6 Major Writing Problems with Avengers: Age of Ultron – Part 2

Avengers Age of Ultron

Image Credit: Svilen Milev

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Welcome back to my mini-series where I’m looking at what we, as writers, can learn from the mistakes made in Avengers: Age of Ultron. If you missed the first installment in this series, I recommend you read it first.

Mistake #3 – Too Many Easy Answers and Short Cuts

We need to briefly talk a bit of plot structure here. Early on in a story, the villain/antagonist should be much stronger than the hero. Reaching their goal wouldn’t be a challenge for the main character if the antagonist wasn’t stronger than them at the start. The main character (or characters) grow and learn over the course of the story until, at the end, they’re able to defeat the antagonist.

Your main character needs to defeat the antagonist/villain based on their own skills. You can’t bring in the cavalry to solve their problem for them, especially not at the last minute. The solution can’t magically arrive. The solution needs to come from inside the main character (or characters). This is what happened in The Avengers.

It didn’t happen in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Prior to the final battle, Ultron had kicked the Avengers’ butts, with the help of his allies. So what should have happened is that the Avengers should have grown and learned something to make them stronger as a team, enabling them to overcome Ultron. Instead, in comes the cavalry. Vision (who I’ll talk about more in a minute) comes to life, and Ultron’s former allies switch sides, without ever dealing with their personal problems with Tony Stark, which were what drove them to side with Ultron to begin with. Not only is that an outside solution where the main characters never need to grow or improve, but it’s a gaping plot hole. We hated you before, but now we’re okay working with you even though you haven’t changed at all (as proven by the creation of Vision).

The easy answers and solutions didn’t stop there though. I don’t have the time to go through them all, but I will mention another huge one–the creation of Vision.

Ultron wants to create a better body for himself. He takes the same material that made Captain America’s indestructible shield (Vibranium) and the infinity stone that powered Loki’s staff, and together with the help of a bio-engineer who can grow flesh, he puts it all together with the intent of downloading his consciousness into the finished product.

The Avengers highjack the body and get into a fight over whether or not to bring that body to “life” apart from Ultron, using Stark’s artificial intelligence program JARVIS. This is an absolutely fantastic moral dilemma. Should they or shouldn’t they create life? It should have been a major stepping stone in Stark’s character arc (the truncated one we talked about earlier).

But nope. Just as the other Avengers are fighting over what to do, Thor arrives and unilaterally brings Vision to life. “Why?” you might ask. Because he took a trip to the water spirits (which we’d never heard of before) and decided it was a good idea. And everyone is just supposed to go along with what these hitherto fore unheard of water spirits told him.

In my opinion, that was a pat and easy solution that stripped all the great moral conflict from the situation. Having Vision be able to lift Thor’s special hammer later didn’t fix the fact because he was already alive by that point. In other words, the hammer was an ad hoc justification (something added to a theory after the fact to save it). Oh, look, it’s okay they brought him to life because lifting Thor’s hammer proves he’s a good guy. (Sarcasm very much intended.)


The solution that allows your hero to defeat the villain that they weren’t previously strong enough to defeat should come from within themselves and from things they’ve learned, not from outside sources. And the solution should never be easy.

We also need to watch out for taking the easy way out. This can come in two forms. We write ourselves into a corner, putting our characters into a situation that we can’t now find a way to get them out. So we save the day with a solution we haven’t laid the foundation for earlier or we bring in the cavalry. I’ve talked about this before in my post on “Four Fiction Felonies that Make Your Story Unbelievable” so please check that out for more. The other form is when we’re tired and our creative and emotional juices are dry. In this case, we don’t write a scene to its full potential, wringing every ounce of conflict from it, simply because we’re burnt out. The solution to that is to move on and come back to the scene during editing.

Mistake #4 – Too Many Rabbit Trails and a General Lack of Focus

Somewhere along the line, the powers-that-be forgot that this movie is supposed to be about telling the story in this movie rather than setting up for other movies or other Marvel franchises.

If you’ve never heard the term “rabbit trail” before, it refers to a digression in a story that doesn’t contribute anything to the main storyline or to any subplot of that story. It might be kind of fun in and of itself, but it makes the story feel slow or scattered because it doesn’t matter to that story. It steals time away from the real story.

