Tag Archives: Iron Man 3

Captain America: Civil War – James “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine

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“Why do you hate War Machine so much?”

“I don’t hate him. He just doesn’t interest me. Why do you like him?”

“His armor’s got more guns than a military base. What’s not to like about that?”

This is a paraphrased version of a running argument a friend and I had going for some years about James “Rhodey” Rhodes. What I am only realizing now is that my friend and I never disagreed that the War Machine armor was cool. We were simply looking at the argument from different angles we neither expressed nor recognized. My friend was arguing from the position of someone who liked the War Machine armor, the gizmo that the character uses. I was not looking at the armor – I was looking at the character. And in the end, we both found Rhodey lacking in the character department. He earns a solid shrug and a “meh,” no matter how we try to measure him.

It is a real shame when a character is only memorable and likable for the tools they use rather than for themselves. And it is interesting that, in a comic book universe which usually eschews sidekicks, Marvel should go to the trouble of making one. Let me explain by contrasting Tony and Rhodey’s friendship with the friendship between Captain America and the Falcon.

No one can say that Sam Wilson is a foil for Steve Rogers and prove it capably. Falcon has his own personality, habits, life experiences, and a sense of humor that is all his own. His skills could not be more divergent from Cap’s if the writers tried to make them so. In the comics, Sam has a personal empathetic tie with his pet falcon Redwing, but he can also empathetically connect with and command any other bird in New York City. He can quite possibly reach beyond the city limits with this power, too. He wears a wing pack in combat, spending most of his time in a battle flying, darting in and around opponents to bring them down.

Even in the films, there remains plenty of daylight between Steve and Sam. The wing pack was never in Cap’s arsenal; the man hardly ever flies, although he can when he has to do so. For the most part, Cap is the quintessential soldier; he stays on the ground and fights the enemy on his terms there.

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Now compare this to Tony and Rhodey’s friendship. I am not quite clear on how long they have known each other in the comics, so I will stick with the films. Iron Man showed Rhodey as a down-to-earth counterbalance for Tony’s flights of juvenility, which is funny considering that James Rhodes is a “zoomie.” Then Iron Man 2 saw Rhodey grabbing one of Tony’s prototype suits on behalf of the government before literally trying to knock some sense into his drunken friend. Iron Man 3 did not portray him in a much better light. Although he liked the name War Machine for the armor he essentially stole from his best friend on behalf of the government, he allowed focus groups and the Air Force to change the name to the milquetoast “Iron Patriot.”

Rhodey is Tony’s babysitter for the first and second films, barely escaping that fate again in Iron Man 3. Then, when he tries to impress Tony and Thor with a story from his own repertoire of exploits in Avengers: Age of Ultron, it falls flat on them and the audience. Let’s admit it – while it is cute to imagine a general’s reaction to a tank being delivered to him by a man in a metal suit, it does not truly impress. It is a story that exposes the fact that Rhodey is a bouncer who can intimidate mid-level bullies, whilst the Avengers are the commandos sent in to dispense with hardcore villains such as HYDRA and Ultron. Sam recognized this when he told Cap, “Avenging is your world… and your world is crazy.” Rhodey could not take the hint from Thor and Tony’s expectant silence.

I think it likely that most people look at Rhodey and Sam and consider them to be nothing more than “sidekicks” or foils to Iron Man and Captain America. However, as I pointed out above, Sam does not qualify as either a sidekick or a foil. He is a man who can take care of himself, he has the strength to make his own decisions, and he can live with their consequences. The sad fact is that Rhodey cannot do this; he is always looking for orders, for guidance from above – which is cute because, as an Air Force pilot, he is usually “above” everyone else most of the time, physically speaking.

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The moment which best defines these differences between the two characters in Captain America: Civil War is the yelling match they have over the Accords after Ross leaves. What are the first words we hear out of Rhodey’s mouth in this battle of words? “Secretary Ross has a Congressional Medal of Honor, which is one more than you [Sam] have,” he says to Falcon.

Excuse me?!?!? Instead of actually arguing about the strength of the Sokovia Accords, Rhodey immediately jumps to the fact that Ross has a Congressional Medal of Honor??? Seriously?!

While we are on this subject just how, exactly, did Ross earn that Congressional Medal of Honor? Did he receive it after Bruce Banner became the Hulk, or after he turned Emil Blonsky into the Abomination in order to fight fire with fire? Maybe he received it for letting the Abomination wreck Harlem after he went rogue on Ross.

Yes, I am being very sarcastic here. The fact is that there is no way in the walls of the world Ross should have received that Medal. He did nothing to earn it. I would bet good money he got it for political expediency. He does not deserve the Medal; not now, not in the future, never.

But the fact that Rhodey thinks this is sufficient evidence that Ross has his and the Avengers’ best interests at heart is what is truly distressing. When someone holds a gun in his face and says, “Your wallet or your life,” should he consider it a sign that the mugger respects him? No, he should not, as we would not. Presuming he did not freeze and do what he was told, Rhodey would beat the mugger up, take his gun away from him, and call the cops. Yet Ross can throw down the gauntlet in front of him and the Avengers, but because he has a Congressional Medal of Honor, it is a sign of respect for Ross’ “greatness” that Rhodey and the team should immediately sign on to the Accords – in essence, hand over their wallet?

It only gets better when Rhodey says, “A hundred and seventeen countries have signed this, Sam. A hundred and seventeen! But you’re just like, ‘It’s cool, no big deal.’”

No, it is not a big deal! How many of those countries routinely violate human rights? China and North Korea are in the U.N., right? Is China a model of how a country must respect human rights? No, it is not. North Korea shoots off missiles to threaten the Orient and swagger in front of the U.S., they keep their own people in prison camps on the brink of starvation, and the rest of their population are stuck in grinding poverty – and in time. Their fashions and technology are still in (at least) the 1970s. They are an example of posturing, backward fools, not progress!

A good number of the other hundred seventeen countries which agreed to the Accords have records which are about as bad, if not worse. But does Rhodey mention that here? Does he even stop to consider it? Not in front of us. A hundred seventeen countries sign a document proclaiming him an attack dog which they want to leash, and just like that “it’s cool.”

It is not cool, and Rhodey cannot see that. What is more, he refuses to see it. He brags about Ross’ medals, yet the leader of the Avengers – his leader – has far more experience. Cap has earned and shunned more medals and honors than Ross could ever hope to gain… But instead of listening to him, Rhodey calls him “dangerously arrogant”? Something is very wrong here.

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It becomes worse when War Machine drops in to “stop” Cap, Sam, and T’Challa in their “fight” over the escaping Bucky Barnes at the Bucharest tunnel. “Nice job, Cap,” Rhodey says scathingly. “You’re a criminal.”

No mention of German Special Forces turning Bucharest into Swiss cheese in an attempt to kill Bucky I notice, Rhodey. Or are you more familiar with the range and danger of a mini-gun than most civilians walking down the street are? Of course you are; you are a U.S. Airman. They are civilians who are minding their own business when a Special Forces helicopter suddenly drops leaden rain from above trying to kill a wanted fugitive. I guess the U.N. does not have any statutes saying a man is innocent of a crime until proven guilty. Wow, what a shocker.

Cap’s attempt to reach out to Bucky – even the initial attempt by the German ground troops to capture him – was more sensible than that. But Rhodey’s scorn is not for the idiocy of the bureaucrats who called in a helicopter and ordered the men aboard to fire at Bucky regardless of potential “collateral damage” to the civilians he was running past. It is instead all aimed at Cap, who was fighting smarter, not harder.

We do not see Rhodey again until the battle in the Leipzig airport. Iron Man zaps Clint’s chopper with an EMP device and lands in front of Cap, War Machine right on his tail. The two take a moment to verbally beat up on Cap, and then the fighting starts.

