With the Avengers about to fall into a CIVIL WAR, it felt timely to post some reviews of their last gathering, with reflections on the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. I was blessed to hold a showing of the film and do a post-movie parallel exploration with a room full of “assembled” fans.
If you want a leisurely look at the entire Avengers phenomenon, (with some jokes, etc.) you can watch the whole thing: or jump right to the post-movie talk at 12:21.
Bonus: written version of the video review appears below…
…but first, I also want to plug the team audio podcast where I “assembled” with Mikey Fissel and Joshua Crabb over at Reel World Theology.
I hope both of these serve as great starters for contemplation and conversation!
NOTES AND IMAGES FROM VIDEO REVIEW:
In Avengers: Age of Ultron, the narrative contrasts Steve Rogers and Tony Stark. They are the heart of many Avengers stories, and the difference seems clear:
Steve – sure of himself
Tony– full of himself
We might complain it’s a “narrative retread” for Tony, since he’s faced his internal issues in several plot points of his own trilogy… but is that also not familiar? Do people we know find themselves in ruts? Returning to the same dispositions, the same mistakes? Maybe it’s a year later, maybe it’s what they did yesterday. Consider:
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand… I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? – Romans 7:20-24
There is no better description for Age of Ultron than Proverbs 14:12… so much that the idea appears MORE than once: Proverbs 16:25 shares the sentiment, and 21:2 goes further to say “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord ponders the heart.”
That’s a refrain echoed repeatedly by the book of Judges, that “Everyone did what was right in their own eyes” (with the outcome being oppression and destruction).
This sounds eerily similar to Wanda Maximoff’s prediction. She goes on to say “I saw Stark’s fear. I knew it would control him, make him self-destruct.”
Ultron is a reflection of Tony’s fears, which makes this the classic story: Dr. Frankenstein, horrified by the monster he’s created. But the monster becomes a monster because of the character of his creator…
In fact, this is a recurring theme. Think about it… Terminator. Frankenstein. Agent Smith.
Question: why is it – so many stories where we create life – bigger, stronger, smarter… that life decides we should be destroyed? What are we projecting? Something we don’t want to admit to ourselves? Perhaps, as Sweeney Todd sings in the Demon Barber of Fleet Street – we all deserve to die.
Perhaps Ultron is right about our only hope for peace… particularly by our own means. The robot’s big plan is a lot like R’as al Ghul in Batman: he wants to cull the herd, raze the earth, effectively start over. He even uses biblical references…
Christians don’t believe man has the authority to do this to one another… or – let’s be clear – to make a robot surrogate to do it for us… but the reality is: Ultron’s right, and God has done it.
And so some might correlate Ultron here as the “old testament wrathful god of the Bible” but the context, the one doing the judging, and the authority simply don’t wash. Ultron is obviously shown to be a petulant child and an artificial offspring of Tony. Only a just God – if there is one – could do this and be justified.
Like Ultron, we may see the mistakes of our forefathers and want to, in some way, wipe out that past and pave a new future… but we don’t want to take a hard look in the mirror. We want to believe “if more people were just like ME…”
But the reality is, even if we don’t admit it… we know we’re not worthy. We often try to focus externally… blame it on other people – that political party – that culture, those “types”. They’re what’s wrong with humanity… but all the while we’re tugging just as helplessly on the hammer.
In fact, some of the greatest wisdom in the film comes from a simple comment by the Black Widow.
Natasha Romanoff: [on Mjölnir] That’s not a question I need answered.
This scene plays out with humor, as if she’s simply not willing to participate in the boys “who’s got the bigger bicep” contest. But if we remember the first Avenger’s film: she knows she has “red in her ledger“. She knows she’s not worthy. She’s not fooling herself.
However, the solution she and Bruce discuss isn’t really an answer either. She knows they’re victims and monsters, broken people, but her proposed solution is to remove themselves from the equation: that’s abdication. It may not add to the problems, but it isn’t helping either. It’s a net zero sum.
What IS the solution then? Well, what about Cap’s solution?
Ultron: How do you hope to stop me?
Tony Stark: Like the old man said, Together.
Does this idea have merit? It has some… I mean remember, he BUDGES the hammer, right?
Director Joss Whedon always seems to focus on “made family” – whether it’s the crew of the Serenity in Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and her “Scooby gang” or the Marvel superheroes… but the fact that we know they’re headed for a tragic Civil War means it’s not enough. There is some merit to unity and togetherness, but not sufficient.
