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Avengers: Age of Ultron: Binding ourselves up in strings




Aliens aren't the only things that threaten the Avengers. By their foes, and by their own members, we hear that they are plagued by many potentially disabling if not deadly things, many impediments, many "strings" — they may have "weak"members, some of them may be "monsters," they may lack cohesion. None of these things are actually problems for the Avengers — more like afflictions they almost gladly take on because each one can be turned on its head, and how. Hydra leader, Strucker, identifies the group as having "weak" members, but Hawkeye's being taken down by a laser shot ends up being more a plot device — it introduces us to the skin surgeon, Dr. Helen Cho, who'll help fabricate the new Avenger member, Vision — than any showing-up of an Avenger weak spot. We remember in the last film he effectively was Loki's own version of an "enhanced" — the key recruit on the evil side — and throughout this film his “bow and arrow" really shows itself as an all-purpose energy weapon, more versatile but just as effective as Hulk's crashing through bunkers, Thor's hard-struck hammer, or Iron Man's beams. The "weakness" isn't allowed to stick — even the idea of him just being flesh and blood, just a regular guy, rather than superhuman, is made to seem an "in," in that he can trump Iron Man's and Thor's party-room discussion of their accomplished cosmopolitan girlfriends with his suddenly revealed secret life of an at-ease farmhouse life, with wife and kids. They're playing at something that he's already got well under way.  

The Avengers are ridden with a monster problem — the Hulk, the — as Tony Stark calls him — "enormous green rage monster." But the film amply shows that having someone who seems to never wear down, who is just as intense at the far-end of a battle as he is at the beginning, can make someone as indefatigable as Ultron nearly just ready to give up — “Oh for God’s sakes!” as he says, when he is humiliatingly tossed by the Hulk out of his getaway jet. Besides, his needing a calm-down after every time he responds to "code green" entrenches nurturance as an essential component responsible for all the team's blasting firepower, something which adds to also-one-of-the-weaker Avengers' — to Black Widow's — throughly essential contributions. They've got a monster-creation problem too — Tony Stark and Banner are responsible for creating Ultron; but by persisting to own their mad scientist status, Ultron in the end is destroyed and the Avengers end up having along their side, Vision, a powerful android that can make the Avengers seem okay, and the Earth still in good hands, even if the like of Iron Man or Thor need to depart the team to attend to personal business.

Group cohesion is ostensibly a problem too — the fact that there are too many independent minds, sometimes in strong conflict: Ultron mocks them for it; foretells their doom through it. But of course we feel that if you can have a group which works made out of strong-minded, independent, and different personalities, you've got something that easily trumps the easy path to cohesion — namely, just having endless multiples of a single intelligence, aka, what Ultron's got. The Avengers are compelling because you never really know which of them might make the unexpected, great contribution, not just because when Thor smacks Captain America's shield and stuns an army of opponents, or bulls-eye aim Hawkeye tosses Captain America's shield to Captain America so he can discombobulate an opponent, or when Hulk impales a large shard into a demonically large slug beast for Thor to tap down into its brain, or when Black Widow goes "domestic" and picks up and returns Captain's shield so he can break up the stranglehold he's caught in, or when Thor distracts Ultron so the Vision can use his hammer to full-effect, you've got things working lock-and-key, synergistically. They're all intelligent, and none of them seem to have a problem voicing their opinions. I myself was particularly impressed when Banner reminded everyone that the witch had gotten inside Captain America too: Captain America never factored that this may have been why he'd accepted Scarlet Witch's apparently rock-solid reasoning that Tony Stark would when alone with Ultron’s intended new form, simply create another monster. Quicksilver's just cutting through the dispute and pulling the power chord, and Thor's returning to charge the Vision's creation, willy-nilly whatever had been going on previously in the room, were thrilling in their way too: sometimes the independent, disparate and/or desperate act, leads to something —  as Thor says about the Tony Stark's effort to yet-again create the perfect AI machine — ultimately very "well done."