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Cap keeps both T’Challa and Rhodey where he can see them at the beginning of the fight. For a guy with a metal suit, Rhodey does not do very well in personal combat with Cap. Yes, he is going for the knockout punch instead of a kill shot, but his fighting ability is still downright sorry in this confrontation. He has supposedly been working with and training under the greatest soldier of all time, whom he should know well enough to fight competently. But in practice he is getting his metal fanny handed to him on a platter.

Those are some quality learning abilities you have, Rhodes. Why were you put in the new Avengers lineup again? Oh, that’s right – for your suit.

In contrast, Falcon more than holds his own with Tony, bopping him in the head with Redwing at one point and thereby properly disorienting him. He has less physical protection than Rhodey, yet he does better fighting the Invincible Armored Iron Man than the “zoomie” Avenger does in his battle with the unarmored First Avenger!

It does not get any better for Rhodes when Lang has Cap throw a fuel truck at him, Panther, and Black Widow. Now how Scott could mix up even a German fuel tanker with a German water truck is beyond me, but the fact is that he managed to do it. And instead of smartly moving aside, catching the truck, or blowing it up, Rhodes just stands there and lets it hit him. Brilliant, War Machine – NOT!!!

Rhodey is dead weight for most of the following incidents in the battle. He is a convenient ragdoll for Ant-Man and an equally easy target for the Scarlet Witch. Where his teammates and everyone else on Team Cap show innovation and creativity during the battle, Rhodes makes himself nothing but a handy punching bag or darn-it doll.

Things only become worse when he tells Vision to get Sam off his back. Distracted by his concern for Wanda – whom Rhodey hit with a high-powered sonic – Vision does as he is asked and fires at Sam. But the nascent synthetic man is growing into a very human character, and this means that his shot is off from the get-go because of his concern for his friend. He misses Sam and hits the War Machine arc reactor, shutting down the armor and leaving Rhodey to fly the suit “dead stick.”

If anything, Rhodey ought to sue Tony for poor workmanship. The Iron Man armor(s) can go into the upper atmosphere, through a portal into space, help blast apart a floating city, all at low power capacity, and the War Machine armor cannot keep him from shattering several vertebrae after a two hundred foot free fall? Yeah, right!

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All this is not to make light of Rhodey’s significant injuries. To his credit, Rhodes takes the devastating news like a man. When Tony makes him a set of special leg braces and he inevitably falls down, he manfully refuses help and gets set to start practicing on his own again.

This scene was very good, but not necessarily for Rhodey. It was good for Tony because now, in this moment where his best friend is incapable of doing what he used to do – of being who he used to be, even – Tony gets a glimmering of what Steve has been doing since he learned that Bucky was alive. For three movies, Steve has fought to get his old battle brother back. And in this film, he stands beside and supports Bucky as the other man tries to find himself after years of being lost in a mental/emotional waste land.

Rhodey’s journey is more physical and less likely to get other people killed. But Tony is willing to do whatever it takes to help him get back on his feet. If he is ready to do that for Rhodey, why should he begrudge Steve for his desire to help Bucky relearn how to be a normal person?

Tony will probably take forever to forgive Steve in the next Avengers film(s). In this moment during the movie, he only has a slight understanding of what Steve is going through. And we all know that Tony is quite prepared and willing to rationalize away anything and everything he does not want to face or admit. He avoided accepting his grief over his parents’ deaths; he is still avoiding it now. And he has decided to avoid accepting responsibility for his actions by signing the Accords. Stark has no problem lying to himself about important matters until the eleventh hour.

But after a point, he cannot run from the truth. Sooner or later, it will occur to him that what he is doing for Rhodey is the same thing Steve is doing for Bucky, just on a less impressive scale. As for Rhodey, well, for the moment he seems to be a lost cause as far as recognizing the truth. If anything, he is better at rationalizing than Tony is. It remains to be seen how well that will work in Avengers: Infinity War.

Of course, with his back almost completely shattered, Rhodey might not have any part in the upcoming Marvel films. That would be a shame; it would be nice for War Machine to step out of Iron Man’s shadow and show some real character of his own for a change.

Given past experience, though, that does not look to be a very viable possibility at this time. Bummer.

Secret Avengers – Assemble!

The Mithril Guardian

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Avengers: Age of Ultron – Iron Man/Tony Stark

Really, dude?

Is there any superhero out there that happens to be in more hot water these days than Tony Stark? I am sort of out of the loop on comic book news, but it seems Tony Stark/Iron Man is one of the most despised and maligned superheroes in the genre of late.

Ouch. If it were not for Marvel’s manhandling of him, I would say Tony did not deserve this. In truth, the original Tony Stark does not merit this treatment at all. And that is the one thing which makes me go easy on the petulant, crass, self-absorbed Iron Man that Robert Downey Jr. plays to perfection. I may not respect the current iterations of Tony Stark, but his earlier portrayal when he first entered the world of comics is a character I do respect. That is the only reason I am willing to go relatively easy on him.

What is there to say about Tony’s part in Age of Ultron which I have not already stated in previous character-based posts about the movie? Hmm. Let’s see….

Tony starts out a hundred percent fine in Ultron. It is just another day at the office for him as he helps the Avengers – his friends – bust HYDRA’s most recent operation in the obscure Eastern European country of Sokovia. Cap, naturally, chastises Tony for using poor language for a minor annoyance; Hulk is having fun tearing things apart and scaring the HYDRA soldiers witless, and Widow and Hawkeye are tag-team fighting the goons. Meanwhile, Thor is bringing the thunder as he looks forward to reclaiming the scepter Loki used when he tried to take over Earth roughly three years ago.

Yup, it’s just another day at the office. And would you look at that – it even comes with a secret door!

Then Tony, with his eyes on the “glowstick of destiny,” suddenly sees a vision of a horrible future. His team – his friends – are lying dead or dying at his feet. Natasha is sprawled on her back, her eyes staring glassily into the distance. The Hulk, lying on the rock behind her, breathes his last, several alien spears projecting from his back.

Thor is on his back as well, but mercifully his eyes are shut. Across from him is Hawkeye, who is folded up and seems to have slumped into a sitting position as he died. All his arrows are spent. Worst of all, Cap is lying directly in front of Tony. His eyes are closed and his shield has been broken in two. Its halves lie haphazardly near his head.

These are Tony’s friends. People he once did not know and did not care to know. People he once would have had nothing to do with, unless it was to tease and belittle them. But through the course of the battles he has fought at their side, he has gotten to know them better. He has learned who they are – and thus he has learned to care about them.

Natasha, a super spy Tony once mistrusted and quite probably hated, is now a friend. She trades witty banter with him, is competent at her job, and much nicer than he initially believed her to be. Thor, whom Tony once called a ‘tourist’ and lost a fight with, no longer seems so out of place and backward as he did on the Helicarrier. Clint Barton, a man whom he knew only as a marionette pulled around by Loki, is someone Tony has come to respect and with whom he will now happily trade jokes. Bruce/Hulk, a fellow scientist who Tony saw as a person in straits like his own, was the easiest friend Stark had made in years. They clicked at once and stayed “science brothers” afterward.

And finally there is Cap, an old friend of the father Tony hardly knew. It is easy to picture the two, seated at a table in the Tower during the evenings when they were not Avenging the wrongs perpetrated by the bad guys, prior to Ultron. One can even surmise that, when Steve was in the mood, he would tell Tony stories about some exploit of his father’s during the war – stories which the younger Stark was never told as a child.

In this way, Steve and Tony became friends between Winter Soldier and Ultron. Tony has come to see in Steve what his father saw in him, while Cap looks at Tony and sees a link to a life he lost and can never regain.

For this reason, his is the first ‘corpse’ Tony rushes to check on. There is no way to know for certain what Tony was thinking at that moment, but his thoughts probably went a little like this:

No, no, they can’t be dead! Tony thinks. This is a nightmare. Just a nightmare. I’ll check on Cap, and then I’ll wake up. Maybe Steve’s still alive, and he’ll tell me to wake up. This isn’t real, this isn’t real…!

That is when ‘Cap’ suddenly grabs him and asks why he did not save his team, his friends. “Why didn’t you do more?” Steve’s ghostly, rasping voice accuses him just before the hypnosis breaks, returning Iron Man brusquely to reality.

