Friday, June 05, 2015

Age of Ultron, Part 2

Continued from Monday.

At one point, Ultron says, “you want to save the world, but you don't want it to change,” a succinct statement of the underlying contradiction of not just super hero stories, not just of the comics industry in general, but of the first world itself. Most folks realize the glaring injustices of their world, but deny or ignore them because changing them is too daunting a project as both an concerted effort and a massive change to the status quo that leaves their future in question.

Cap says, “a-yup” and throws his shield at Ultron.

Let's face it; for these films optics come first, franchising second, character is a distant third, and way down in fourth is theme. I mentioned scattered thematic elements in Avengers that were apparently abandoned and AoU feels like it's got even fewer bones under all of the meat.

There's something about trust and secrets, which was so facile that it could've been pulled from any saturday morning cartoon. If you took a shot every time someone said “team” in this movie, you'd die from alcohol poisoning about half way through the Ninja Turtles Farmhouse scenes. But then everything turns out for the best when the fight over Vision is resolved successfully by two characters acting completely without consulting the others and Barton's secret family farmhouse turned out to be a really good thing after all so the lesson on that is...?

There's something about progeny and mortality and failure, but I can't for the life of me unravel it. Vision kind of touches on it in that final scene with Ultron, but I was distracted because it kinda felt like he was just jerking the audience off with the adulation of the humanity for it's own sake.

Whoa, Vision. I didn't say to stop...

He also mentions grace and if anyone took note about the minor kerfluffle regarding Captain America being a Christian who believes there's only one god(!?) in Avengers, it only seemed to motivate them to cram more religious themes into this one. There's lots of talk of Ultron's nearly-divine judgment of and Vision's love for and confusion over humanity.

In fact, I'd be interested in a viewing of Age of Ultron colored by Old and New Testament readings of it. Ultron is the first (Christian) God we made, designed by fear for the ostensible and ultimately dubious benefit of all. So obsessed with control and willing to smite all of Creation for defying him. He lives in a church, is omnipresent, and doesn't like being compared to Tony Stark[1]. That's a spot-on description of Yahweh if I ever heard it.

Vision is Jesus and The New Testament rolled into one, forged from hindsight and cooperation, albeit halting cooperation. He walks among us and is the path to his father, Ultron. The Christian view is that ultimately, the New Testament replaces the old. Jesus doesn't then join the Avengers, but there are a few parallels.

Still though, I'd be the first to suggest I'm engaging in some incredibly creative reaching. The only reason the scattered religious references are here are because I secretly suspect Joss Whedon made this thing as a hate letter to Man of Steel.

My hate of Man of Steel is well documented at this point. It's possible I'm projecting.

But where Man of Steel was cynical mess with a slightly more coherent religious theme than Age of Ultron. Lest this become the third bitch-in for Man of Steel. It featured a solitary, messianic hero we were supposed to like because we like him, a dark pallete and themes for their own sake, and a superhero movie so obsessed with staying grounded that it has to excuse, obscure, and ignore every part of the genre its central character started.

Age of Ultron stars heroes that we don't always like, but do understand and feel sympathetic for. Because those characters are actual people--all characterized as part of a cast starring six to twelve individuals--the film is already grounded (well, except Segovia[2]). It doesn't have to be “dark” to convince us it's real. Age of Ultron takes a break at its climax to say, “Yeah, this is insane, but you want to a part of it, don't you?”

And you do. The Marvel Cinematic Universe isn't a perfect place, but one of its strengths is that it never forgets that the people our heroes are fighting for are worth saving. Flawed? Yes. Imperfect? Yes. Just like our heroes. No one wants a god looking down on them; we want gods in the trenches with us.

As in real life, amongst all this chaos and destruction, the life on this little blue ball is all we have. We are all we have and it's incumbent upon us to rise as high above it as we can not so we can save it but because one day whereever we're standing this garbage heap, we're gonna have someone--a kid, a friend, a mentee--and we're gonna wanna lift them over our heads and put them as high up above where we are as we can. We want them where there's just less garbage and hopefully, one day, they can climb or whoever they lift will climb to a place where there isn't any garbage at all.

So maybe Age of Ultron had some kind of theme after all.

Wow, so...Infinity Stones seem pretty small compared to life on Earth.

Avengers took some heat for not mentioning War Machine and not really covering the partners of the central team members. Age of Ultron fixes all that. Well, not “adding Jane Foster” fixing it. In fact, Pepper Potts isn't in this one either. But there is a conversation where Stark and Thor compete with each other to see who has the more accomplished girlfriends. Feminism?

Probably not. But as the Avengers scatter to the winds, we meet the New Avengers. The literal New Avengers made up of the sidekicks of the previous movies and some new characters introduced in this one. Because women and people of color have only been support characters in previous movies[3], the removal of the A-list means that the New Avengers are now 33% non-white[4] and 33% women. The woman thing needs some work, but until Pepper Potts stops running Stark Industries and becomes Rescue, it's a marked improvement.

Also, they set up for Infinity War, though I'm not 100% on where Civil War comes from because Cap and Iron Man seem cool at the end of this one. As someone who hasn't seen Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, it plugs into the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe without any encumbrance.

Again, these movies focus on spectacle, continuity, character, and ideas in that order and they get the fuck away with it every time by remembering their priorities and giving each part the exact weight it needs. In fact, Age of Ultron is a lot like Mjolnir; it's perfectly balanced and built with the knowledge that being too heavy can rob it of its power.

[1] It's in Deuteronomy. I swear.
[2] Too soon?
[3] Technically, I think Pepper Potts stops the villain in each Iron Man, but whatever.
[4] I dare not even debate the ethnicity of Scarlet Witch.

1 comment:

SkilTao said...

"...a hate letter to Man of Steel..."
Plausible. Joss is a comics nerd and has strong views about storytelling.

"Feminism? Probably not."
Probably is, judging from his other work.

"...stops running Stark Industries and becomes Rescue..."
Not Firestar? Granted, Firestar is a different person in the comics, but why else make her fiery.

"...not 100% on where Civil War comes from..."
Doubt Winter Soldier or Guardians of the Galaxy will plug into Civil War; naturally hoping it'll flesh out the thematic bones that AoU set up, but also hoping that Agents of SHIELD gets a stronger tie-in. (The latter's not a strong hope.)

"Too soon?"
For high-flying puns? I don't think they fall flat.