There’s no guarantee of success or victory. The best Steve Rogers can offer is that even if they fall, they’ll fall together. There is some nobility in loss, but it’s still bleak.
Tony’s assertion earlier in the film about the need for something more powerful than “any of us” isn’t wrong… but thinking he can CREATE the answer is wrong. Some have pointed out a narrative flaw in the film… that the hubris of humanity is exposed and laid low, Tony is chastised and promises never to play god again…
…and by that we mean he tries to create a new and improved godlike robot because he felt bad about the first one.
Fortunately, a bit of comic book chicanery takes the creation out of human hands – there is lightning from Thor’s hammer – an object that ultimately rules even over Thor himself, as it deems what and who is worthy. Then, there’s the Infinity Stone – a mind stone, created by no one, around since forever. And then there is bit of eternity, a bit of cosmic power coursing endows a human-fashioned form with a miraculous birth.
And it gives incarnation to what, exactly?
Consider: for multiple movies who’s been Tony’s guiding voice, guiding caution,warning him against threats external and internal… his voice of reason and understanding?
This is the voice that keeps telling Tony to listen to reason, to exercise patience, restraint… this comic book Jiminy Cricket… becomes flesh and walks among them. Sound familiar?
“I’m not what you are, and not what you intended.”
In other words, he’s like them, but yet completely OTHER. He’s not what they expected or necessarily wanted or desired him to be. He even says they may not put their trust in him… but then he picks up that hammer and one thing is clear:
Who ultimately crushes their foe? It’s a team effort for sure, but who ultimately crushes the head? The “last Ultron”. They have a great final scene together…
Ultron: Stark asked for a savior, and settled for a slave.
The Vision: I suppose we’re both disappointments.
And what a “unique” idea – a savior that doesn’t act like a puffed up Stark? A savior that lowers himself to the role of servant?
“For I tell you that Christ became a servant… to show God’s truthfulness…” – Romans 15:8
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of servant, being born in the likeness of men. – Philippians 2:5-11
This new Vision amidst the Avengers has a few choice words to say about humans as well.
The Vision: Humans are odd. They think order and chaos are somehow opposites and try to control what won’t be. But there is grace in their failings. I think you missed that.
I love that there is a mention of grace – although I’ll quibble that it’s a bit off the mark, since he seems to be saying there is a gracefulness in our failure. But grace – at it’s root, means “unmerited favor”
The testimony of the gospel is that, despite our failings, we receive grace… from the one who saves.
Victory comes through our serving, sacrificing savior – NOT by our own merit but despite our failings. THAT’s where our hope comes from. It’s not something Avengers: Age of Ultron, in and of itself, makes clear…
…but consider this: we see poor Wanda crying out… she’s been wronged terribly… and yet it was HER subtle manipulation of Stark that contributed to the additional horrors that followed. Like all of us – we are victimized, but must confess we are victimizers. Wanda is as guilty as Stark, and now it’s cost the life of her own brother.
What do we do? Do we follow Tony’s example and overreach ourselves? Follow Bruce’s plan and remove ourselves? Rally like Cap and just say “let’s face it together”? How do we know what team to sign UP for?
Hawkeye says “You can wait here, I’ll send your brother, or you can use your gifts, be an Avenger…” and so Wanda has a choice to make… but we see the best she gets is revenge. She rips out Ultron’s heart – but she’s going to die. At that point in the climax, where does salvation come from? What does she need?
What do WE need?
We need a Vision… we need a vision for that direction, we need that voice that’s more than our conscience – we need objective truth incarnate: someone who knows what we deserve, but speaks of grace.
Otherwise we’ll just be an Ultron… in a horde of Ultrons where “everyone does what’s right in their own eyes” – I’ll define my identity… there are no strings on me! The problem is, we trade strings for shackles – become slaves to our own failings… and there IS no grace in them.
Grace is given…
…by someone WORTHY.
We can spend our lives tugging on that metaphorical hammer, pretending it moved a little bit… or we can humbly admit that’s not a question we need answered. We know someone is worthy, and it’s not us. We know we can trust in him because he’s already served and sacrificed for us. In fact, like a brother, he laid down his life and said:
“I’ll bet you didn’t see that coming”
…but I’m forever grateful that he did.
In him I have wisdom,
In him I have a shield,
In him I have spiritual armor
In him I have strength,
In him I have a heavenly father,
In him I can fix my eyes on the right target
and trust my aim is true.
God has provided our Vision, if only we’ll see it.