Movies

The Unexpected Release of the Avengers: Age of Ultron Trailer Shows How Fans Have Won

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After the first teaser trailer for Marvel's upcoming Avengers movie sequel, Age of Ultron, leaked online last night, the company decided to release an official version.

It's got bulky Iron Man Hulkbuster armor, a pair of new villains who are definitely not in any legal sense mutants, and a great monologue by James Spader as the movie's titular robot villain, Ultron. 

It's excellent.

You can, and should, watch it below. 

A few notes: 

1) The timing and manner of release of the trailer shows just how far the balance of power between fans and big entertainment companies has swung, thanks to the Internet. The trailer wasn't supposed to be released this week at all. Marvel had originally planned to release the trailer next Tuesday, in conjunction with a new episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, a TV show with close ties to Marvel's ever-expanding Avengers movie universe. After a low-resolution version of the trailer leaked, some copies were pulled at the request of Disney, which owns Marvel. At least judging by my Twitter and Facebook feeds, there were an awful lot of people who didn't see the original version wondering what they missed. More takedowns would have led to a lot more fans desperate to see what others had already seen. More than likely, quite a few of them would have resorted to downloading low-quality versions through BitTorrent.

Except that within about two hours of the leaked version hitting the web, Marvel went ahead and posted the official version. So much for carefully stage-managed corporate PR, eh? But this is one of the reasons why Marvel is doing such great business these days. They're not fighting the fans, not trying to control the crowd. The company is accepting the reality of the Internet—that a leak can't really be contained—and giving fans what they want. 

Marvel

2) The movie seems to be riffing, though probably not explicitly, on some of the questions raised by Nick Bostrom in his book Superintelligence, about the perils of artificial intelligence, which Reason's Ron Bailey reviewed hereThe trailer is built around a monlogue by Ultron, a sentient robot (or cluster of AI-controlled robots, anyway) who takes his programmed mission to protect Earth a bit too far when he decides that the only way to protect Earth is to kill all humans. The best fantasy stories always have threats that are in some sense plausible, and the best villains always have motivations that, while twisted, almost make sense. 

3) I wrote recently about the TVization of movies, which are now increasingly being designed as multi-picture expanded universes, with multiple parallel stories rather than just a few direct sequels. It's hard to think of a better example than the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which built a handful of grade-B comic book characters (who was into Thor in 2003?) into successful movie franchises, and then managed to combine them into an even more successful super-franchise, which was orchestrated by geeky, team-savvy, genre-TV autuer Joss Whedon. It's not uncommon to see people argue that movies, especially blockbusters, are becoming dumber these days, but in terms of the expansiveness and fragmentation of their narratives, they are arguably becoming much more complex.