With that scene haunting him, Tony leaps to a bad idea as he rushes to protect his friends at all costs. As was said in the post “Avengers: Age of Ultron – Bruce Banner/Hulk,” Tony has a great deal of faith in synthetics. Too much faith, frankly. He thinks he can cure the world, just as many other modern scientists do, with the next gadget or computer program.

Pepper and Tony

In his vision, Tony sees another alien invasion taking place. Clearly, this is a nod to the Post Traumatic Stress the writers gave him after Marvel’s The Avengers. Personally, this seems like a rather dumb handicap with which to have saddled him. In fact, I am not sure that Tony actually has PTSD at all. I think what happened to him during the Battle of New York was this: the rose colored glasses were yanked off of his eyes – forcefully, and very quickly.

You see, before Loki’s invasion attempt, all Tony’s battles were fun and games – after a fashion. He got into battles against opponents who were tough and definitely dangerous. But he was able to conquer them because their tech could not match his. There was nothing he faced that he could not handle with a new gadget or toy, one he had either built in the lab or on the fly.

Then, in The Avengers, he runs into aliens with machinery that beats every piece of machinery except that which is featured in the Star Wars films. Against beings who travel through space and have advanced biotechnology, what can Earth use to defend itself? Nukes? That worked on the Chitauri…

But what else is out there? Nukes will not hold back everybody.

Combat is a harsh reality, one for which Tony was not prepared. He had been playing on a much lower level, showing off in the varsity leagues. Cap was right in The Avengers; up to a point, Tony’s performance in battle was glorified showboating. So when Loki arrived and brought an alien army with him, Tony was suddenly dealing with an enemy more technologically advanced than he was. Everyone knows Stark tech is top-of-the-line. Nothing is more advanced than Tony’s gizmos. His is the pinnacle of human technology.

But being on top of the heap on Earth does not make you king of the galaxy. Tony was not thinking that far ahead. He still had his eyes on Earth, not the stars.

Loki forced him to look up. Way, way up – through a portal over his own building in NYC. Talk about being humbled in your own home!

This did not sit well with Tony, and he would not admit it. Not to his friends, and definitely not to himself. Oh, he has said they cannot handle the threats outside the galaxy, sure. But that is because he is looking at the matter solely as synthetics versus synthetics – tech against tech, if you will. He is looking at the battlefield as a tech guru, not a soldier.

Tony is not used to playing second banana to anyone – not in the technological department. He has always been one step ahead of everybody else; one computer program, widget, thingamabob above the rest. The attack on New York taught him that he was indeed the head of the Mech Pack on Earth. But in the universe, he was a small fry.

And that scared him. Tony does not have PTSD. He is simply terrified of not being able to technologically outmatch any and all opponents. If he cannot do it, no one on Earth can.

And he is right. No one person on Earth can stand against an army, no matter the whizz-bang machines they are using, and hope to win. That is just plain stupid. Or hubristic, depending on whom it is you are talking about. But Tony does not see it that way. He is so accustomed to doing everything with machines, and protecting those he cares about by the same method, that to be shown something he cannot defend against frightens him beyond words.

This is why he initially keeps his vision to himself. How can he make his friends understand his fear? How can he tell them, “I can’t protect you or the world because the technology out there is centuries, maybe millennia, ahead of what we’ve got here on Earth. It would take that long to study and copy it, and I don’t have that kind of time!”

Tony cannot admit that – to himself or to his friends. The implications alarm him too badly. If they go up against forces with superior tech which he cannot figure out how to beat, then as far as he can tell, it is all over. This is why he has nightmares about the Battle of New York in Iron Man 3. This is the burning fear he keeps banked and hidden in his mind afterward, where he does not have to look at it….

Until Wanda uncovers it, and fans it into flames at the beginning of Age of Ultron.

Tony’s main problem in the films is that he believes synthetics are the answer to everything. In his opinion, science is the answer to all problems. Tech will solve every dilemma, save every life, and stop every calamity. Isolated in his labs, Tony does not take time to look around and realize that there are things more powerful than machines in the universe. When he goes out, he does not “people watch,” as they like to say.

He does not observe a little girl who goes up to and hugs her dad at the store, or the smile her father gives her as she does so. He does not see a man drop his wallet and another person, noticing the wallet fall, pick it up and return it to its owner. Part of this is his father’s fault, in a way. Howard Stark was so busy trying to fix the world so Tony could grow up safely that he did not spend enough time just being with his son, teaching him that men make technology; technology does not make men.

Captain America

As a result, Tony sees little acts of kindness not as pebbles which start great rockslides but as solitary, random incidents with the lifespan of fireflies. They last a night, or maybe for the entire summer, and then they are gone. How can a human heart be more powerful than a machine?

This is where the other Avengers have the advantage over Tony – for the most part. Cap saw people make great and small sacrifices throughout World War II. Each one of these personal denials of self made a difference in the Allied war effort, no matter how seemingly trivial they were. The combined sacrifices of these people taught him to make the greatest self-surrender he could – joining the U.S. Army so he could be a shield to protect those who could not defend themselves. He faced the original HYDRA’s best war machines, and in doing so, he learned a valuable lesson: Machines of any kind, no matter how strong they are, can always be broken.

Men’s souls and hearts do not break nearly as easily.

Clint has seen the same thing, and more closely than Cap has, in a way. Loki took control of most of his mind and his whole body in The Avengers. But Clint learned he could resist the Trickster, albeit in small ways. Those small instances, however, had powerful consequences. Shooting at Fury’s heart, which was protected by body armor, meant the Director of SHIELD lived to coordinate the war against Loki. Missing Hill, when he would never otherwise have failed to take down his target, meant she was still alive to help in the war effort. Fighting Natasha the way the Black Widow fought best saved his life, and it allowed him to fight against his enslaver. So Clint understands that others may be able to bend him to their will for a time….

But he can choose to bend only so far. And he can choose not to break.

Thor learned when he met Jane Foster, Eric Selvig, and Darcy in New Mexico that the simple acts of kindness matter in the grand scheme of things. Jane was willing to help him when she met him first. She could have driven off and left him in the desert after broad-siding him with her vehicle. She could have ignored him and not told Darcy to get the first aid kit, focusing instead on the Asgardian markings in the sand. But she did no such thing. She took Thor to the hospital, took him to Mjolnir’s landing site later on, and stayed by his side to face the Destroyer – a machine nothing on Earth could stand against. Presumably, no Asgardian or other advanced being from the Nine Realms could stand against it, either. But Thor did. And you know what he learned when he fought his father’s favorite toy?

Even the best and mightiest machine is no match for a determined warrior. In the crunch, machines will always break before a man will.

Natasha knows this, too. It was Clint’s decision to spare her that lead to her redemption. If their positions had been reversed, the odds were against her showing any kind of mercy to him. She always accomplished her missions, always took down her targets. Clint, however, spared her. He had her on the ropes, could have killed her easily. But he did not. In allowing Natasha to live, he taught her that killing is a last resort, not a first. Clint showed her that orders may be wrong or evil, and in such cases they can successfully be countermanded by the individual’s decision. When he lowered his bow and told her he was not going to kill her, she learned something very important:

All the brainwashing and training in the world cannot take away a man’s choice. She, and others like her, could choose to be more than the machines they were programmed to be.

Bruce’s experience of becoming the Hulk taught him the futility of believing in technology as a solution to every problem. As the Hulk, he can break any piece of tech sent against him. It will take more than a bullet or a nuke to kill the Hulk. This means that it will take a lot to kill Bruce, too. Tech, Bruce knows, is not the answer to the world’s problems. No matter how indestructible it seems to be, there is always a way to smash it.

