Spoiler Alert: If you wish to avoid spoilers for the latest Avengers movie, read no further. (Though honestly, if you haven’t seen the movie yet, what the hell are you waiting for?)
I attended a 7:00 P.M. screening of the new Avengers movie Age of Ultron this past Thursday night and was fairly thrilled with what I saw. It had the Avengers. It had Ultron. It had Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, and the VISION, son! Seeing the latter up on the big screen stirred distant memories of just how much I loved the character in the comics when I was a little kid. (This will result in a Vision post in the next week or so, no doubt… but I’m getting ahead of myself.)
Now it wasn’t on the level of the Holy Grail (by which I mean Superman: The Movie, now and forever the greatest superhero flick), but it was right up there with the first Avengers movie and better than Guardians of the Galaxy, in my opinion.
Then on Friday I read Stephen Whitty’s review in the Newark Star-Ledger (Tony Soprano’s favorite newspaper) and was a bit surprised, as he didn’t think very much of the movie. As I read through it, there were several specific criticisms I could have quibbled with, but I had to admit—after putting emotion and nostalgia aside—that Witty’s fundamental criticism rang true. Specifically:
“How many times have we seen this movie before? How many more times are we going to have to see it?”
“The same elements went a lot further the last time around. The film feels overstuffed.”
“It’s getting time to move beyond the expected, and explore some truly brave new worlds.”
This last line really stuck with me. Even as I was walking home from the theater that night I was thinking there was one key element in the Ultron story that they missed. It was almost maddening because if they could have struck that one missing note the movie could have been essentially perfect. That note ties in with Witty’s request for some thing “brave” and “new” and would have given more artistic depth to the overall story; making it more than a merely great superhero-action film. I’m talking about the father-son Oedipal conflict that has always been the heart of the Ultron character.
Although this conflict is hinted at when the Vision tells Tony Stark (Ultron’s creator in the film) that Ultron has a particular anger/hatred for him, it’s not a big part of the narrative at all. And just a few tweaks of the dialogue, a couple lines added here and there, could have made all the difference. If the words “father” and “son” could have been dropped into one of the conversations between Ultron & Stark or Ultron & Vision (the father-son roles would have been reversed in this latter case, of course), it may have been enough. For example, when the Vision and Ultron have their final conversation in the movie, imagine if Ultron greeted the Vision as his “wayward son” and Vision responded with a simple, “Hello Father.” This would have added a great deal to the proceedings.
Go back and look at Ultron’s origin in the comics, when Hank Pym first creates him. He starts out calling Pym “Da-Da” (which is creepy as hell), then “Daddy,” then “father.” His enhanced computer mind races through the maturation process at light speed, practically—going from newborn babe to petulant child to angry and rebellious teenager in literally seconds. This is not your run-of-the-mill mad robot here. This is the most high-end artificial intelligence imaginable trying to figure out what it is to be human (and having an even harder time of it than most of us regular humans do).
The whole thing only gets deeper and more layered when Ultron creates a “son” of his own in the Vision, who winds up turning on his “father” Ultron the same way Ultron turned on Hank Pym—oh the sweet, poetic justice of it all. (I can just imagine Hank Pym admonishing, “Didn’t I tell you that you’d see what I mean when you have kids of your own?”)
Alas, opportunity missed. Still a great movie, particularly if you have a childhood affection for the Marvel superheroes like myself. As I said at the beginning, if you haven’t seen it yet I don’t know what you’re waiting for. And if you’ve never read the original Ultron/Vision stories in the Avengers comics, by all means do so—it’s just as fun a ride and even more rewarding, artistically.