Some mostly coherent thoughts about Avengers: Age of Ultron

I saw Avengers: Age of Ultron last weekend. As with the last Avengers movie, the characters’ interplay is just as great as the action pieces. Technically, it was spectacular. It’s only the overall theme of Marvel’s Avengers that continues to annoy me.

Starting with the technical, the 3D looked great. I still know people who think that 3D isn’t worth it. But, like every other technical innovation, some people can do it well and some can’t. (The first Thor movie was a mess in 3D.) In Ultron, the 3D was smooth and not too over-emphasized.

The glimpses into the characters are what keep me invested in the Marvel movies. Bruce and Nat: great. Hawkeye’s family: finally a reason to care about him. Cap and Tony talking politics (basically): gold. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver: amazing. Nick Fury: still don’t like that guy.

One of the huge reasons I loved this movie more than the original is that S.H.I.E.L.D was mostly absent from the proceedings. I’ve overdone my concerns with Marvel’s inherent statism so I won’t go too far into it here. Despite the absence of S.H.I.E.L.D, we see in Tony Stark’s hubris, the hubris of all state agents and agencies: “We can keep you safe. We can create peace. We can build a fortress around the planet that keeps out the aliens.” It’s all bullshit.

This isn’t a concoction of the Marvel movies. It’s straight out of the comics. In Civil War, Tony haughtily explains to his fellow superheroes–hang on, I don’t want to call Tony a superhero… Tony haughtily explains to the superheroes that he and Reed Richards can “intuit” the future.

iron man the futurist

But of course, they can’t. The Civil War that Tony could have stopped at the beginning ends with the death of his friend Steve Rogers.

This is the theme of all Iron Man / Avengers movies: Tony Stark causes a problem and the rest of them have to fix it. The problem I have with all this is that the tone never indicates that this is all Tony’s fault. Or S.H.I.E.L.D’s fault when they’re involved. On one hand, it is a consistent Marvel tone. On the other, it misses a great opportunity to examine the mythos of the superhero.

In creating Ultron under the presumption that he could keep the planet safe, Tony has made the mistake that every war-making, surveillance-expanding politician makes continuously: thinking that there is some technical way to create “safety” that doesn’t exacerbate danger and jeopardize liberty.

Not only is this a fatal flaw in Stark’s philosophy, it is the weak point in the Marvel movies (and their superhero universe in general). We don’t need a super army. We know how armies operate. And we can extrapolate how super armies would operate. Science fiction (and I’m including superheroes in that genre) represents ideas as reality and allows us to pick apart those ideas by relating to the humans in the stories. By continually siding their heroes with all other bureaucratic would-be-do-gooders, Marvel doesn’t do right by the genre because they don’t create the friction necessary to distinguish bad ideas from good.