Rated PG-13. Running time: 2 hours 21 min.
Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 5; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 2.
Our star rating (1-5): 4.5
Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.
I came away from the IMAX screening with a feeling of exhaustion, the high energy battle scenes so busy with hurtling bodies (plus a shield), flames, explosions, and debris—a whole city is destroyed in the finale—that even upon a third viewing I am sure that I will miss some of the pieces of the action. (Indeed, I know I missed spotting Stan Lee, who I believe has a tiny cameo in all of his Marvel movies!)*
Some will say Joss Whedon’s blockbuster is just a special effects-driven BIG SCREEN movie, but that would not be entirely true. One of the marks that sets the Marvel hero films apart are those quieter moments of intimacy, of which there are many in this long film. The thing that struck me the most, however, was that hubris is an important theme of the film.
The theme of hubris stretches back to the ancient world, where extreme human pride often was punished. The book of Proverbs warns against it and so do modern writers like John Milton and Mary Shelley in Frankenstein. You may think about Frankenstein when you watch Avengers or the other new film with a classic hubris theme: Ex Machina, which I also recommend.
The action begins early on with the Avengers attacking the castle where Baron Von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) has been working on new HYDRA weapons and conducting biological experiments. This leads Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) to conclude that artificial intelligence in their robots is the only way to keep the world permanently safe. The highly inventive guy, of course, does not need the long research period that other scientists would deem necessary to develop A.I. safely. He already has J.A.R.V.I.S. (voice of Paul Bettany) on his home computer (referring to the name of his father’s friendly butler (and also an acronym standing for Just A Rather Very Intelligent System), so almost before you can say “artificial intelligence” he has created Ultron (James Spader). During this process J.A.R.V.I.S is apparently destroyed, and Ultron escapes. Encased in a nearly indestructible robot body, he concludes that the Avengers and humanity must be wiped out.
The first battle against Ultron (how he manages to manufacture the myriads of robots fighting under his control is quite a mystery!) is so fierce that a part of a city is destroyed during the fray, including a towering skeleton of a new skyscraper. Many of the scenes of citizens running in terror from onrushing clouds of debris-filled dust and smoke seem like newsreel shots from the 9/11 terrorists’ attack on the Twin Towers.
One of the intimate moments mentioned above follows this bombastic scene when the Avengers, needing to rest and to regroup, are conducted by Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) to a safe house far out in the country. His companions are astonished to see that it is a large farmhouse where he lives with his wife Laura (Linda Cardellini) and two children in between their missions. He had never told them that he has a family. The interaction of the mighty heroes with the children is delightful, the little daughter giving one of them her crayon-drawn picture of a butterfly, a symbol that at least the Christian Captain America would recognize as resurrection.
Also, we feel the anguish during an exchange between Natasha Romanov/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Although Bruce would like to enter into a relationship with her, he tries to keep her at a distance because, as he points out, his uncontrollable rage would make it impossible for him ever to become a father. She then touchingly confesses what was done to her at the Russian spy school before she could graduate. Throughout the quiet moments of the film Bruce strives to stay cool, but when the Avengers are summoned to action, Natasha, knowing that at such times they need the “Big Guy,” as she calls him, deliberately stirs him up so that Hulk can emerge and help save the day. Indeed, in one scene she kisses Bruce as she says, “I adore you,” and then suddenly pushes him over a cliff, concluding with, “but I need the Other Guy.”
Another intimate moment provides some humor (beyond what Tony Stark, and now Ultron, always supply). It is during a party when Thor has set his flying hammer on a coffee table around which the Avengers are relaxing. I forget who it is that first suggests lifting it, but each one attempts to do so. Tony even tries to add to his strength with a small jet, but neither he, nor the others can even move it from the table. Much later, when another character easily picks up the hammer, the audience roars in laughter.
There is a big payoff in the climactic scene also in the complicated mission to evacuate the citizens of a doomed city in eastern Europe. The team is joined this time by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) who arrives in time with a huge hover aircraft carrier equipped with smaller vessels into which the citizens are loaded for the transfer— oh, did I mention that somehow the city atop a huge chunk of ground has been lifted high into the sky and is close to plumeting to earth? You wouldn’t think that a Marvel story would leave the about-to-be-destroyed city on the ground for an ordinary evacuation, would you?
The Avengers are not only up against Ultron and his minions physically, but their minds are clouded by Wanda Maximoff/The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), who joins Ultron, along with her brother Pietro/Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Wanda has the ability to enter people’s minds and cloud their thoughts. Before the two of them are brought around, this almost destroys the effectiveness of the team.
As in all suprhero films, the super villains have to be magnified beyond all normal powers in order for our superheroes to be truly challenged. The heroes’ are different from the villains mainly in that they want to use their powers to protect humankind and not for any selfish gain. Indeed, some of them, such as Tony Stark were once on the wrong side themselves, with the results of the once greedy industrialist/inventor’s mighty weapons being used around the world by other greedy men seeking power. The Marvel writers agree with believers of all faiths that a person can repent and turn his or her life around. We see this again in the film in the case of Wanda and Pietro.
Also, the depiction of the superheroes as being less than flawless is commendable, especially in the case of Tony whose past arrogance has not been erased, and indeed, much of which appears in the creature he has created, Ultron. The other Avengers want him to go more slowly on his A.I. development, but overly confident in his abilities, Tony presses on, heedless of any unintended consequences. As with Frankenstein over two centuries earlier, he will regret his creation.
Last of all, the good guys realize the truth of what The Teacher observed long ago in the Scripture passage above. More than once we hear a hero declaring the necessity for unity and thus their need for each other if they are to prevail in their mission to overcome evil. And by the way, a new Avenger has joined the team. It seems that J.A.R.V.I.S was not destroyed after all, but escaped into the Internet where he prevented Ultron from hacking into Nuclear Codes, which was found by Tony, and encased in one of Tony’s armors became the A.I. robot Vision.
Those wanting an escapist action film that has many commendable values and moments of human intimacy will have a blast at this latest addition to the Marvel film collection—and the promise of more to come in the next couple of years. There are so many characters and converging and diverging storylines that I think I need the same kind of character chart that Modern Library provided in their edition of Tolstoy’s complicated novel War and Peace. Maybe some fan has already done so. Please let me know if you come across it.
* My keen-eyed friend Eric Larsen reports, “Stan Lee was in the scene at the party. He was part of the group of veterans and was convinced that Thor’s alcohol wasn’t too strong for him! Which led to the slurred delivery of “Excelsior!” after Stan Lee drank Thor’s drink. ”
This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the May 2015 issue of Visual Parables.