Hulk SMASH

Tony has not learned that lesson from his experiences. His main weapon in battle is a high tech suit of electromechanical armor. Tech is the way he defends himself. It is what he relies on to do his job, more so than any of his friends. Also, Natasha, Steve, Clint, and Thor have trained long and hard to be at their physical peak in combat. They are all athletic and have physical combat skills they can use to defend themselves if they lose their tech. Bruce does not need to train in this way, since he can turn into a nine foot tall green mountain of moving destruction when he releases his rage.

On the other hand, Tony’s training is limited. And he started late.

To be a good or great archer, one has to practice from childhood, usually around the 12-14 age range – if not younger. In the comics, Clint was around that age when he began learning archery, so it would make sense if he started out that young in the films. (Renner definitely has not been practicing that long!) Natasha was trained in combat and gymnastics from the time she could walk. Steve’s serum keeps him in peak health, strength, agility, etc. He does not need to train, but he does it all the same so he will not be caught flat-footed.

Thor comes from a realm of fighters. Apparently, up until Sif declared she was going to be a warrior for Asgard, the only ones in the realm who did not studiously train from a young age to become warriors were the girls. So Thor has had plenty of training – much more than any of his teammates!

Tony has none of these assets. He is not a superior athlete, and he does not maintain a regular training regimen. All he has is that “big brain” of his, and if he cannot use his intelligence to solve the problem, he feels stuck – temporarily, most of the time.

This is why he attempts to jumpstart Ultron with the Mind Stone. To him it is a/the most advanced energy source; energy which he, the ultimate technocrat, understands instinctively (which means he is looking at it wrong, and doesn’t understand it at all). If anything can give his tech the edge over whatever big, bad threats are lurking amidst the stars, it is the gem in the scepter. Remember, readers, that: “Magic is just science we don’t understand yet” – and Tony, in this case, doesn’t have a clue what that science is.

For all his flaws, the fact is that Tony really does care about his friends. He truly does want to keep them safe. They all want that for each other. If you watch the cartoons or look at the comics, you will see Thor or the Hulk jumping in front of bullets or snatching teammates out of danger while throwing themselves in harm’s way. You will watch Widow shove Hawkeye out of the line of fire, or you will see the archer shoot down a threat his partner has not seen coming. Cap will shield his friends as best he can if the situation calls for it, as will Tony.

This is what close-knit units of soldiers and friends will do for each other in a battle. They will forget their own safety and comfort to preserve that of their friends’, no matter the cost to themselves.

In this case, however, Tony took the principal way too far. Without thinking, without caution, he threw everything aside to prevent his friends and home from being destroyed in the far future.

And that only made things worse.

Have you ever done something wrong and then tried immediately to fix it, readers? I have. Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time, this makes the situation worse. When Tony realizes that Ultron was one of the biggest mistakes of his life, he tries to “fix it.” Wanda points this out to Cap in South Korea, but she makes a mistake in her warning. Tony does know the difference between saving the world and destroying it. In that regard, Wanda misread him. She is correct, though, when she says, “He will do anything to make things right.”

Tony carries a lot of guilt for letting people in his company sell the weapons he made under the table. And yes, some of that guilt is his and he has to atone for it. But doing “anything to make things right” is not the solution. Doing anything to “make things right” means you are open to doing exactly that: anything. If you are that desperate, then even if it is a really stupid, haphazard, bad idea, you will jump into it feet first.

This plan of attack just makes the problem worse. Cap knows this, and that is why he tells Tony and Bruce to shut down the Vision. As per usual, Tony will not accept that Cap is right and he is wrong in this matter. He has learned to take responsibility for his actions, but only to an extent. Beyond that point, his hubris tells him to stop listening because, as one of the three smartest men on the planet, he can fix anything with enough time and tech.

What Tony needs to do in the film franchise and newer comics is to sit down and realize that people are not machines. You can fix a buggy computer program, you can repair a broken tractor, and you can make a million whizz-bang gadgets which will improve the quality of life for the average man. But you cannot “fix” the world. You cannot “fix” other people’s flaws. Heck, an individual cannot even “fix” himself! Only the grace of God can “fix” those flaws, and you will not find that grace in a computer program or a car engine.   And you definitely will not find it in a chemistry set!

This is something Tony has not yet accepted. Somewhere after the Battle of New York, his reformation hit a snag on his newfound fear. Ever since, his progress as a hero has almost completely stalled. He has taken two steps back for every half-step of growth. He has not yet managed to learn his lesson. Hopefully, the writers will get around to changing that in the coming films. The comics would do well to start working in that direction, too.

Well, readers, this is the last character post I will be doing on Avengers: Age of Ultron. As much as I have enjoyed talking about the film, I am glad to be done with it. I hope these posts were as illuminating for you as they were for me.

Now, though, I have to go on to the next project – discussing the Avengers’ character growth in Captain America: Civil War!!!!

*Dramatic sigh.* Oh, the work I do for Marvel!

Just kidding – I don’t do it for them. I write for the fun of it! 😉

Catch ya later!

The Mithril Guardian

Iron Man

Avengers: Age of Ultron – Bruce Banner/Hulk

People – sheesh! Take it easy, or you are going to bring down the house!

Ever seen a bunch of Hulk fans jumping around in celebration? It can be a little scary. (There is a crash, bang, and wallop in the background, followed by the tinkling of broken china.) *Author winces theatrically.* And it can be somewhat costly, too.

The reason they are jumping for joy is because yours truly is finally writing a post about Big Green. It may surprise people, but I do have a soft spot for the Hulk and Bruce Banner. It may not seem like it, but it is true.

I have not really seen The Hulk. I seem to recall catching some snippets of the movie, but from the reports which have come my way about the film, I did not miss much. The Incredible Hulk is a great time-filler when one is bored out of their skull or wants a tonic for a bad day. Otherwise, it is a rather unsatisfactory film. Just my opinion.

Marvel’s The Avengers, however, more than made up for these big screen flops. The not-so-jolly Green Giant and his puny alter ego came onscreen in a “smashing” way in this film. I was much more impressed with Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner than Ed Norton or Eric Bana’s portrayals. Norton did a better job than Bana, for sure, and he physically fit the bill. But he hated being in a movie based on a comic book. It is not art, after all, which is what every actor seems to live for in Hollywood.

Yeah. Sure. Whatever. *Insert eye roll here, please, readers.* It is true that Hollywood’s imagination has tanked over the latter half of the twentieth century and early 2000s. Sure, they have had their moments – Star Wars, Indiana Jones, The Princess Bride, and other films. But what happens when an entertainment, artistic industry dives into the gutter and proclaims that trash is art? Kids’ movies take center stage because they are the best entertainment the audience can get their minds on.

This is not to pick on comic book-based movies. That attitude of mine disappeared after I saw The Avengers. Superhero films are good movies, highly entertaining, and unless it is Deadpool or some similar movie, you can bring the children to the cinema and not worry about exposing them to anything raunchy and disgusting.

Are superhero movies art? Not exactly.

Are they the classics, like Shakespeare’s works? Nope.

Are these films fun? You bet!

But let’s get back to the point of this post. After Hawkeye, the one Avenger we saw the least of in the Phase Two films was Bruce Banner. Still, you Hulk fans got an idea of where he was during that time-frame! (We Hawkeye fans had to wait until Ultron to see the archer again!!!!) The post-credits scene in Iron Man 3 showed Bruce sleeping through what Tony considered to be a psychological therapy session. Banner may know the basics of how psychology works, but he never became that kind of doctor. As he said, he did not have the “temperament.” Hulk’s patience has a very low ceiling – just ask Loki!

After The Avengers, Bruce joined Tony at Stark Tower, following through on his fellow scientist’s invite to drop by for some R&R. Or rather, R&D.

It must have felt good to be back at his old job again. There was nobody to hurt, nothing to break…. just a lot of fun research and development on gizmos that would change the world. And he had a great friend who understood him working at his elbow to boot. Pure heaven compared to running around the globe, the way he had been, for so many years.

Then the Avengers reformed after SHIELD collapsed. And once again, the Hulk had to be released on a semi-regular basis for the greater good.

