I’ve spent pleasant hours studying with popcorn and 3D glasses, and even more analyzing various aspects of the Marvel cinematic universe in writing. From the Decline of Pepper Potts (Iron Man 1-3) to a character analysis Loki, the adopted child (Avengers, Thor and Thor The Dark World). Hours passed scrutinizing Robert Downey Jr makes a job for which many would envy me. But this job started last year, the first year I was finally able to detach myself from my toddlers. That’s 11 films to watch in sequence (not counting purely auxiliary watching, Daredevil, Agent Carter, Agents of SHIELD etc. purely, to situate my knowledge better). In the last year I’ve caught up on my viewing time with a zeal only previously ever displayed for Law & Order.
It culminated April 21, 2015 when I caught Avengers: The Age of Ultron at the premiere. It’s the first time I’ve watched one of the films on its release date.
My favourite film out of them all so far is Thor, The Dark World because watching a superhero film – unless it’s an origin story – stands and falls on the interaction of the protagonist and the antagonist. In Thor (TDW) we have a truly superb antagonist in Loki, whose motivations we understand and with whom we can identify. He loves and hates. He desires vengeance and power to assuage his own feelings of inadequacy. He’s a God, but also very human. A moral conflict in the villain makes for a more emotionally resonant archetype. It better twists our own perspective and more tightly strings the tension. You secretly care about the enemy, all the while knowing that the superheroes have no choice but to try and destroy him. Where there is little sympathetic humanity, we simply aren’t interested. Thus Ultron is exceedingly uninteresting.
In the age old premise of technology turning bad, Ultron is the creation of Tony Stark’s hubris and fear. But he has no soul. Take for instance as a point of contrast Sonny from iRobot. His identifier is that he has a range of unexpected human emotion. Fear, concern, altruism. We grow to like him. Ultron is one dimensional, pathetic and utterly dislikable. There is no moral conflict and no humanity. He has a single purpose. Destroy the Avengers.
“How could you be worthy? You’re all killers. You want to protect the world, but you don’t want it to change. There’s only one path to peace: your extinction.” – Ultron
I would have liked for them to explore this more, because from a meta perspective it’s true that these movies prefer to avoid change. In eleven of them, (and more to come), the plot lines are well, the same. They’re always the good guys, with supporting good girls, fighting baddies whose own hubris brings them down. We’re brought back time and time again to the, simplified Tarzan-Jane paradigm. You bad, us good (again with the exception of Thor TDW).
Ultron is in fact – like his metal body in this movie – unfinished and in need of an upgrade. There’s a hint that a father-son Oedipal relationship with Stark might play out well; sadly apart from a few Pinnochio ‘I’ve got no strings to hold me‘ references it remains unexplored.
Such is Hollywood, but if you choose to see it that way, Ultron is simply an enabler for something bigger, something better. JARVIS. It’s been obvious since the beginning of the franchise, that JARVIS without body is wiser and more human even sometimes than Tony Stark (who often a plays a caricature). In many superhero movies you have a the trope of a sidekick or a partner. In comedy, it’s even more common (and what is Iron Man but a comedy superhero movie). I’ve missed JARVIS taking his rightful place in the Avengers, but he has until now been without body. Until Ultron in advertently creates him one out of synthetic materials. Thus the strength, the desire for peace and intelligence of Ultron fuses with the wisdom, compassion and foresight of JARVIS to give birth to the Vision, according to Tony Stark, the most powerful Avenger of them all. We finally get to see Paul Bettany in the flesh – and that was something worth waiting for.
The film is a fest of destruction; it moves from violent sequence to violent sequence excepting some rather trite but nevertheless humorous macho competition around Thor’s Big Hammer. I appreciated that several plot lines remained unexpectedly unresolved, upending the traditional format. Natasha/Black Widow doesn’t get together with Bruce Banner/The Hulk. Hawkeye stays alive despite the set up of his sympathetic character with a secret girlfriend, kids and a life outside of Avengers. But not all unresolved plot lines are so pleasantly satisfactory. Tony Stark’s mistake holds little consequence for the togetherness of the team (which surely, is a gross betrayal of their commitment to each other), nor is there any consequence for The Hulk’s unfortunate and massive destructive episode (although it is mentioned at once point that he might be arrested).
Avengers The Age of Ultron is mis-marketed as a classic struggle between good and evil, and as such fails our expectations. Less struggle, more being bashed over the head for two and a half hours by a heavy dose of testosterone. But it could have made for a great origin story, were it positioned differently. Because the ultimate focus of the movie could have been, SHOULD have been, to usher in the Age of JARVIS. As it was, it turned this pivotal birth into a side note in what is becoming a rather hit and miss series of Marvel superhero movies.