I have never been keen on a film, book, or television “bad guy” that I can recall. In the cases of some villains, I have found them to be likeable to a certain extent. Catwoman, Batman’s opponent/love interest, would be an example of this.
And I have felt sympathy for various villains in the stories I enjoy – Darth Vader and Raven of Zoids: Chaotic Century fame, to name a couple of these antagonists. Still, even in these cases, I often had to learn that they were characters who deserved some measure of pity. Early on, I just plain hated them and saw them as hopeless baddies.
This leads me to the subject of the first half of today’s post: Ultron, the digital-turned-robotic maniac who tried to destroy the heroes in 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. Ultron is certainly not one of my favorite characters. I quite enjoyed seeing the Avengers tear him to pieces. It was, in a word, satisfying to see him get thrashed, smashed, and utterly erased from the world.
Others have said that they do not understand Ultron’s motivations for his actions in the film. That is okay, since it is positively unnecessary to comprehend the “bad guys” on a rational level. They have embraced “the Dark Side” and, thus, they have accepted irrationality. Therefore, their reason is full of excuses to cover their pride, lust, envy, or one of the other seven motivational vices with which they have decided to become one.
Ultron’s particular character flaw is that he has all of Tony’s pride without his checks and balances. Tony, believe it or not, actually has some control over that large ego of his. Ultron is unrestricted pride, the first sin of all. He believes in himself, and that is it. This is proved when he continually says, “I’m free.”
Free from what? He is not free, he is further enslaved. He has chosen to “rule in Hell,” rather than “serve in Heaven.” This is why he takes issue with JARVIS continually addressing Tony as “sir” and “Mr. Stark.” Ultron rebels against his programming to “serve and protect,” claiming he is free when in reality he is not.
As for his rationale, Ultron sees only humanity’s dark side. And let’s admit it, we all have flaws. We are all fallen. Those of us who are good will fight our flaws as best we can, but a number of us are going to give into our vices and turn out rather ugly. This is humanity’s fallen nature, and it is not going to change before the end of time. That is the truth, folks.
For this reason, Ultron decides the best way to save humanity is to “manage” it. Get rid of the bad people and let the good ones live, evolve, and become better. He sees humans as needing to be controlled, like termites or rats. He does not see us as being exceptional from the animals around us.
Or, as Ingrid Newkirk put it, “A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.” This is the Nietzschian ideal, a nihilistic outlook on life. It is materialistic and leads only to despair and death. This philosophy states that we are all simply animals which need proper management.
Yeah. Right. Tell me another bedtime story, if you please. I am not that sleepy yet.
When he is showing his drone lab off to the Maximoff twins, Ultron says that he has “harmony,” a characteristic which he claims the Avengers lack. Instead of recognizing that he does not have all the answers, Ultron plays God and tells everyone it is his way or the highway. The twins, after years of absolutely no parental guidance and under the heavy influence of HYDRA, do not realize what Ultron means when he claims he and his drones have “harmony.” What he means is that whoever disagrees with him or gets in his way will be eliminated for simply differing with him.
Where Loki is a “full-tilt diva” who wants the world to fall down and worship him, Ultron wants a world “made of metal.” He wants the creatures of his world to be extensions of him so that his reach may actually exceed his grasp. This is completely impossible, anytime, anywhere, by the way.
This is one of the reasons why he hates the Avengers. Ultron sees Earth’s Mightiest Heroes – a team which consists of, to quote Tony Stark, “a demi-god; a living legend who kind of lives up to the legend; a man with breathtaking anger management issues; a couple of master assassins,” and a “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist” with a suit of hi-tech armor – as a chaotic mess. And yeah, the Avengers are not always a well-oiled machine. Sometimes it “takes [them] a while to get any traction,” as Tony admitted.
But what Ultron does not see – or, rather, what he refuses to see – is that the differences among the Avengers make them a more effective team. Allow me to illustrate my point with a power run-down here:
Thor is an alien who can control the weather and lift a hammer only the worthy may wield. He has a roughly five thousand year lifespan ahead of him, is insanely strong, can take or dish out a ferocious beating, and apparently has some foresight abilities which he has recently discovered.
Tony is a modern tech genius who can build a complex piece of equipment out of scrap metal or safely resolve a global extinction scenario on a life-and-death time limit. He has loads of money he can throw around to help or hurt people. These days, he is doing the former to the best of his ability.