But this time things were better again, although still less than ideal. Bruce was not alone now. He had friends. Thor, Tony, Cap, Hawkeye, and Black Widow were in the fight with him. As nightmarish as it was to dive back into the Hulk’s mind, Bruce had something to look forward to afterward. He got to go home to a bed, eat regularly, and spend time with people who were not deathly afraid of him. In a surprising twist of fate, even Natasha Romanoff no longer feared him. (We will go back to that later on.)

Anyway, fast-forward to the attack on the Sokovian HYDRA base in Age of Ultron. The team finally recovers Loki’s scepter, which Thor wants to take back to Asgard. No biggie, right? Bruce would be as glad to see the back of the “glowstick of destiny” as the rest of the team. One less thing to worry about. Perfect. Everything is just perfect.

Then Tony tells him he has found something like computer coding in the stone embedded in the scepter. This is fascinating. Wait, Strucker wanted an artificial intelligence? That does not sound like such a great idea….

But Tony thinks it is fantastic. He explains the theory, about how there would be no more need for the Avengers or fear of aliens attacking the planet if they had an A.I. standing at the door. And the theory is beautiful. Bruce begins to think that it could work. There are fifty-fifty odds, but still….

And this is where the problem started, readers. Scientific theories are great. The theory of artificial intelligence is a great idea. Right….?

Riiiiight….. This is where Tony went off the rails, taking Bruce with him. Tony relies on synthetics to do most everything. Yes, his superpower is his intelligence. But to keep that intellect from getting smashed to a pulp, he has to wear a suit of armor – a synthetic skin.

Now, there is nothing wrong with this, up to a point. The knights of the Middle Ages, the Roman legions, the Ancient Greeks – they all used synthetic means to protect themselves in battle. Tony’s problem is that he puts far too much faith in synthetic materials being the answer to all problems – hence the artificial intelligence he wanted to build to keep the world safe.

*Smacks forehead in aggravation.* Really? People have spent the last two hundred years trying to come up with a satisfactory solution to fix the world! You give that math equation to a computer – even one programmed to think like a human – and it is going to pop a fuse and die!

Or go on a worldwide, murderous rampage. Take your pick.

Bruce’s problem is that he can always be suckered by the theory of the thing. He knows synthetics will always be inferior to natural things. The guy turns into a one thousand pound mountain of angry muscle. He cannot move continents but he can sure “break… Harlem”!

So Bruce does not have the same faith in synthetics that Tony does. But he has a similar problem. He has faith in scientific theories. And theories, as beautiful as they may be at first, second, third, and umpteenth glance, are not necessarily things one should try to make a reality. Stories throughout the last two or three centuries have warned of this: Frankenstein, Brave New World, Terminator, Eagle Eye… If you want some stories that prove it while scaring the pants off of you, read Dean Koontz’ novels. They are full of terrifying warnings about science run amok.

But, like Tony and Bruce, most scientists are not paying any attention to the warning signs. Bruce is reluctant to make Tony’s theory a reality at first, it is true. But JARVIS, the A.I. butler who runs Stark Industries and helps the Avengers in combat, turned out all right. How bad could it be to try and jump start Ultron?

It turned out to be really, really bad.

Bruce is the first to admit this in the conference that occurs after Ultron steals the scepter and flees Avengers Tower. While Tony rushes to defend his belief in synthetics and technology, saying he can fix anything and everything under the sun with these assets, Bruce willingly admits that he was wrong. “Really?” Tony says. “Is that what you’re going to do? Roll over and show your belly every time things get ugly?” (I paraphrased that quote.)

Basically, he was saying, “Thanks for the help, pal! I thought we were friends!”

“Yeah,” Bruce responds in subtext, “We’re friends. We’re friends when we’re right and when we’re wrong. We were wrong, Tony. We made a murder bot. There is no defense for that. You told Ultron to fix the world. Well, I hate to break it to you, but the only human way to fix the world is to destroy it.”

When humans try to fix the world, they only make it worse. Want some examples? Here are just a few: Communism, Eugenicism, Fascism, Nazism, Scientism, socialism, and now secularism. Look them up. They all boil down to this: We’re humans. We’re the only species on the planet with intelligence, speech, writing, and an opposable thumb. We can fix all problems. But that means tons of us are going to have to die, and among those who remain some are going to be more equal than others.

It is Bruce’s acknowledgement that he was wrong, that he was taken in by a beautiful theory, which allows the others to forgive him. (With the possible exception of Tony.)   Cap, Thor, Widow, Hawkeye – even Rhodey, Cho, and Hill all forgive Banner for helping to build Ultron. That does not mean he does not have to pay the piper. It just means his friends are not, by and large, holding a grudge against him.

But that attitude kind of gets rescinded when he helps Tony finish building Vision. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on Bruce. He was right when he said he was caught in a time-loop. Tony went after him with the same arguments he had used before to get Banner to help make Ultron. And Bruce bought it a second time. Though in this case, Vision was the antidote to Ultron. (We hope.) Does that absolve Bruce for playing in the forbidden zone twice..?

No!

….Which might be one of the reasons Widow threw him down the hole to awaken the Hulk. Bruce was ready to run again, but as she pointed out, “The job’s not finished.” Bruce had to pay the piper. He had to go the whole nine yards, or he would carry the weight of what he had done with him for the rest of his life.

Widow understood that. She is an Avenger in part because, from her point of view, it is penance. She has not let go of her guilt – or enough of it – which does weigh her down. But this does not mean that she does not have to atone for the acts she committed while under the command of her Red Room handlers. She also has to fight so that their ideals and the aims of others like them are thwarted. That does not give her the same delusions of grandeur that Tony has…

But it does make her an Avenger. It does make her a heroine.

Bruce’s problem here is twofold. He is tired of being the Hulk and – just like everyone else – penance does not strike him as fun. It is not supposed to be. Penance is supposed to hurt. That is the way it works; you hurt someone, you have to make recompense. If you are out playing baseball with your friends and you break the neighbor’s window, you have to pay for the replacement window pane. Your wallet does not like that, and you do not like working extra hard to earn the money to pay for the window. No matter how sorry you are, though, you still have to pay for the new window.

Bruce had to pay for his recess in the forbidden playground. He had to see the job finished. As much as it hurt her to do what she did, as much as she wanted not to awaken the Hulk so she could run off into the sunset with Bruce, Widow knew they could not do that. Bruce would not be the man she loved if he bolted when things got tough. He had to stay and see the job done.

And the half of him that would do that was big and green and perpetually angry.

Bruce will figure that out sooner or later, if he has not figured it out already. Before I sign off, let us take a closer look at his relationships in the film, shall we?

We will look at him and Natasha first. Their relationship has already been extensively discussed in the post “Avengers: Age of Ultron – Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff.” But there is more to be said here.

It is really interesting that Widow should fall for Bruce. Their romance was certainly a curveball, despite the obvious poetic irony, considering she was terrified of him in Marvel’s The Avengers! And it is surprising that Bruce would fall for her as well. He certainly seemed to distrust her in the last film, and for good reason.

Widow is a near-instinctive liar. She was raised by liars and killers. Even if some part of her resisted their manipulation, she could not help but pick up some things from them by osmosis.   Children always imprint off of their parents or those who raise them. It is an unconscious thing. Attitudes, phrases, habits – some of these are things we are simply born with. Others we learned from the observations of our elders we made as babies. It is how growing up works.

But in Age of Ultron, when Widow asks if Bruce will ever trust her, he responds: “It’s not you I don’t trust.”

WHOA!!! That was not the impression we got in the previous film! Natasha would probably have been the last person on the planet whom Bruce would have trusted back then. Now, though, their attitudes toward each other have changed drastically. Widow no longer fears Bruce or the Hulk, and neither of Banner’s personalities distrusts and hates her. Talk about Beauty and the Beast!

For Widow, this is the first time she has ever fallen in love. Oh, I am sure she has had liaisons with other guys. It was part of her job and one of the reasons she was called the Black Widow. The fact is that Natasha was a deadly lady of the evening, as it were, when she worked for the Red Room and the KGB. Bruce, on the other hand, had known love before with Betty Ross.

