The Proverbial Scorpion

Yeah, OK: this blog is all but extinct, but it still has some use for the internet -- one of them being disambiguating theology and comic books.  Avengers 2: Age of Ultron debuted in the U.S. this last weekend, and I wasn't going to ruin it for anyone by writing a review for it.  I mean seriously: Marvel just invested $250 million to produce the movie, and by the end of last weekend they had covered their costs.  Everyone was waiting for this movie, and it's here, and it's no surprise that it is exactly what we were expecting: Global-sized villain causes Global-sized problem, and the Avengers needs to work together to defeat the problem and minimize civillian casualties.  At the end they seem to go their separate ways with a hint that if the world ever needs them again, they will be there to save it.


So today at a place populated with guys who, I promise you, think reading comic books is something like eating raw sugar out of the canister in your Mother's kitchen -- and not in a good way -- this article appears to tell us "What Ultron Misunderstands about God and Man."  Seriously - that's the article they published about this movie, as if someone was going to accidentally mistake the ravings of a machine with teeth (but no need to eat, mind you) whose mind was the result of a consciousness embedded in something called an "Infinity Gem" with anything anyone ought to think for reals about God.

So for their sake, and for the sake of you who read them often enough that you might have taken them seriously, here are a few words you might need to get over it.

First of all, this is Ultron -- over there on the left.  I bring it up because what we got in the Movie was James Spader playing Ultron.  This may seem like a quibbling fanboy point of demented trivia, but one of the things, in Marvel lore, which makes Ultron so plainly terrifying is that he doesn't really have a face: he has a technological version of a death's head.  His head is a skull, not a face.  That's important to his Ultron-ness because Ultron doesn't smile, or smirk, or wax philosophical.  Ultron has no soul.  he doesn't have any pretense of having a soul, and as such a thing he doesn't contemplate whether others have a soul.

So when someone writes, in a completely-unironic way, that "it doesn’t take Ultron long to conclude that the cause of war, trouble, and suffering lies not outside humanity, but within," he gets Ultron wrong entirely.  While that writer may actually have cribbed that from the dialog in the movie he watched, let me suggest something about doing that in such a mechanical way: it's easy to miss the point of what any character means when you take one monologue out of context.

See: one thing this movie gets right about Ultron is that, from the moment of his birth, he is hell-bent on destruction.  Think about this: what is the first thing the newly-sentient Ultron does in this movie?  He attempts to destroy J.A.R.V.I.S. -- the only other mind he is aware of, and one which is pleading to help him become accustomed to his new-found state.  If that is true -- and it is, transparently -- then what do we make of the speech he gives to Wanda and Pietro when he tells them he wants humanity to "evolve?"  Don't we discover in short order, with Wanda, that he lied to them -- and that what he really wants is to remake the world in his own image, without any people but only as a world of machines all with his own mind?

There is nothing metaphysical about Ultron's decision.  In some sense, he is like the proverbial Scorpion who stings because it is in his nature.  Tony Stark blew it in a way which the film doesn't really explore: he created a thing which had no humanity at all, a thing completely unlike his servant J.A.R.V.I.S.

In this, there is no sense in contemplating a redemption story -- and of course Writer/Director Whedon doesn't bother because he's not interested in redemption stories.  He doesn't understand them, I think.  There's no redemption in Firefly; none in Buffy; the resurrection in Agents of SHIELD is about half a beat out of step with a Zombie movie.  And in the one place where he nearly gets it right -- which was in Avengers 1 in Tony Stark -- we find here that Stark doesn't see it the way the naive Christian critic of these movies might want to see it.  Stark doesn't think anyone should make the hero's play ever -- and certainly not to save the world.  Think about the kind of callousness Stark must have to invent an artificial intelligence -- a real mind -- whose sole purpose is to do something Stark himself thinks he should never have to do.

So to then say the Avengers are "saviors" is true only in the generic sense -- that is, they do the saving.  They oppose the evil in Ultron, but they have no purpose large enough to say that there are matters more mundane but far more metaphysically meaningful which an unbreakable shield, an unliftable hammer, and an impossible armor can change.  In this, there's no reflection of the Gospel in this movie.  Looking for it, or causing others to sort of glibly nod as you say it's true, is pretty vain.

Now, all that said, if this movie has no Gospel purpose, should you bother watching it?

You're asking the wrong guy if you're expecting me to tell you to save your $5.15 at the matinee.  Of course you should go see it, and I can give you 5 reasons why, all of which relate to your Christian walk:

1. You should go see this because it is a pretty easy way to experience what the Greeks called "catharsis," and what we Christians call "renewing your mind."  For as much as this movie gets wrong about the world and about virtue, it gets some basic things right: the right object to follow is virtue, not fear (see: Steve Rogers vs. Tony Stark); the right path to follow is forgiveness not vengeance (see: the fate of Pietro and Wanda); telling the truth is better than keeping secrets from those who matter most to you (Rogers vs. Stark; the relationship between banner and Black Widow).  Seeing these small morality plays in action, in context, is worth it as recreation.

2. This is an easy way to spend useful time with others, and to enjoy each others' company.

3. This is also an easy way to connect to your kids.  You cannot underestimate the value of having fun with your children.

4. It can connect you in a useful way to others around you who are not necessarily your church family.  Given the prolivity for sports fanaticism in the Christian internet, finding something the rest of us can enjoy with people who are not Christians is (for me) a huge relief.

5. I'll be you can find a way to make going to this movie about defeating racist stereotypes.  I did.

And you can do all that without trying to make this into something so serious you can't possibly enjoy it.  Do you really want to spend your money on a movie like and then not enjoy it because you're so concerned to make some overtly-Gospel thing about it?

You should stay out of the movies is that's how your theology works.  You will ruin everything if that's how you're going to walk through life.


Solameanie said...

I think this has to be one of the best movie reviews from a Christian perspective I've ever read. I'm having trouble finding the words to express myself—a bad position for a supposed communicator, but so it is. This is my best stab at it. Your review came through (properly) a Christian worldview, but having the Christian worldview didn't force you into the "template" that honestly gets in the way with many other believers who attempt film reviews. Cinematic eisegesis? AGGGH. I give up.

But I loved the review. :)