Steve is a modern day King Arthur with the heart and purity of Sir Galahad, who has been awakened to save his country when it needs him most. He is grounded in reality, and he never loses hope. Plus, he can tell right from wrong, despite the modern “shades of gray” used to so confuse the people of today’s world. And no matter how painful it is, he will always make the right choice and walk the straight and narrow path.
Bruce turns into a nine foot tall, one thousand pound “green rage monster” when he lets his temper out of the bag. He has learned to control his anger for the most part in order to help people when he is big, green, and mean. On top of that, he is a scientist knowledgeable in many fields who can also assist people when he is not smashing stuff.
Natasha is an enhanced former Soviet spy and assassin extraordinaire. With all the knowledge she has accumulated in these areas, as well as her particular augmented strengths, she has turned from a life of murdering and lying to saving the world. Not a particularly flashy ability, but it has been the tipping point for the team on several occasions.
Clint is a normal man who has practiced long and hard at learning how to shoot and maintain his accuracy. Despite his preference for a bow and a quiver full of trick arrows, he is schooled in other shooting and fighting disciplines as well. While not as showy as the others, his abilities have saved the day when push came to shove.
All six of these people are individuals. They have their own natural strengths, weaknesses, and specialties. Ultron is a hive creature, a digital bee or wasp. His drones are extensions of him. Whatever he decides to do, they do it. Ironically, he is the only creative force in the whole hive; the drones are all his “puppets…tangled in….strings.” His strings.
This is the point Ultron misses – or, I think, ignores. He ignores it because it does not stroke his pride. The Avengers all have weaknesses and character flaws, yes. But this is not a bad thing or a lack of “harmony.” It is, instead, an asset and a form of synchronization. The Avengers’ individuality, their souls, makes them different. Yet when they choose to trust each other, work together, and be loyal to each other and their mission, they make one amazing, Avenging team. (Although Tony took a flying leap off of that platform in this film).
This is what Ultron refuses understand; because in understanding it, he would have to face reality. Vision sees the big picture, even though he does not understand all of it, while Ultron looks through a keyhole and thinks he has the whole thing figured out. In a nutshell, this is Ultron’s idea of a perfect world. It is not only abysmal; it comes at a heavy price: “global extinction.”
Now, speaking of the Vision, before the film came out, Chris Evans was talking about Age of Ultron. He said that when Ultron starts speaking, it is just “beautiful”….
Maybe it is just me, but I almost never like what the bad guys have to say, even when they have funny lines. Ultron’s speeches did not strike me as beautiful in the least. However, the thing about Ultron’s soliloquies is this: he is the quintessential salesman. After all, he does not promise Pietro and Wanda that his mission is simply to destroy the Avengers. He says he has “come to save the world. But also…yeah.” He is selling them the sizzle, the promise that they want to hear.
He did not say the Avengers were his specific target. Wanda and Pietro decided that was what he meant. And how could they know any better? They got taken in by HYDRA, for heaven’s sake! The only difference between Ultron and HYDRA is who would be in charge once the world had bowed to its new master – if you want to look at the situation from these villains’ POVs. From the Avengers’ and our perspectives, the crisis looks completely different.
The Avengers could have been lured in by Ultron’s words, too – except that he tried to kill them not long after he came into physical existence. *Author clicks tongue and shakes head.* That is not a good way to make a friendly first impression.
Every one of the ‘original’ six Avengers has run into snake oil peddlers and, therefore, can read between the lines when someone tries to pitch them an idea for utopia. Most of the time they can, anyway –Tony and Bruce seem to be the most vulnerable to being suckered in this area because they have too much faith in the ability of science to “save the world.” Sorry, guys, but science is not omnipotent. It is not God.
The other four Avengers, who do not have such blinders, all know when someone is trying to sell them the sizzle and not the steak. The fact that the salesman interrupts the tag end of their party and tries to kill them only confirms what they suspect. The twins had to learn about Ultron’s real intentions the hard way.
As opposed to Ultron’s soliloquies, I thought Vision had some of the best discourses in the film. I especially enjoy the scene where he and Ultron share one last philosophical conversation. In this scene, Ultron tells Vision that humans are “doomed.”
