So I just watched the new Avengers movie, Age of Ultron! I have to say that I enjoyed the movie in a similar way that I enjoy eating a Big Mac. I know that it is an indulgence and one that I enjoy in particular moments, but if I think about what I am eating it goes downhill pretty quickly.
A cursory overview of the film shows us Tony Stark’s best of Ayn Rand. In a typical Stark moment, he and Banner team up to play around with alien technology and harness it for the protection of THE WORLD. It obviously backfires and unleashes the “sentient” artificial intelligence, Ultron, who interprets the protection of the world as the destruction of humanity and the Avengers.
Ultron is part Stark, perhaps Tony’s father more than Tony himself, but a Stark nonetheless. A few of the characters point this out along the way, and Ultron’s dry wit and humour mark him well as one of the Starks. Many of these moments were followed by Ultron becoming enraged, as a teenager might when a parent snarkily reminds them that they not only related, but inherently similar. Thus, to some extent, it’s no surprise that Ultron rebels against the patriarchal figure of Tony Stark and seeks to ultimately destroy him.
Ultron isn’t particularly deep as a villain. Much of the villainy seems to be in this sort of accidentally destructive and rebellious behaviour rather than anything provocative or meaningful.
In fact, as we are constantly reminded, the real problems in the universe of the film are created by the Avengers themselves. We witness the uncorking of Ultron due to Stark’s vision for protection of the planet, the huge number and form of casualties caused by Banner’s alter ego (which he is never punished for, but will punish himself by running away?), the ruin of a city, the creation of revenge and anger in the twins; indeed, all manner of loss. More provocatively, the film glances at two sources of production. This for me, was a crucial step towards examining the contents of my hamburger.
In the scenes where the Avengers meet Ulysses Klaw in Wakanda, Africa, we witness the site of production for metal resources, and most notably, the sound-absorbing mineral, vibranium. Vibranium is the material that makes up Captain America’s shield as well as miscellaneous tools of S.H.I.E.L.D. In one of the key scenes that set up capitalism and finances at their most critical, Ultron reassures Klaw that while he cannot understand the human fascination with finances, Klaw has been well-compensated through several of his nondescript accounts and paid in full for the vibranium worth “billions of dollars.” In the moments preceding this, we witness flashes of the human labour involved in cultivating the minerals; a key site of production is made visible. However, in true fashion, these are not the people that we must focus on.
Banner has become Hulk, and, thanks to the Scarlet Witch (my favourite character), is rampaging through Wakanda’s city. And by rampaging, I mean destroying and killing (maiming/wounding/causing non-fatal injury to) the innocent civilians that are constantly portrayed in this way; as language-less beings who are at the mercy of these massive giants of commerce and heroism who, supposedly, are there on their behalf. They stumble around in a daze, perpetually at the whims of the heroes that brought the destruction to begin with. Stark, just about to pummel Banner through an empty construction site wherein a large tower of some kind is being erected, pauses to ask the artificial voice in his head, “How fast can we buy this building?”
So here we have the ultimate lesson in this game: that destruction is useful so long as you are able to afford to clean up after yourself after you are done. That is to say, Ultron’s fatal flaw is that he simply doesn’t wish to clean up after himself – typical teenager.
The other glance is towards Marvel’s Korea, where Dr. Helen Cho is a highly regarded geneticist and scientist. Avoiding places of production, Mavel’s Korea is technologically advanced. Production is clean-looking; sterile; and inorganic (in contrast to the site of production we see in Wakanda). In this space, destruction is almost on par with preservation (Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch working alongside Captain America), in fierce contradistinction to Wakanda and Sokovia.
One cannot forget the other illustrious site of production and creation in Stark’s home, either. Machines whir and holographic images hang in the air quickly reconstituting the plethora of inorganic matter needed to service the whims of the Avengers. This space is devoid of all human forms of production. It is only the minds of Banner and Stark that perform any manner of labour.
Lastly, the film begins and ends with the site of civil unrest – Sokovia. Stark has deployed Iron Man drone-bots aka the Iron Legion to remind citizens to stay out of dangerous zones. Rioters throw acid on the drone-bots, melting off parts of their shell, but the bots remain in place. The Maximoff twins are part of the Sokovian political spectrum, and part of the revolt against the Avengers. As the only site where civil unrest is directed at the Avengers, Sokovia becomes the vehicle that Ultron will use to destroy all of humanity.
The destruction of the sites of production in the film closely remind us of the nature of valuable labour: only Jaltron — I mean, Vision — is truly worthy. It is a hybrid without purpose, but that values everything even if it is doomed. After all, “they know what they do, but they do it anyway.” Everything else is expendable.
Writer & Artist: Tara Ogaick