The Avengers: Age of Ultron Goes In
This movie assembled more than the expected players, and maybe that is why I liked it so much.
New Kid on the Block
I am relatively new to the superhero and comic book world. Recently, I’ve been on the hunt for good stories, so it was only a matter of time until I gravitated towards this realm. I have heard good things from the nerds out there. Ya’ll know what you’re talking about, so thanks for having me.
It has been a long time since I have been in a theater where people clap at the beginning and end of the movie, and wildly engage in all of the banter and action along the way. I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back I now know. Those were not just pumped-up movie folks, they were Marvel people. I’ve come to realize there is a breed of you out there. Not sure if I’ll join, but I like you all.
I have seen other movies from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and I was hard-pressed to stay super interested. It was entertaining but not super engaging for me. I had some fun seeing the characters come alive in a movie, but the template that stifled them was wearing on me. Granted, I don’t have any significant history in these comic stories, so I know I am cutting the experience short. Still, there is a pattern for all of these movies, so I was expecting Age of Ultron to follow suit.
Don’t get me wrong—I really like a lot of movies that follow a predictable pattern and don’t intentionally try to cause me to think too hard. I am the first person to stand up and defend a movie because who knows how a person could be moved by it. I hold my animated and light-hearted flicks very close to my heart. I think I can be wowed and surprised by a wide variety of things. I am just looking for enjoyment. I know that deep joy comes in all shapes and sizes.
Seeing the good guys battle the evil guys should be expected in most superhero movies. But according to my record, what makes them stand out to me is when they step outside that narrative and raise tough questions like, “What actually is good and evil?” When the conflict is more than the physically obvious, I think it’s golden. Surprised, I was delighted to experience Age of Ultron doing this.
No Strings on Me
Are there limits to someone evolving? This was a profound question that was raised. Tony Stark aches over the reality that Earth and humanity are extremely vulnerable to the higher evil powers in the universe. His desire is to create a form of “defense” through artificial intelligence that can protect mankind.
When Ultron incidentally comes into being, we see his desire is for the world to evolve. The creature states that he is building his church and makes several biblical references that reveal his god complex. I think if he did achieve congregants, they would be “people” of the most arrogant kind.
As ideas develop, Ultron expressed that his plan ultimately includes the elimination of the human race, where artificially intelligent beings take over and continue to evolve. Basically, he sounds crazy, but familiar.
It is normal for people to want to create and build upon what exists. But somewhere along the way, the question has to be asked: Is this too far? When should a code of ethics be developed? On what basis should these ethical guidelines be constructed? The idea and limits of technological advances and artificial intelligence are fascinating because they are familiar to our real world. Most would agree that there probably is a line, but many more would dispute over where it lies.
And what happens when human “progress” crosses this assumed line?
What happens to beings that take this trajectory of evolvement to its existential heights? The essence of humanity is definitely lost because humans are designed to be relating to a designer. Humans are foundationally in relationship with their maker. Even if this fact is denied, it still remains a reality—just a strained and painful one. When the strings are “cut,” dysfunction follows. The progress of a person that includes the defiance of their maker is no progress at all. It’s called foolishness and suicide.
The trailer that includes the Pinocchio song is genius and chilling. Still, I was surprised to be forced to think about these sorts of things during the movie. I was not expecting it to be so pronounced. What makes someone truly free? Is freedom to do whatever one wants truly freedom? No, we can see that limits are intended for good. When people are given over to their desires completely, they destroy themselves.
Human flourishing happens under the umbrella of a higher power, not by trying to become the highest power. Someone who is on the trek towards that type of “greatness” is basically killing themselves. Many would not admit to such an ambition, but in reality, there are seeds of it in their heart. Humans are designed for true greatness, which is fundamentally built upon the acknowledgment of their weaknesses. And since weaknesses are, well…weak, humans need something other than humanity.
Human-Friendly Higher Powers
What about the safety of humanity under the tyranny of mighty evil forces? If human flourishing has everything to do with accepting mankind’s fragile state, what about the reality of failing? Not achieving the goal? Getting blown to smithereens? Tony Stark was right in that Earth needs help. But the world needs the kind of help that understands humans. Evolving their work to the point of forgetting the essentials of what it means to be created will do people harm, not good. Humans are in need of someone stronger and gracious. People need this someone to not only protect, understand, and tolerate them, but they also need someone that enjoys them.