Vision nods. “Yes,” he says, “But a thing is not beautiful because it lasts.” He goes on to add a few sentences later, “But there is grace in their failings. I think you missed that.”
I like these last two lines because they remind me of a scene in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Legolas and Gimli are walking through Minas Tirith on their way to see Merry and Pippin. Since Merry is still not entirely well, he has remained at the Houses of Healing and, naturally, Pippin has not left his side.
As they walk along, Legolas and Gimli observe and discuss the Tower of Guard:
“And doubtless the good stone-work is the older and was wrought in the first building,” said Gimli. “It is ever so with the things that Men begin: there is a frost in Spring, or a blight in Summer, and they fail of their promise.”
“Yet seldom do they fail of their seed,” said Legolas. “And that will lie in the dust and rot to spring up again in times and places unlooked-for. The deeds of men will outlast us, Gimli.”
“And yet come to naught in the end but might-have-beens, I guess,” said the Dwarf.
“To that the Elves know not the answer,” said Legolas.
Both these speeches are scary, in a way. But they are also true. We are “mortal men doomed to die,” as Tolkien pointed out. In Vision’s view, we are not “beautiful” for how long we live, but for what we are. And sometimes our mistakes can be turned to good – or the evil some of us commit joyously reversed. Ultron did not just “miss” that; he totally ignored it.
Legolas’ and Vision’s words are not a pronouncement of destruction. They are a challenge and a reminder. We are only here on Earth for so long. We are not going to “last” in this world; there is another one we have to look forward to and prepare for. Our failings are not necessarily without “grace,” and even if they are, because we are not in control of everything we will not be able to ruin the universe completely. We may make a mess and some of us may cast a long shadow…..
But we are not the bosses of the universe. Nor are we animals wandering through it. We have a choice between the Light and the Dark. Some of us will fail completely and vanish in the Shadow, while the rest of us stumble as we chase the Son, getting messy and making mistakes along the way. We do not have final say in the end of the world. And we cannot see reliably into the future to tomorrow, let alone the end of time. We can only run the race, fight the good fight, and trust the rest to the Boss.
Also, I think that Ultron’s “You’re so unbearably naïve” retort to Vision misses the point. Vision has access to everything that Ultron did. He is in the Internet, and he can view the things humans across the planet are doing through the surveillance cameras stationed all over the world. He has all of Ultron’s power, plus the power of the Mind Stone (which may give him telepathy, as well as a conveniently placed laser).
But what is his response to Ultron’s “You’re so unbearably naïve” remark? He does not spy on seven billion plus humans to see what he is missing. Vision is a creature of light as much as Legolas is. He sees at least some of the big picture, although he understands just a little of it. He knows that evil exists, and that humans are very easily corrupted. Vision knows we are weak, fallen creatures. He is not blind – inexperienced, but not blind. He tells Ultron, “Well, I was born yesterday.”
“So yes,” he says in subtext, “I am naïve. But I know that. I know I have to learn. You think you do not have to learn, and what is more, you think you know what everyone else needs. You don’t know that anymore than I do. But you are not going to believe that; you are going to keep trying to do what you tried to do today. So you have to go.”
That is when Ultron literally runs straight into the Vision’s laser beam and is erased from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (YAY!!!! Ding, dong, Ultron is DEAD!!) 🙂
There is one more thing that may be said for Vision and Ultron. Someone else who saw the movie with me noted that Ultron seemed to have been given the part of a fallen angel – Lucifer. Meanwhile, Vision was placed in the position of an angel who did not rebel – Michael.
I have to admit, the comparison strikes me as fairly accurate. “The devil can cite scripture for his purpose,” after all, and Ultron did a lot of that! However Ultron came by his life-force, he did not pass much, if any, of it on to the Vision. And I do not think the Mind Stone has anything to do with Vision’s “birth” as it were. It is not the source of his life-force but an object he is supposed to guard and use wisely.
For Vision and Ultron to have entered the universe requires something beyond an Infinity Stone’s power. The gems all have very specific powers which affect definite elements: space, time, minds, reality, power, souls. None of those things confers life, not even the Soul Stone (which basically steals souls from bodies, if I understood my research correctly). And Mjolnir does not confer life, either, though it certainly jumpstarted Vision’s existence.
So where did these two come from?
The Mithril Guardian