Imagine you’re stuck in a room with six people trying to solve a crisis. Now imagine those people are an egomaniac with a robot suit, a soldier from the 1940’s, a Viking with a magic hammer, an archer with an attitude, a Soviet assassin, and a large, green monster. That’s the fun of the Avenger movies – six people with nothing in common working together to save the world.
The Avengers: Age of Ultron is the latest entry in the Marvel universe, and it assumes from the start that you’ve done your homework. No prologue. No recap. Just a free fall into battle with our heroes leading the charge. The Avengers have learned the value of teamwork. They fight their enemies like dancers in a recital. Thor strikes the ground to level an army while Hawkeye takes out the General behind him. That is, just before Hulk smashes into the impending missile strike that would have killed them all.
The Avengers are unstoppable when they have a plan. Finding one proves challenging, though, when they face their greatest challenge to date.
Heroes and Villains
Ultron is a terrifying villain. On the surface, he’s just a heap of metal. But it’s what’s inside that counts. Try fighting a mind as vast as the internet. He knows everything, and he’s everywhere. There’s also a human element to his personality which makes him even more unnerving. James Spader’s voice work is terrific. Spader’s always had a way with words. His voice is seductive and smooth, like ice from the land of the Frost Giants.
Speaking of which, is Loki a better villain than Ultron? Probably. He’s more fun anyway. But I like the darker desperation that Ultron unleashes in the Avengers. He brings them to their brink, which is something Loki’s playfulness never could.
The rest of the cast is perfect. Ultron is a true ensemble piece. These actors own their characters, and their playful exchanges are the movie’s bread and butter. Early on, Captain America says “language” when Tony Stark swears on the radio. That turns into a running joke that Cap is a swear word Nazi. He’s the golden boy from the 40’s, after all. Those little, character based moments are what make these films fun.
But Ultron would be nothing without the man behind the strings. Joss Whedon once again proves to be a knockout punch as both writer and director. The flavor of his work hasn’t changed much since his early days on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He’s just perfected it down to a science. Of all the Marvel directors, Whedon seems the most at home in this universe. His script is witty, and he understands the importance of pacing. It’s a credit to Whedon’s skills that his quieter moments are just as thrilling as his action sequences.
Still, maybe the greatest puppeteer isn’t a man, but a brand. Marvel is a powerhouse. They have a formula and it works. They also have a plan. Every end credit sequence offers a preview of things to come. They’ve created a universe with characters criss-crossing into each other’s stories. A seemingly standalone character in last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy now looks to be a game changer for the future of the Avengers. This is a shared landscape where anything is possible.
Simply put, they’ve earned our trust. And with their expansion into television in the fantastic Daredevil on Netflix, that doesn’t appear to be changing any time soon.
Our Need for a Savior
A character muses at one point in Ultron about how beautiful the human race is. That’s true. After all, we’re made in God’s image. But we also have a destructive streak. The real evil isn’t out there somewhere, it’s within. Ultron himself makes a compelling point. He points out that humans tend to create the things they dread the most. He’s right, and we often do it with the best of intentions. This is why we can’t fight evil on our own. We need help. We need a savior.
For the Avengers, the mission is a failure if even one civilian doesn’t make it home alive. And that’s not just talk. They have the means. The team goes out of their way to save human lives, even if that means swerving from the primary objective. When Iron Man is about to destroy a building, he scans the structure in seconds to make sure no one’s inside.
Contrast that with our wars where civilian casualties are the norm. We’re not capable of waging war without the wrong people getting hurt. That’s why in Scripture, God is the one who’s supposed to fight our battles. Only he knows when violence is appropriate. Only he knows how to kill from a place of pure love.
In the same way, the Avengers do what we could never do. They see the big picture. They use their superhuman abilities to zero in on the one thing that will set the world right again. And we love them for it, because deep down we know we need this. The forces of darkness are too powerful. The power of sin is too great. We need someone capable of staring down evil without succumbing to it. We need someone powerful enough to defeat every enemy, and bring true shalom.
A Shared Universe
Is Ultron flawless? No, but only because it aims to please. If you want 2 ½ hours of non-stop fun, you’ll have to forgive Whedon for not stopping to hold your hand. I’m still not sure who Paul Bettany’s character is, but I trust everything will come to light eventually. After all, this is just another stop in the ever expanding reaches of the Marvel universe. A universe where heroes have a plan, and the enemy’s days are numbered.
A universe not much different from our own. For we too trust in a hero. And at the sound of his voice, evil trembles.