**WARNING: Minor Spoilers for Avengers: Age of Ultron Ahead. Read Cautiously.**
There’s no point in trying to compare the film to the comic book series of the same name, since those of us who have read it knew right off the bat that they’d have to change a lot of the events in order for it to fight into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And from all the pre-release reviews and Marvel’s track record so far, it was no surprise that Avengers: Age of Ultron was an amazing movie. It had action, romance, laughs, and (not to be cliché) but a lot of heart.
But Age of Ultron didn’t just have heart — it had humanity.
Humanity was an important factor for the two truly human characters in the film, of course. Thor is really the only non-human Avenger until Vision shows up, the rest are all enhanced in some way — all except Hawkeye and Black Widow. They’re both highly trained, highly skilled operatives to be sure, but when put in a room with Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and the other Avengers… it’s hard for them to stand out. We haven’t gotten a chance to know them since they don’t have their own stand-alone films, so Ultron gave us a little look into what makes them tick.
For Natasha, the trials of being trained as a Russian operative still haunt her. She tells Bruce that in order to “graduate” from the training program, operatives are sterilized in the hopes that it will keep them solely dedicated to their missions. This forced infertility seems to weigh on her as a lasting reminder of a life that was out of her control. And for a woman who has taken her fair share of lives, she knows that she’ll also never give life. This conversation is an important commentary on the way women without children are still viewed in our society, and Natasha even goes so far as to compare herself to the Hulk — a monster. Black Widow is a strong, independent, confident, and capable woman, but she sees herself as being comparable to a green rage monster because she’ll never be a mother. This is bullshit, of course. Women without children have just as much value, just as much humanity has women with children, and Nat’s humanity continues to lie in her struggle to find her place, both as a woman and an Avenger.
But the character whose humanity is the star of the film is Hawkeye. Joss Whedon did an excellent job in highlighting what everyone already knew — that Clint Barton is just a normal guy with a bow and arrow. And we discovered that Clint is even more different than the rest of the Avengers than we originally thought, as we met his pregnant wife and two young children. They live on a quiet farm, they have a broken tractor, and when he’s not Avenger-ing, Clint does constant renovations on his house. But despite the fact that his only weapons are his sharp pair of eyes and sure aim, the Avengers still need him. They need his loyalty, his compassion, and his connection to the type of people they both put in harms way and save — average people with kids and broken tractors.
But it wasn’t just the heroes whose humanity we delved into. So many films, war films in particular, want us to believe that the good guys are always good and that the bad guys are always bad. Past Marvel movies have actually done a convincing job of that with their other villains. Iron Man fought terrorists, Captain American fought Nazis, Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy fought aliens hell bent on destruction. Loki is probably the rare example of a bad guy who audiences actually root for (mostly because of Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal), and paved the way for a more complicated brand of bad guy.
It makes it easier to fight a war or to kill an enemy if we believe that the world is black and white. It makes it easier if we convince ourselves that our enemy isn’t human. Ultron, by all accounts, is not human biologically, but James Spader’s spot-on portrayal made him seem as human you or I. Ultron wasn’t created to be evil, he was born of good intentions and hubris and it was his connection to humanity that turned his motivations nefarious. He and The Vision are two sides of the same coin, in fact, with Ultron representing the worst of humanity and Vision representing the best. It’s hardly the first film to do so, but the film proved that heroes, even gods, are not completely good and villains are not intrinsically evil. If Ultron’s plan had come to pass, Tony Stark would have been just as guilty as he was for that destruction. Because, like in this film, war is rarely fought against an enemy who is without humanity — no matter how diabolical their intentions.
Despite recent criticism for superhero movies, Avengers: Age of Ultron was a damn good movie, superhero-themed or not. And it sets the tone for what will be another very difficult look into humanity and the complicated nature of being a hero with Captain America: Civil War. Because the MCU, like our world, is not black and white.
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