Every Avenger member, and the Avenger group assemblage itself, are always redeemed, because this is the humane intent of Joss Whedon — when you feel so much a creator rooting for his creations, loving them, as one does in his products, it misleads to talk of expectations, of formula, because it's not primary. Whedon is kind of the anti-Loki — he doesn't use what he knows of people to hopefully humiliate and destroy them, but naturally wants to see someone raised from whatever status they'd befallen to. He's more like Ultron, actually, at least when he draws out Quicksilver to talk more on his very troubled past — as did Loki with Black Widow, we remember — and soothes the memory by establishing their experience as not just of loss and affliction but of resilience and survival skills: constituents of a solid future that might make up for their harsh beginnings. A good man like that behind this product means that the people who'll have to suffer for all this destructive carnage to come into play — civilians — are going to be thought about and tended to as well. Never before have I seen a superhero or action film where we come to know that the heroes we have before us are constantly thinking of abating the damage done to citizenry. You have a feeling that the creator was willing to resort to an absurdity, to actually pissing some of his fans off, to involve the complete destruction of a skyscraper without a single person getting killed, than find a fitting way for Iron Man to quit the team's most indestructible member, the Hulk, in a way that'd strike us as plausible but that'd involve multitudes of squashed civilians. Since there is a sense in all films that what's going on is "real," then Whedon is going to make sure that the real life concern we all ought to have that masses of civilians getting killed is never just a component of an exciting happening, gets full play. He’s going to make sure that civilians “in the way” are never just felt to be an unfortunate impediment that lucky! villains don’t have to consider themselves with, but a fortuitous constant reminder of the team’s whole point.

What I'm getting to is that, if Ultron's belief is that humanity needs some kind of apocalyptic event to breed a more evolved race of "men," my own role as a single mind envisioning how our world might be made better has me wishing that a huge bulk of the world would get inculcations of Joss Whedon's Avengers on a regular basis. You get the kind of action and delight that a lot of us desire, but then as well all these reminders that the world taking shape before us should and will rightly mean fewer and fewer people we can count as not mattering; fewer and fewer peoples who's suffered plight we in our immature years enjoyed because their suffering misfortunes meant that we thereafter felt less susceptible to the same. If women are in the film, we will see so much focus on them from someone immediately able to relate to them, that we'll grow so that the nature of one's sex will tell you little of how much life will prove an obstacle. The same goes for race — white characters will no longer simply predominate, and so finally a coarse, stifling 1950s vision of all whites, finally ebbs away. Concerning the villains in a film, we'll get a fairer sense of their makings too; feel sorry for them, have sympathy for them, if they can't just be saved — as Vision does beautifully with Ultron in this film. And in the end of all this Joss Whedon' Avengers viewing, some frat boys will come back to their all-white, no-female fraternity, and find the whole concept a bit strange. If they still vote Republican, they're more dismayed now to learn foreign wars mean lots of drone strikes which always seem to hit best all the civilians in whatever country is being invaded, and so are reconsidering this one too. People, regular people, will do the evolving Ultron insists on, and it’ll lead to what he’s hoping for too, but very much more quietly — an eventual end to war. 

But it isn't true that as a doctor I would subscribe Joss Whedon to all my patients, without attending to his mood in any given day. Given certain conditions, what I might end up thereby being guilty of is injecting into them a hot bath of rage. I sense that when Ultron awakens, understands that his role is protection against war-intent aliens, and takes a look at those he’s protecting and identifies them as war-obsessed themselves — as unworthy of even being protected until they dramatically improve — this was an angry turn on humanity's worth that Whedon himself might find himself susceptible to.
For me it explains why he seems to be only able to portray civilians in poses that counter this portrayal of them, that is, as instead always under threat, always weak, always traumatized, always scared, always just grateful for simple rescue— always sort of dismally small. When Banner decides that he has to leave the Avengers and once again become a recluse owing to the world having finally seen the real Hulk, Whedon enters this frame of mind where he suddenly pictures the rest of humanity as reacting in a simple, unsophisticated and ultimately diminishing way: just affront, fear and rejection. I get a sense that he doesn’t want to let the reality in, namely, that if the Hulk actually let loose on a town, but only after being instrumental in preventing terrifying giant space slugs from obliterating our planet, people might actually only ask that more resources be developed to improving the Hulk containment device, “Veronica,” which after all showed promise as an effective rabid-Hulk container. Yeah, the big guy can go awry — but if the next threat to Earth is more terrifying space monsters, he’s on the team — no questions! He wouldn’t let them be capable of this sort of evolved thinking because his humiliating them into the mindset of scared wildebeests is necessary so he doesn’t imagine them as the sort of confident beings whose ongoing accomplishments and lack of sufficient humility — whose lack of “stoppers” — might make them capable of sliding on over into pompous-sinner territory.