As we know, that did not work out well in the movies. Long distance romances are things no one in Hollywood believes in anymore. They have forgotten Odysseus and Penelope, the women who watched their men go to sea for years at a time, and the modern truckers and their wives. These are women who sit at home, holding the house together with duct tape and paper, praying their husbands’ trucks have not jack-knifed somewhere between Seattle and New York, killing them in the process. Hollywood and their cronies of a similar frame of mind always contend that long distance kills love.

I say they have no idea what love really is.

So why did Bruce leave Natasha at the end of Age of Ultron? There were a number of reasons. One, they had a perfect opportunity to run off together, and she threw him down a hole to bring out the big green guy. That hurts, and it probably makes him feel used, if not outright betrayed. That may be his surface thinking or initial reaction – and when he next shows up, those may be the words that come out of his mouth.

But there are other reasons. Widow could still be a mom, as I said before, by adoption. Marrying Bruce would be one thing, but after her confession at Hawkeye’s house, Bruce knows Natasha does not just want a husband. She wants what the Red Room operators worked so hard to deny her naturally – a family. He can only fill half the equation. Just because she cannot naturally have children does not mean Natasha could not become an adoptive mother.

Bruce knows that. And he knows that sooner or later, Natasha would have suggested the idea. But it would not work. He and the Hulk both have a soft spot for kids, but not on a daily basis. For a man with unshakeable faith in theories, this is one idea Bruce knows will never pan out for him. He can never be a father, not even by adoption. He does not have the temperament. Natasha does. If he were to stay with her, then her happiness would be incomplete. She would want children, and he cannot handle being a dad. It simply would not work.

Another factor for Bruce’s self-imposed exile might be his Scarlet Witch-induced rampage in South Africa. While no arrest warrant was issued immediately afterward, how much longer would that last? Eventually, he would be labeled a public danger and a menace again. And Natasha would leave her post as an Avenger, her job, her work, to go on the run with him when that happened.

He does not want to do that to her. That is no kind of life for a couple. It is hard enough on one. Bruce cannot settle down anywhere. He has to stay on the run, sleeping at odd hours, living from hand-to-mouth, quite probably for the rest of his life. He loves Natasha too much to drag her into that kind of life.

What is more, if the government(s) eventually caught up to him, he would be put in prison. Or some nincompoop would try to kill him. If Natasha ran off with him, then she would either be locked up or killed trying to protect him.

Bruce loves her too much to be willing to put her in that kind of danger. The only way to protect Natasha is to leave her, no matter how much it hurts. It is what he did with Betty Ross. General Thunderbolt Ross was not going to stop trying to bring Bruce down, and even though he might have drawn the line at killing Betty, he certainly was not averse to her getting hurt by being in close proximity to his attacks on the Hulk. He could always blame her injuries on the Hulk later on, when it was his obsession to bring him in that got her hurt in the first place.

Natasha would not have had even that protection. None of the other Avengers would. The only workable solution was to go on the run solo. No other plans were viable.

This is where we look at Bruce’s rapport with his male teammates. It is shown at the Avengers’ party after HYDRA’s defeat in Sokovia that Bruce and Steve have a fairly strong friendship. Since Cap is the most trustworthy man alive since Sir Galahad, Bruce’s confidence in him makes plenty of sense. Cap is probably one of the people Banner feels safest around. Nothing Cap says or does will “just set him off.” And the fact that Steve no longer fears angering him or worries that Bruce will simply explode means the two men have a healthy respect for each other. This makes him quite amenable to Cap’s orders and willing to listen when the other advises him to be Natasha’s boyfriend.

Bruce and Thor have a good – if awkward – friendship. Sometimes Thor’s glowing compliments on the Hulk’s performance in battle are really not what Banner wants to hear. Otherwise, they have a jovial understanding of each other. Thor knew Bruce could not lift the hammer because he saw the Hulk try that trick on the Helicarrier in The Avengers. So what if Bruce played at being King Kong and scared some of the others? Thor knows what he looks like when he is actually angry. He can tell when Bruce is playing around.

Bruce and Clint’s friendship still has some trust issues; though it is clear they respect each other and do not mind joking at the other’s expense. Remember when Clint was getting patched up in the Tower…?

Bruce (concerned): “How is he?”

Tony (with a straight face): “Unfortunately, he is still Barton.”

Bruce (biting back a laugh): “Oh, that’s terrible.”

Despite this, Clint is not amused when Bruce pretends to be on the verge of Hulking out after not lifting Mjolnir. It is not like he wants the party to tank, after all! Bruce realizes this and makes a sheepish, “Ah?” sound. Essentially he says, “Not funny, huh? Okay, I get the message.”

Otherwise, the two get along well. Both are worried when Natasha is captured by Ultron, though they show it in different ways. Bruce cannot show his agitation and anger the way Clint does. That could release the Hulk. But he is worried, and Clint understands that. Thanks to his wife’s insight, he also understands why Bruce is so worried. They each care about Natasha in their own way, and the brief moment when they and Tony are in the room with the Cradle shows this rather poignantly.

There is little else to say after this point. Bruce never gets to become friends with the Maximoff siblings. It could be a while before he forgives Wanda for sending him on a rampage through Johannesburg, too. Still, he was willing to work with the twins. That counts for something.

As for his friendship with Vision, at this point that is also non-existent. Maybe later they will get to know each other better. We will have to wait and see.

Anyway, puny humans, this is my post on the Hulk/Bruce Banner we see in Avengers: Age of Ultron. I know it was mostly about Bruce and not Big Green, but for cryin’ out loud, the Hulk is really hard for me to talk about! There is only one word which sums up his character and attitude, people….

SMASH!

The Mithril Guardian

Hulk SMASH

Avengers: Age of Ultron – A Review (Sort Of)

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WHOOO!!! Finally, after four months – four months! – I have seen the sequel to The Avengers, readers! And it was worth the wait, I have to say!

For a while there, I thought those months of waiting were going to make me hate the movie. Not to mention that there were people on the Internet who had made some very derogatory comments about the film. Those bounced around in my head a fair bit. The day prior to seeing the movie, all I could think was: I have been waiting for four months to see this. What if I don’t like it?

Well, I liked it so much, that I seriously considered seeing it in theaters again! 😀 However, since the DVD came out October 2, I think I can wait to see the movie on the small screen now.

Others have done descriptions of the story’s plot. You can find one grand review of the film by masterleiaofasgard here: https://superherofactsandtrivia.wordpress.com/2015/05/26/avengers-age-of-ultron-review/, which I previously reblogged on Thoughts on the Edge of Forever…and which conveniently gave me the above photograph. 🙂 But I am not going to review the film’s plot here. This is not how I operate with regard to Marvel’s films. Most of my posts about Marvel – its films or other story merchandise – revolve around its characters. I am not sure I could write about a story’s plot as well as others have.

This post does not concern a particular character in the film. Those will come later. This article is made up entirely of observations I made while I watched the movie. I will get to the character-centered posts another day.

So, without further ado, here are those observations I made while I watched the movie:

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Something I enjoyed throughout the movie was the camaraderie among the Avengers. With all the action sequences, it was a little subdued, but it was still there. The tight friendship between Natasha and Clint is to be expected; and since Thor and Cap have a similar sense of honor and justice, it makes sense that they would get along well and develop joint battle tactics where they use their trademark weapons together in battle. Bruce and Tony’s friendship was well established in The Avengers, and if anything, it is shown to have strengthened since that film.

But who could see the rest of the team gleefully helping to razz Cap about chiding Tony for his bad language? Who could anticipate that Tony would join Natasha in ribbing Clint? Truthfully, the respect that Hawkeye and Tony show each other in the movie surprised me greatly. And it is possible that this close friendship is the reason Tony takes such high offense at being kept in the dark about Clint’s family. Does he not trust Tony?

