The biggest news Marvel dropped at San Diego Comic-Con was the direction of the Avengers sequel. We’ll see Cap, Thor and Iron Man face off against the classic robot villain Ultron in a film titled Avengers: Age of Ultron. In the comics, Age of Ultron is a miniseries crossover event in which Wolverine and Fantastic Four’s Invisible Woman team up to go back in time and kill Ant-Man to prevent him from creating Ultron. You can see how this might be problematic to adapt for a film.
Director Joss Whedon addressed that right away: “Because there was a book called Age of Ultron quite recently, a lot of people have assumed that is what we’re doing, but that is not the case. We’re doing our own version of the origin story for Ultron.”
Well, that’s good, especially since both Wolverine and Invisible Woman are tied up at Fox with their respective properties (X-Men and Fantastic Four). Our suggestion? If you’re not a regular reader, and you’re interested in Age of Ultron the movie, you might want to skip Age of Ultron the comic book. It starts interestingly enough, with a decimated Marvel Universe ruled over by fleets of golden Ultrons after the takeover has already occurred, but it ends sloppily, with head-scratching time-travel convolution and blatant hooks to try to entice you to buy the next big follow-up comics.
If Age of Ultron is an origin film, then that must mean we’re getting introduced to Hank Pym aka Ant-Man in Avengers: Age of Ultron instead of Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man, right? In the Avengers comics, Pym created Ultron, but it wasn’t long before Ultron got out of hand and became self-aware and hateful of humanity.
Whedon continues: “In the origin story, there was Hank Pym, so a lot of people assumed he was gonna be in the mix, but he’s not. Because we’re basically taking the things from the comics for the movies that we need and can use. A lot of stuff has to fall by the wayside... [Ultron’s] origin comes more directly from the Avengers we already know about.”
In an ideal situation, Ant-Man would be arriving at theaters before Age of Ultron, so that Pym can be set up properly and his tinkering in one film can turn into bad news for the Avengers in their sequel. The current schedule has Avengers: Age of Ultron as a May 2015 release and Ant-Man slated for the holiday season that same year. Age of Ultron isn’t going to budge from that prime summer-blockbuster calendar real estate, but there’s a slim “snowball’s chance” that Ant-Man could start production and see release somewhere between Guardians of the Galaxy’s late summer 2014 date and Age of Ultron that May. But none of that matters at all if Joss Whedon isn’t even interested in using Pym in Ultron’s origin.
For comic fans, this is kind of a big deal. Ultron’s creation casts a long shadow over Hank Pym and becomes almost the defining characteristic of a hero who’s always trying to use his brilliance to make amends for his one colossal mistake. There are some obvious outs -- many think Whedon will have Tony Stark create a self-aware JARVIS that goes bad -- but it really does rob a character of one gigantic part of his history. Pym and Ultron’s father-and-son struggles have provided some of the greatest Avengers tales of all time, and to take Pym out of the equation begins to say that there’s no merit in the individual elements of the characters from the source material; that other than their clothes, they’re all interchangeable. It’s not a creative choice I’d expect from someone like Whedon, someone who’s not only written comics but created his own universes too (Buffy, Firefly).
I don’t expect movies to stick to the comics for everything. If Marvel didn’t have the rights to Pym/Ant-Man, then I could see its reasoning for creating a new Ultron origin, but that isn’t the case. To casual moviegoers it might not make a lick of difference (though it makes Hank Pym more interesting), but comic fans expect the long-standing histories of these characters to be kept more or less intact. You’d never see Victor von Doom driven over the edge by his college rivalry with Mary Jane Watson (instead of Reed Richards) for the sake of a film, and that’s kind of what this is like. Pym’s brilliance is displayed in the creation of the world’s most advanced artificial intelligence. If you take that away, he’s just a guy who talks to ants.
For those interested, read Essential Avengers Vol. 3 (containing the first two Ultron arcs) or Avengers: Ultron Unlimited (named #4 on IGN’s Greatest Avengers Stories) because they’re going to be closer to what we’ll see on the big screen than Marvel’s recent postapocalyptic miniseries of the same name. I’m excited about an Avengers sequel, I’m excited about Ultron, and I’m excited about Ant-Man, but I really do wish they were all going to be tied together, the way comic fans have experienced their story for the past 50 years.