Was it just me or did the Vision call himself “I Am?” This character was so interesting to me. Again, I don’t really know what I am watching or talking about, so I had to ask who the red guy was. And I needed to know because he seemed to represent a great answer to an ultimatum. Humanity needs to get stronger in order to defend itself. The danger is that they will destroy themselves in the process if it goes too far. So on the other end of the spectrum, mankind needs to learn to accept its vulnerabilities because it is part of what it means to be human. But then people would get squashed. Bulk up or keel over?
I think Ultron is right in identifying that the humans are weak and hopeless when left to their own. What’s the point? His response was to get rid of humanity, and I get that. Yet, the Vision’s response was to be a very strong protector, even handing Thor’s hammer to the god himself. He showed them grace and understanding, and he genuinely enjoyed being among them. He also decided to do some avenging, which I support.
I really liked this contrast in Ultron’s final scene. We see some of Stark’s strongest and weakest characteristics worked out in the Vision and Ultron. It was amazing to me that the Vision mentioned that he liked the humans. He could have done his avenging against Ultron without mentioning that. But he chose to bring this up and I think it touched on a real need for mankind—the need to be enjoyed, weaknesses and all. There is a sense of delight on his face that made him the best answer to all of the conflict occurring during this movie.
Ambitions of the Internally Impaired
The conflict was not only in beating Ultron and his ideological advances. There was also a profound mountain of fear and inadequacy that all of the Avengers faced.
Yes, we see the evil in Ultron, but we also see the evil in the heroes. The dream sequences not only lifted the veil on the psyche of the Avengers, but brought up the actuality of their flaws unconquered. Ultron is an example of misguided ambition aimed against the good of mankind. The Avengers demonstrate their misguided ambition by doing whatever they seem fit to achieve the good of mankind, even if it means new compromises. But what happens when a superhero gives it everything he has, and it still does not suffice? Or when it might even bring the victims’ demise? Again, the question of limits arises. How will they respond to the reality of their shortcomings?
Tony cannot defeat the evil forces attacking humanity or the evil in himself. All the Avengers are fighting against the vices and fears of their own natures. Their inward focus also causes severe dissension on the team, where fears drive them to take actions that isolate themselves from one another. The more that they move in isolation from one another, the weaker they become. It becomes clear that they are operating on separate pages.
They don’t reach a complete resolution here, but the decision is made to take courage and fight anyways. It seemed like the appearance of the Vision was a real turning point for the group. After his arrival, the Avengers started working as a team again. He also was the one who put something of an end to Ultron, only after explaining the importance of humanity and how to really help them.
The Vision brings help and an answer, but there is also a sense that the Avengers need to learn to accept their weaknesses and live with the reality that there are forces stronger than them. They push on, doing what they are able to do together. They have to believe and “hope for the best,” putting their greatest efforts forward and not buckling in fear’s paralysis. And if they die, they will just need to “walk it off.”
They return to their values of preserving humanity, and even extend the kindness of evacuating people before they blow a few more things up in the end. Heroes seem to forget about the people caught in the buildings and vehicles that they smash—or is that just me?
All of these elements work together to form a time when the Avengers had to make huge ethical decisions and figure out what sort of heroes they really wanted to be. They are facing enemies from the outside and from within themselves. The flaws of the universe and humanity are tough nuggets to consider, and we see in the characters’ decisions several ways one could respond to such weightiness. Their process of figuring this all out is one I appreciated watching.
A Real Sci-Fi Package Deal
Finally, it is impossible for me to not mention the form in which all of this came. The occupants of this movie were plenty. It was visually pleasing and I am glad I looked at this on the big screen. The wit and banter were on point, and even the rabbit-trail romance was still worth including despite its questionable future. We had all the elements you would expect in a Marvel movie, plus some psychological, philosophical, and even theological participants. My mind is still processing and splitting from everything it contained. This all made for a story chocked full with the makings of real enjoyment. This is a ride to enjoy, and the hints of depth and tinges of ethics do not disrupt the core ingredients that keep this sci-fi movie a fun one.
Illustration by Marie Bergeron
No Strings on Me artwork