(Seriously, dude, who told the world, “I am Iron Man,” and consequently had his Malibu mansion blown to smithereens? Of course Clint kept his family out of the limelight – and of course he did not tell YOU about them, you motor-mouth! He is renovating his house, not looking to have it blown up!)

I did not see the Natasha/Bruce romance coming. In fact, I openly stated that I did not think it would happen. I certainly did not see Cap giving their mutual attraction his seal of approval. And watching Thor offer to leave a battle midway through to get Hawkeye back to the Aveng-jet and set him up for medical treatment was noteworthy as well. Although it was for a good cause, that Thor should be so willing to leave a battle for the sake of the “weakest” Avenger spoke volumes.

But the most unexpected piece of characterization I saw in the film was Tony’s reaction to his Scarlet Witch-induced vision.

Oh, I knew that it provoked him to build Ultron without thinking through the consequences. I knew he liked his team. But I did not realize how much he had gelled with them, how much Tony hated the idea of failing his friends – for they have all become great friends through their battles together – and, worse, that he was afraid of not dying with them if and when he failed them.

That was an eye-opener right there. And it really should not have been. In the original comics, Tony was very attached to his teammates. He appreciated them all, and he did not enjoy leaving the Avengers when he needed to go on R&R. Tony, like any other warrior, was always aware of when he was too tired to fight and needed rest. But being aware of it did not mean he had to like it.

It is a commander’s worst fear that he will be left alive, and all those under him killed. Tony may not be the official leader of the team, but he does finance them and acts as Cap’s second-in-command (sort of). He is also a scientist, and a lot of scientists seem to be convinced that they are destined to save the world. So Tony has not only pulled the responsibility for protecting everyone on the planet onto his shoulders, but the responsibility for shielding his friends as well. (Atlas, eat your heart out; Tony Stark has you beat by a mile and a half!)

Nick Fury basically admitted that his worst fear is the same as Tony’s. But he also said that he has been through it in the past. So he knows how the fear Tony has was played on by Wanda Maximoff.   And Tony fell head-first into that fear. He did not realize that was what he was doing. I think he may still have yet to realize it.

Tony was so scared that he did not stop to think through what he was creating. He just wanted to keep his friends safe – or he thought he did. He did not realize he was trying to fix a problem which may never come to pass.

So when the A.I. he built to keep his friends alive turned on him and tried to kill them all, they met in the lab afterward and he started to laugh. But it is not a “this is funny” laugh. It is a hysterical laugh, a laugh filled with pain and horror as he realizes that, in trying to save his friends, he has perhaps sealed their doom instead.

Naturally, before seeing this movie, I heard a lot of things about it. One of the things I heard was that, at the end of the film, everyone on the team was parting ways. There was bad feeling among them; some of them were just too tired to go on being Avengers. I heard that this Avengers film was not as much fun as The Avengers.

I agree that Age of Ultron is not like The Avengers. It has more depth, more to tell. The Avengers was the introduction to the story; Age of Ultron shows where that introduction is heading.

Plus, this movie was a wee bit heavy on the action. Since about an hour of the film was cut, these action sequences did not have as many quiet scenes to balance them as they could have. If Marvel had not had Age of Ultron cut down from a three and a half hour film to a two and a half hour movie, the missing scenes may have given it more grace. As it stands, however, I enjoyed the movie I saw in theaters.

And I must say that I found nothing unhappy about the end of Age of Ultron, aside from Quicksilver’s death. The changing of the roster of the Avengers did not strike me as painful and fractious. The ending was not sad or scary. It was quiet and hopeful as it saw great friends saying, “See you next time,” and heading off on vacation.

Thor, Hawkeye, and Iron Man have not resigned from the team, as many have assumed they have. Resigning means they quit. Thor has not quit the team. He has gone home to Asgard to do some research – and see if he and the others really have been used as pawns in someone else’s game. That is taking a leave of absence, not retiring or resigning from active service, and the son of Odin will be back on Midgard as soon as he possibly can be.

Hawkeye is going home for awhile, long enough to be a dad and husband for more than three days. But the minute Cap needs help, he will be back in his suit and have his bow and quiver ready. The fragments from the Civil War trailer prove it. Again, this is not resigning or retiring, and no matter what he told Laura, he has a job to do. As he told Wanda, being an Avenger is his “job.” He has not quit the team, as many have presupposed. He has simply “taken leave” of his duties for the time being to get some well-earned R&R. Soldiers here in the U.S. do that all the time.

Tony is going back to his civilian work. In his case, it is also a leave of absence. We know he will be back in his suit in Captain America: Civil War. He will be on the wrong side of the argument, yes, but he has not hung up the Iron Man armor for good. Tony needs a rest (it seems) and ostensibly he is going back to his civilian work to get it.

Hulk/Bruce Banner has gone off to make some sense of his life again. He still loves Natasha, but he cannot have a real life with her. He will never be able to lead a normal or close-to-normal life. It is impossible. He is mentally/physically sharing space with the Hulk, and that does not leave a lot of room for anyone else to squeeze into his life, no matter how much he loves them or they love him. This is why he left Betty Ross. And this is why he left Natasha Romanoff.

Not to mention the fact that Natasha kind of used him to help save the world. It was for a good cause, but it was still using.

Meanwhile, Cap has found where he belongs in the world. He went into the ice a hero, and he came out a legend. What the world needs now is him as that legend. The world needs to be kept together, for the sake of everyone on it. And that is what he is going to focus on doing, at least until the politicians and HYDRA mess everything up in Civil War.

Natasha is chained to her current life by her dark past. But she will not stop searching for Bruce – and that might be what saves her, in the end. Until then, she is going to keep busy and help Cap train their new Avengers.

So I think the ending for the film was a good ending. I did not see anything painful or dispiriting about it except for Pietro Maximoff’s death, and even that was honored. By and large, the movie left me feeling hopeful, just like its predecessor. That was, really and truly, all that I wanted out of this film. That is all I want out of the other films in the Avengers’ saga.

Another noteworthy observation includes the fact that Natasha got to call Tony “Shell Head” in the final battle in Nova Grad. “Shell Head” is Iron Man’s nickname in the Avengers Assemble cartoon; it might also be a nickname for him in the comics, but I do not know that for sure. And watching her ride the Hulk up to a flying city was fun! Maria Hill and Fury both got less screen time in this film, which is always a plus, and Fury only had to give Tony a pep talk this time around.

It is too bad he did not physically slap Tony upside the head, but the rest of the team only needed Fury to give them all the dirt he had on Ultron’s plans. That is a nice change all the way around; Fury started out as the team coach, now he gets to play information broker. That is a more “mainstream” idea, and if the movies adhere to the “mainstream” comics in that respect, then I will not complain overmuch!

We also get to see more of Hawkeye’s arsenal in the film. His arrows have more than simple bombs or acid/incendiary chemicals in them. He carries arrows that deliver electric shocks as well, not to mention arrows that emit high-frequency ultrasonic blasts. This is probably the type of arrow he used to bring down the last of Klaue’s mercenaries in the cargo ship hold, before stunning Wanda to avoid being a “zombie” again.

It is interesting to note that Tony hacked the NSA once on a dare, too. I would have thought he would do something like that on a regular basis just for the heck of it, but apparently he needs someone or something to prompt him to break into government systems. The fact that Bruce was worried about building Vision when Tony proposed the idea was a nice touch, as well. It redeems him at least a little for his part in glibly helping Tony to build Ultron.

Watching War Machine and Iron Man work together in the sky was very cool. We have not seen them working together like that at all. Even in Iron Man 2 and 3, all their teamwork was on the ground. Seeing them fly side by side was fan-tastic! It would have been even more amazing if SHIELD had called in Falcon as well, but at least we get to see him joining the team at the end of the movie.

Well, readers, that is all I have for now. It is more than enough, as things stand. I hope you enjoyed – or will enjoy – Age of Ultron as much as I did. It is a good movie. I will let you go now, with the same word Stan Lee slurred in Age of Ultron:

Excelsior!