One of the taunts/accusations used against certain Avenger members actually aren’t in play only as vehicles to ultimately elevate/redeem them … they reflect, in fact, concerns Whedon has as he himself ascertains the future worth of humanity. I’m thinking specifically of the Captain being identified by Ultron as someone terrified of “real change,” and Tony Stark’s being identified as someone who ignores the adage that “man was not meant to meddle” and instead, well, meddles madly. My own sense that this film’s putting the Captain as the effective leader of the group (Tony Stark says, referring to the Captain, “actually, he’s the boss … I just pay for everything, design everything”) is actually Whedon’s preference. I think it eases him to think of this team as ultimately being headed by someone who prefers brakes still be kept on change — by someone who can’t afford a home in Brooklyn, who is selfless, and who’s view on new technologies, new discoveries, is a wary one, believing that it tempts men into sin — i.e. the first film's, “you should have left it in the ocean.” I think he’s glad that Ultron ultimately settles down into the form of the Vision, so what is in service to the Avengers isn’t the newest thing, set to displace top-of-the-line Jarvis, something overflowing, unaccountable, independent and brilliant, that could hypnotize Bruce Banner back into the enthusiasm of his pre-Hulk-curse years with its promise, but something compact, useful, but not really game-changing. Further, I think he’s glad to end the film with the Vision ostensibly standing up for mankind in way that involves his acknowledging Ultron's argument that they are nevertheless “doomed,” without the accuracy of this estimation seeming questionable or dubious given his, after all, just being “born yesterday.” I think he’s glad that our last sense of the Captain America vs. Iron Man relationship isn’t so much Tony’s “I don’t trust someone who doesn’t have a dark side,” where Captain America looks like he’s guilty of insufficient self-introspection, of just ignoring what everyone else at least have the courage to know they ought to deal with, nor with Tony’s having “owned” his being a mad scientist status rather than being cowed by it and in the end actually creating something pretty great, but rather with Iron Man subsuming himself within the Captain America articulation of the fundamental Avenger principle — that all that matters is that they function together — a repeat of the ultimate playing out of their tete-a-tete in the first film, with Tony there choosing to “make the sacrificial play” that the Captain insisted on, not just finding a neat way to sidestep the problem by "cutting the wire." Whedon likes that the Avengers have all their wild, individualistic “id” ultimately contained and looked-over by an administrative “super-ego” — no change coming out of his creations, will be spared the affliction/humiliation of parental-approval.   

Why? It’s because the number of people out there who can be completely comfortable with absolute progress, where we communicate to people that they should apply no limit on how much they should enrich themselves and enjoy life, is still very rare, and Joss Whedon, though good, isn’t one of them. Too many people empowering themselves like that would trigger a part of his brain to take over, and suddenly he’d see people as the self-destructive, self-indulgent shits that would deserve the universe teaching them some kind of hard lesson. And he understands that the world he is helping create through his empowering depictions of peoples previously stigmatized, shortchanged and stifled, is one where fewer and fewer people are either going to be forced to live cramped lives, or who’ll believe they really don’t deserve much more than this. 

Some people are wondering why Joss Whedon, the freewheeling auteur, would agree to become Marvel Entertainment’s "slave" — someone who’d be bound for years and years by the corporation’s expectations, and who’d have to work in his creativity while meeting every single one of them. Why would he willingly agree to bind himself up in strings? It’s not the money; more what it means to be part of furthering a better world outside of a Golden Age where everything youthful is golden: every step forward you make can get confused in your own mind as an advancement that humanity simply does not deserve. So when you indeed still make that step, it has to feel burdened for it to feel as if it gets to keep its new hold. Otherwise, we have to take a step back, to bleak, compromised, regressive days, of Christmases past. 


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