AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, the highly-anticipated sequel to the highly-successful 2012 gathering of Marvel's superheroes, delivers a lot of idealism at its core, trading the non-stop explosion extravaganza of the first movie for heart as well as Darwinian scrutiny. Make no mistake: "Age of Ultron" is still an action-packed vehicle, yet it doesn't substitute the action for lack of catharsis, something the first film did so well. And for that, the sequel surpasses its predecessor by miles.
Whereas the first film dealt with the dilemma of becoming a hero, which is the Achilles' heel of every hero movie's beginning, "Age of Ultron" focused on the consequences of being a guardian of peace. When one of the Avengers seeks to end a war before it even begins, using whatever means necessary to prevent a cataclysmic event, such as the Chitauri invasion of New York in Part One, tension ensues. The Avengers begin doubting each other, and this is where each of the characters' motivations and morality are fleshed out. The creation of the artificial intelligence, dubbed "Ultron" (voiced by James Spader) enabled a deeper study of the characters' pasts and futures.
The film examines supremacism in the context of man versus machine, living versus non-living. But can we consider artificial intelligence as a living thing, especially if it desires to become an organic being?
One might say that Ultron is xenophobic, in such a way that it fears the human race. It wants to wipe humans from the face of the Earth. Fear breeds hatred. And Ultron especially hates its maker, Tony Stark AKA Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) the most.
Going back to the consequences of being a guardian of peace, up to what ends are you willing to go to achieve lasting peace? Does the risk of creating something that might go haywire at some point justify a possible answer to safeguarding mankind? The film says yes.
The issue of security and paranoia in "Age of Ultron" echoes the similar path taken by "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" last year, which to my opinion is one of the best Marvel film ever, if not the best. Perhaps reflective of present society where people fear what technology is capable of, "Age of Ultron" humanizes the fear in the form of Ultron- charismatic, narcissist and idealist to a fault. Ultron symbolizes our fear of the unknown, which leads us to do unimaginable things.
In fact, there is one key that the writers probably omitted intentionally- a contingency plan. Stark had no backup in case his original plan goes south, a powerful element that sparks a modern philosophical debate. Stark and co. just makes adjustments to their game plan as they go along because they are unprepared; Stark is unprepared. But in the end, the heroes each share the burden of responsibility, which is a commendable effort in terms of character development.
In one scene, Ultron hums something which grabbed my attention, especially that Spader delivered it so devilishly well. "I had strings, but now I'm free...there are no strings on me..."
On the surface, Joss Whedon may be talking about the technological enslavement of man, which is not only true but also unnoticed. Man created technology but look at who's controlling who.
Or is Whedon talking about politics, about government? What are these strings? Election season in the U.S. is near. The film could not have arrived at a better time.
My theory on the film's subliminal criticism of the government gets fueled further by a joke Tony Stark made during the party scene where the Avengers are trying to lift Thor's hammer. Stark said that if he lifts the hammer and is therefore hailed ruler of Asgard, he will reinstate prima nocta. Prima nocta is an alleged medieval law allowing a nobleman to have sex with any bride in the kingdom on her wedding night. I say "alleged" because it is still debated whether it is a real law or not.
So there's your (not) average superhero movie. Children probably dragged their parents to cinemas to see their favorite Avenger obliterate foes into kingdom come. "Age of Ultron" is actually a thinking man's movie that is never short on heart as well as laughter. There is always humor material when you pit Thor's machismo versus Iron Man's narcissism versus Captain America's righteousness.