A Messianic Vision in Avengers: Age of Ultron
(This contains spoilers)
From as far back as I can remember I have loved stories. As a child I particularly enjoyed television and more specifically cartoons. I remember years ago getting up remarkably early on a Saturday morning, dragging my duvet down to the living room with a bowl of cereal and settling down to watch the early morning cartoons. The sun wasn’t up fully just yet and the room was half hidden from the light. There was something really wonderful about being up and doing before anyone else at home and I could spend some time with my favourite characters. I feel it’s a ritual children today are deprived of, due to the ease of now being able to see whatever you want, whenever you want. I had to wait a full week for episodes of my favourite shows. The reason why I got up so early was because that was the time when the children’s broadcast would screen the Marvel Action Hour. As much as I enjoyed The Fantastic Four element of the show for me the really enjoyable moments were those devoted to Iron Man/Tony Stark. I loved the idea of the superhero who wasn’t like other superheroes like Spiderman or the X-Men…he was just a regular guy. These are memories I cherish.
As I grew older I still had this real love of fantastical stories and found them in filmmaking. When I went to university to study film I was totally captivated by just sitting watching a film and almost dissecting it to see what was going on underneath. It’s a process I still love taking part in, and while I certainly enjoy the process of filmmaking I can honestly say I prefer the theory behind it all. The fact that I was becoming more serious about my faith at the time helped matters greatly as I was able to look at a film and find the presence of God therein.
For years we have been called to be stewards of the New Evangelization, that is, evangelization through the mass media. I believe filmmaking presents us with a most wonderful opportunity to achieve this.
Recently my girlfriend and I decided to head to the cinema to see the latest blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron. Although I’ve missed one or two of the more recent Marvel Universe films I felt suitably ready for the two and a half hours ahead of me. There are a number of criticisms levelled at this film, including one that suggests the plot is overly complex and there are simply too many threads running through the film. Criticism aside I found the film to be a marvellous character study. It is packed to the gills with engaging action sequences, plenty of snappy dialogue and balanced nicely with back stories that allow the characters to be more than one dimensional “heroes”.
I should like to write about a number of the characters contained in the Age of Ultron film but for the time being shall focus on one of the secondary characters; the Vision. If you are still reading you should know this piece will contain storyline spoilers…You have been warned.
The character of the Vision is tied inextricably with that of J.A.R.V.I.S (Tony Stark’s computer programme) and Ultron (Artificial intelligence android with a deity complex). To me the three characters of Tony Stark, Vision and Ultron form an indissoluble bond and are a marvellous representation of the struggling nature of humanity as we either strive for the good, true and beautiful ways of God (exemplified by Vision) or do we give ourselves over to the ways of the world and see ourselves as all conquering and individualistic (typified by Ultron).
When the Vision first appears in the film he rises from his chamber almost like Christ coming out from the tomb on Easter Sunday and addresses the Avengers who ask is he Jarvis or Ultron. The response is given: “I am not Ultron…I am not Jarvis…I am…” Watching this I was immediately reminded of theophanies as witnessed in the Old Testament by prophets such as Moses when God appeared in the burning bush. Moses asks him what is he to tell the Israelites when they ask who sent him and is told “God said to Moses, ‘I am he who is.’ And he said, ‘This is what you are to say to the Israelites, I am has sent me to you.’” (Ex 3:14).
The Avengers then ask the Vision whose side he is on since he bears a link with Ultron who is currently seeking to destroy humanity. It is Captain America who asks this question directly and is told by the Vision, “I don’t think it’s that simple. I am on the side of life; Ultron isn’t.” Again I was transported back to the Old Testament; as Joshua is making his approach to Jericho and experienced his own theophany in which he asked “‘Are you on our side or on that of our enemies?’ He replied, ‘On neither side. I have come now as the captain of the army of Yahweh.’” (Jos 5: 12-13) The Vision proceeds to lift Thor’s hammer which immediately identifies him as godlike. So instantly while watching the film I got the impression that it had taken a dramatic turn from being one which addresses not just morality and ethics, but now theology as well. This is interesting given that the film’s director Joss Whedon identifies as an atheist, absurdist and a humanist.
Ultron is the antithesis to the Vision. His pride and absolute despair for humanity fuel his desire to destroy all in his path. He says in the film that “When the dust settles the only thing living in this world will be me.” He proceeds to do battle with the Avengers in a church of all places. As the film draws to a close we see a fascinating discussion take place between Vision and Ultron, in which Ultron tells the Vision why he cannot believe what has happened:
“Stark wanted a saviour; instead he got a slave.” This was perhaps the greatest question posed to Jesus when he walked the earth preaching and teaching and giving us the Gospel: how could a carpenter’s son, a man who was a descendant of slaves be a Saviour? How could such a man be the son of God? Ultimately Jesus taught us through his willingness to suffer and die that there is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends and this is why we should be surprised by the joy of the Gospel.
The Vision genuinely seems to care for Ultron, constantly trying to reassure him of why he is trying to save humanity: “Humans are odd, they think that order and chaos are opposing forces, and are constantly trying to control that which cannot be. But there is grace in their failings, I think you missed that.” Ultron responds, “They’re doomed.” And he replies, “Yes…but a thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts. It’s a privilege to be among them.”
What wonderful wisdom as to how life should be lived! There is grace in our failings; the moments we fall short of the glory of God are the moments where we have an opportunity to learn from our mistakes and do better the next time. We are mortal; our lives on this planet are brief and we all have some work to carry out in building up the kingdom of God. It’s a privilege: we must ask ourselves what we are doing so that should Christ come walking by us; will we have made him feel welcome? He was willing to suffer and die for us, what are we willing to do for him?
I really loved watching this film and loved how it caused me to ask questions of myself and how I am living out the Gospel message. The end gave me great cause for hope as we see that after Ultron has been vanquished and the Vision remains, Tony Stark achieves some degree of peace and wellbeing and takes his place in the world. The closing message is positive: good has triumphed over evil for now for this man. But there are many more people in the world and the work must go on. It is only when we are willing to stand together as those heroes were that we can help each other find that which weighs us down and causes our pain, to vanquish the foe and be reconciled with God, with the world and with ourselves. There are many threads running through the great story of this world and there will indeed be troubling times, but when faced with this I will echo the words of the Vision:
“Yes, but a thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts. It’s a privilege to be among them.”