’s film properties, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.* The capstone film of the Star Wars prequel trilogy was released ten years ago this month, and it did extremely well at the box office, although not as well as Age of Ultron. These same two film critic websites, Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes, give Revenge of the Sith a score of 68% and 80%, respectively. Yes, you are reading that correctly. Two major film critic websites give the Star Wars prequel film a higher score than Age of Ultron.
I imagine most people would consider that shocking seeing as how much disdain the Star Wars prequel trilogy receives in popular culture. I don’t need to go into great detail about the weaknesses of the Star Wars prequel trilogy, since you’ve probably heard them a million times on the internet, but I would imagine most people won’t pick apart Age of Ultron like they do the Star Wars prequels. In Ultron’s defense, IMDB gives it a slightly higher score than Revenge of the Sith, 8.0 vs. 7.7 (The Avengers has a rating of 8.2). Film critic websites like IMDB, Metacritic, and Rotten Tomatoes get their ratings through aggregate reviews, so these scores arise from the thousands of reviews from individual members of their respective sites rating these films. Metacritic and IMDB tend to be more from casual film-viewers while Rotten Tomatoes has more professional critics involved in its rating system. I won’t get into the individual scores for all of the MCU films, but, for context, Age of Ultron is on the higher end compared to the other MCU films, which means many of the beloved MCU films also fall into Star Wars prequel territory. The numbers are comparable, in my opinion, because both Star Wars and Age of Ultron draw from basically the same set of viewers in terms of demographics. If that’s the case, why is there a disparity of popular perception between the MCU and the Star Wars prequels?
My theory is two-fold. First, the Star Wars prequels were almost destined for failure because they would always be compared to the beloved original trilogy, which, ironically is why I think the sequel trilogy is destined to succeed because of how hated the prequel trilogy is. Very few things can compare to how much of an effect on our popular culture that the original Star Wars had. Second, the prequels also had a weak foundation in The Phantom Menace; whereas, the MCU began with Iron Man, which to date is still the highest rated film in the MCU. For a film series to succeed, it needs a very strong foundation. Iron Man’s success propelled Marvel’s phase one forward allowing viewers to overlook the average-at-best Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger until we reached phase one’s climax in The Avengers.
It’s produced a bandwagon effect. It’s popular to support all of the films of the MCU and popular to crap on the prequels of Star Wars, even if the individual pieces of both when rated by themselves are relatively even. It’s like socialism for a film series. The stronger films carry the weaker ones. By the time Age of Ultron was released, we collectively viewed the MCU as amazing while by the time Revenge of the Sith was released the opposite reaction was already ingrained in our psyche due to the sub-par reaction to The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. That’s one of the reasons why I’m so nervous about DC’s upcoming cinematic universe because reviews for its foundational film, Man of Steel, fall very much into Phantom Menace territory. If we’ve learned anything from politics and history, it’s that perception is reality. In that respect, Age of Ultron will always be better than Revenge of the Sith.
*Disney did not own Star Wars when Episode III was released but for the purposes of this article it’s considered a Disney property