Saw this over the weekend. Nutshell: For the first time in the Marvel universe of blockbuster movies, I was unable to turn my brain off enough to really enjoy this one. At first, I wanted to say that, if you *could* turn your brain off sufficiently, it was a workable action and special effects packed popcorn muncher, but, upon reflection – nobody should turn their brains off that much. I’m not talking about the highly improbable to ludicrously impossible ‘science’. That’s fine and expected. Contrary to the Marvel brand, at least as far as the movies go, Age of Ultron exists in a terrible, loathsome moral universe.
Some spoilers ahead.
The story picks up where previous Marvel epics left off, particularly Winter Soldier: the team is attempting to recover Loki’s scepter from some Hydra bad guys. Once they get it, via the daring-do and gee-wiz we buy the ticket for, we get a nice series of Avenger bonding and character-development moments in the luxurious Avenger Tower, which is apparently the rebuilt and rebranded Stark tower in Manhattan.
So far, so good.
But now, an inexplicable plot development: Stark wants to take a look at the scepter, in the sense of subjecting it to the full array of diagnostics and probing at Jarvis’s disposal. For no reason, Thor goes along with this.
Minor pause: either Thor, in his wisdom, decides to let the earthlings have Asgardian technology, or, more wise, perhaps, decides not to. There are no doubt some folks or at least systems on Asgard that could explain it to mere human, if Thor wants to go that route, spoon it out appropriately and with the proper safeguards. What he does not do is let the likes of Stark and Banner, a couple egomaniacs with, to say the least, questionable decision-making paradigms, play with a particularly nasty piece of advanced tech just for the hell of it. Makes no sense whatsoever, even in a comic book.
While the party rocks on upstairs, Stark sneaks off with Banner to the lab where Jarvis is attempting to hack the scepter. (Reminds me of the scene in Independence Day where an alpha-geek hacks the alien system of an advanced interstellar race. Right. At least he used a Mac.) Stark sells Banner on the idea that, with the power of the scepter, they can *really* protect earth! Throw a super-duper Iron man suit, figuratively speaking, over the whole damn planet! Banner, who always seemed the more reasonable of the two, somehow is convinced.
Predictably, the scepter doesn’t want to be used by puny humans, but instead, disassembles Jarvis and reinterprets the ‘get powerful and save humanity’ goal as ‘get powerful and save humanity by exterminating it’. Perfectly logical conclusion based on utilitarian ethics – human suffering is reduced to zero once all people are dead. Scepter-tech + Jarvis + Stark & Banner’s input = Ultron.
All hell breaks loose. Jarvis appears dead, and Ultron has infected and taken over the internet and almost all computer systems on earth. It makes an army of puppet Ultrons to serve the cannon-fodder role so essential to this sort of thing.
So far, so good-ish. We’re set up for a rollicking smash ’em up good time. Except –
One of the unwritten rules of mindless fun movies is that, if innocent people are to die, the bad guys do the killing. The good guys do the saving. Right? The Empire blows up Alderaan, the rebels blow up enemy ships and shoot storm troopers, and save planets. If the rebels started blowing up planets full of innocent people, we’d quickly loose sympathy for them.
Even if – here’s the crucial part – even if good guys think they could win by blowing up planets full of innocent people. Right? Some things are just out of bounds. If the evil Emperor were on a planet full of innocent people, it’s still not OK to blow up the planet to get him. Right? We agree on that?
For many modern writers, this little rule is no fun at all, in fact, it seems to uniquely get their dander up. They believe, it seems, that the one fantasy we can’t be allowed to indulge in in our escapist movies is that the good guys can do their universe-saving thing while not killing any innocent people. Nope, (slightly) regrettably, omelettes, eggs.
Some modern movies seem to nudge and hint in this direction. Some are perfectly plain. The Matrix sequels take us straight to the ultimate nihilist/Übermensch world view, wherein the unplugged and Zion born kill the copper-tops with nary a twitch of conscience. Those still plugged in are, while innocent, still part of the system, and therefore Bad Guys even if they have not personally done anything bad. There is not even so much as a ‘too bad we had to kill them’ – nope, all in a day’s work of blowing up virtual office building and power plants.
Age of Ultron is one step removed from this view, but with both feet firmly on the path. Tony and Bruce create a monster – for our own good, right? To save us! This monster then proceeds to kill many, many innocent people. Our Heroes save the day, but only after a couple cities and thousands of their inhabitants have been destroyed – AND they manage to save the day because the second time they try the same stupid experiment, it works! Vision! Then, as the dust settles, Stark walks off into the sunset, Banner/Hulk runs away, and Thor heads off the Asgard, far from any mourning families, policemen and annoying wrongful death and property damage lawsuits.
Follow the implicit thought process: It’s OK that all these people died because we were trying to do the right thing; then, despite all these people dying, we tried again to do the right thing, but this time it worked! So, everything is cool and we get to go on with our lives. You little people just suck it up because we did all this for you!
Sound like any political movements you’ve run into? Except for the part about eventually getting it right. As Prince Farquaad said: “Some of you may die – but that’s a price I’m willing to pay.”
No, I do not recommend this movie. What it is doing – and I think it intends to do this – is to lull children of all ages into accepting the premise that the ends justify the means if the ends are holy enough. As long as we keep our eyes on the worker’s paradise or ‘equality’ or even universal health care, we can safely ignore that ever-growing pile of corpses we create to get there.
Until the day we join them.