The Mithril Guardian

Spotlight: Strong Women

Pepper and Tony

The scene I want to Spotlight! today occurred during Marvel’s The Avengers. It is the scene where Coulson arrives to enlist Iron Man’s help in stopping Loki, ruining “twelve percent of a moment” between Pepper Potts and Tony.

In this scene, Pepper realizes that something important is in motion and, to stop it, SHIELD needs Iron Man’s help. Tony, naturally, does not want to help SHIELD. Apart from the fact that he rightly distrusts the huge ‘peacekeeping’ agency, he does not want to leave Pepper. She is, quite frankly, the first woman he has ever truly loved in his life, and people do not want to part from those they love.

But Pepper, on seeing the “homework” Coulson has detailed for Tony, realizes that their “moment” must wait a little longer. Tony is needed elsewhere, and as much as she would prefer he stayed with her, if he does they may still be separated later on and in a worse way. So she does the sensible thing and tells him to go help SHIELD. Pepper does not tell him to do this because SHIELD needs help, but because there are lives at stake, maybe even their own. In verbal shorthand, she instructs Tony to go out and save the world; she will be waiting for him when he returns.

From my perspective, this is Pepper’s strongest moment so far in the Avengers’-themed films. In this scene, Pepper proves herself the fictional descendant of Ulysses’ wife Penelope. Penelope waited for Ulysses’ return from both the Trojan War and his years of roving. The Trojan War took ten years, and Ulysses went wandering the seas for ten years. So Penelope waited for Ulysses’ return for twenty years, during which time everyone else in his home town believed him dead. Waiting for him to come back took determination, to say the least!

Now allow me to contrast Pepper with another female Marvel character. This may get me in hot water, but I have yet to learn why so many people fawn over Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel. For those of you who have never encountered the character, Carol Danvers was a U.S. Air Force pilot who ended up with Kree abilities (the Kree are a humanoid alien species which inhabit the Marvel Comics universe). Danvers possesses the capabilities of near supersonic flight, near invulnerability, the ability to fire energy blasts from her hands, and apparently the ability to predetermine her opponent’s moves in battle – though this one is news to me and seems to be a recent addition to her power roster.

I have to admit, Danvers’ powers are impressive. The sad fact is that Danvers’ powers are the only remarkable things about her. If a person stands Danvers next to other female Avengers such as Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, Wasp, Rescue (Pepper Potts), or Mockingbird, that person quickly gets the impression that a novice’s sculpture has suddenly and inexplicably been set amidst statues fashioned by the Ancient Greeks. Danvers seems too clean cut, too perfect, when compared with her fellow Avenging females. She has immense power, yet she thinks and reacts like a California “Valley girl” (which may explain why she is so susceptible to psychic attacks and mind control).

I have considered Carol Danvers to be a “hollow character” since I first researched her. Her existence as a character appears – to me – to be based solely on her physical strength and not on the force of her personality (or lack thereof). In contrast, Pepper has a lot of personality: she is witty and smart, but also kind and compassionate – sometimes to a fault. Danvers lacks the former traits and if she has the latter then they are, at best, exhibited lukewarmly and infrequently.

Why do I bring up Carol Danvers in relation to Pepper Potts and her best scene from The Avengers? Because of the two, Danvers has received more acclaim from reviewers and fans than Pepper. Most seem to think Danvers is strong and Pepper is not – at least, they do not think Pepper is “strong” until she swallows an unstable Super Soldier Serum and gains inhuman abilities from it.

Today we are constantly inundated with news reporters or other TV talking heads yapping about what makes a strong woman. Hollywood frequently praises female leads that shoot impossibly large guns, use martial arts, super powers, or some other weapon when fighting their enemies. I know what you are thinking, and what you may well think throughout this post on this often-argued topic. So first let me state that I am not belittling the achievements of women anywhere.

No, I am asking a question, one I think too many people forget to ask. That question is, “What makes a strong woman?” Who is the strongest female character you have ever encountered, readers, and why is she strong? I do not mean what makes her physically strong, but what makes her a strong woman?

Most of us can think of a number of popular, strong female characters off the top of our heads. Storm, Black Widow, Wasp, Princess Leia Organa Solo, Mara Jade Skywalker, Stella from Silverado, Katniss Everdeen, Seven of Nine, Captain Janeway, and Lieutenant Uhura are all strong ladies who jump immediately into many minds.

But what do these women possess that makes us consider them strong? Is it their super powers (i.e. Storm, Wasp)? Is it their skill with a gun (Princess Leia, Lieutenant Uhura) or a bow (Katniss Everdeen)? Is it their skill with science and technology (Captain Janeway, Seven of Nine)? Or is it their spy skills (Black Widow, Mara Jade)?

If you answer yes to these questions and follow the reasoning to its conclusion, you find a rather thin strength, do you not? After all, what happens in a situation where Storm cannot access her powers, Uhura loses her phaser, or Black Widow is trussed up tighter than a Thanksgiving Day turkey and cannot use her martial arts skills to fight her way out of a tight spot?

And yet, all these fictional women – and a great many others – have fought their way through such situations regardless of the loss of powers, weapons, technology, or skills.

But, by continuing to use the reasoning that said these women were strong because of their assets – powers, weapons, etc. – we are left with a flimsy, incomplete picture of these fictional heroines. After all, if Storm loses her powers – the abilities that make her “strong” – then she is no longer strong when she cannot use them.

As a fan of the X-Man Storm from youth, when I was younger I would have found such a statement insulting to her. “Storm is strong without her powers!” I would have shouted angrily.

Thankfully, time brings growth, and I am at least old enough now to know that not all battles can be won by shouting – although that may be my initial, instinctive reaction. Suppose that, today, someone was to say to me, “Storm’s great, but she’s only strong as long as she has her powers.”

Stifling my kneejerk reaction to shout and lose my temper, I would stumble and say, “No, she’s strong even without her powers. If Storm were to lose her powers – which she has, on occasion – she would still be a force to be reckoned with. Because even without her powers, Storm is determined to survive – when she fights, she fights to win.”

And that is the point right there. “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog,” as they say. Storm and the other leading ladies I have listed here all have a strong will, the determination to survive adversity and evil. These fictional women are not disposed to yield to those who threaten them and/or those they love. They will fight anyone who threatens them. Whether they fight with weather warping abilities, or with something as “simple” as a spoon or a rock, they will fight to the death to protect themselves and those they care about.

So is the true strength of a woman (or of a man) to be judged by how much they can physically do? Should it be judged by the flash, flamboyance, or elegance with which they do it?

Or should the true strength of a man or woman be judged by the force of their will to be strong?

History is already witness to many women with strong wills achieving great things. Women such as Artemisia, Boudicca, Margaret of Provence (queen of France and wife of Louis IX), Catherine of Siena, Maria Theresa of Austria, Isabella I of Spain, Madeleine de Verchères, and Catherine the Great were all strong-willed women who achieved much in their lifetimes. Actresses Hedy Lamarr, Lucille Ball, and Maureen O’Hara accomplished much in their lives as actresses and as career women.

Yet still there are those who see only the outer shell, or who refuse to see it. Still you will hear the shrill Cabbage Patch dolls on TV or in Hollywood proclaim that this leading female in that film is strong simply because she can swing a sword, shoot a gun or a bow, use magic, or ride the wind and cast lightning bolts out of a clear sky. It is sad that so many in this age choose to view women in this light.

So then what do I think makes a strong woman, readers? I think a strong woman is defined by her will to keep fighting, by her determination to do her part, small though it may appear to be. No matter how much it hurts or how unfulfilling it appears, how thankless or humble a job it is, these fictional heroines have kept going. Theirs is an honorable position, whether it is Pepper’s waiting for Tony to return to her or Captain Janeway guiding Voyager on its journey home. It is an honorable duty they each work to fulfill to the best of their abilities. They should be given respect for that strength of will, not for their physical skills.

In conclusion, I will say this, readers: I preach no sermon, I advocate no crusade. I simply ask you an honest question:

“What do you think makes a woman strong?”

Later,

The Mithril Guardian