One major example of this is the hallucinations the Avengers experience when they encounter the Scarlett Witch. Large chunks of time were given to showing Black Widow as a child learning ballet, Captain America dancing with Agent Peggy Carter, and Thor at some weird party. Captain America’s flashback felt very much like it was intended to drum up interest for Marvel’s TV series Agent Carter.

These scenes did not need to be there. They’d already shown the dark hallucination Scarlett Witch gave to Tony Stark. That one was necessary. It kicked off his (never completed) character arc, served as the inciting incident for the creation of Ultron, and showed her powers. But then all they needed for the other characters was to show her shooting her red mist at their heads and them dropping to their knees looking tormented. We would have figured out that she’d given them horrible visions too. Because the only plot purpose of those hallucinations was to show that Ultron and his allies could bring the Avengers to their knees. (In other words, to show that the villains were stronger than the heroes at that point.)

A second example–what was the point of Ultron kidnapping Black Widow? What purpose did it serve for Ultron–why not just kill her? What larger purpose did it serve in the plot? None, none, and none. Rabbit trail.

Here’s another example. Midway into the movie, Thor decides he needs to take a side trip to meet up with his professor friend (the one Loki enslaved in the first Avengers movie) so they could go to a cave where Thor would talk to water spirits. Thor makes a point of telling us this will be dangerous (probably because they wouldn’t show any of that danger and they were trying to trick the audience into worrying–it didn’t work because they were TELLING rather than SHOWING). Thor’s trip didn’t need to be in this movie. It’s whole purpose was to set up the Infinity War movies that Marvel plans to release in a few years. (I read somewhere that Joss Whedon fought to have this scene cut, and he lost the battle.)

And let’s not forget the brief introduction of Ulysses Klaw, the arms dealer with the special Vibranium metal that Ultron wanted to use to build his body. Not only did Tony Stark conveniently know about this illegal arms dealer, but he also knew that Klaw had Vibranium even though all the Vibranium in the world had supposedly been used to build Captain America’s shield. No real explanation is given except that Stark met Klaw at a conference. Am I the only one who doubts a grimly-looking illegal arms dealer goes to legitimate conferences? But introducing Klaw and his collection of Vibraium sets up the Black Panther movie Marvel is planning. Though they don’t show it in any current Marvel movie, Klaw killed Black Panther’s father to get the Vibranium.

So much of the plot of Avengers: Age of Ultron was focused on preparing for or pitching other series and movies that it’s no wonder they didn’t have time to develop the plot or characters for this movie itself.


Everything we put into our stories needs to matter for that story by itself. This is true even if we’re setting up for future elements in a series. We need to find ways to introduce those elements that still work within the present story. We also need to be careful that we don’t include a character in our main series just to “introduce” them to our readers so we can try to convince them to read about that character in a different series. If a character or plot event doesn’t serve a purpose in this story, it doesn’t belong there.

Do you have full-blown flashbacks in your book? If so, you need to ask yourself what they contribute to the story. Do you really need them?

Check your book for rabbit trails. They might be great writing in and of themselves, but if they don’t move the plot forward, they need to go.

What do you think? If you think I’m off-base about Avengers: Age of Ultron, I’d love to hear your reasons. If you think I’m right, did you enjoy the movie anyway and will you watch a third one?

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Deep Point of View is now available! (You might also want to check out Internal Dialogue or Showing and Telling in Fiction.)

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Are You Going to Watch Marvel’s Avengers Assemble?

Next weekend marks the release of another movie I’ve been waiting for–The Avengers!

Loki, supervillain brother of Thor, has assembled an army to take over the world. Regular forces can’t stop them, so Nick Fury decides to put together a group of superheroes. My favorite, Tony “Ironman” Stark (played by Robert Downey, Jr.), looks like he’ll bring some great humor to an action-packed movie.

If you want to learn more about the characters you’ll see in The Avengers, Jessica O’Neal has been doing a great series on her blog on the history of each, including the Incredible Hulk/Bruce Banner, Thor, Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff, Ironman/Tony Stark, Captain America/Steve Rogers, and Hawkeye/Clint Barton.

Has anyone else been looking forward to The Avengers? Will you be seeing it in theater or waiting until it comes out on DVD? And the most important question of all–which Avenger hero is your favorite?

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