The Civil War Marathon Part IV – The Avengers: Age of Ultron

In celebration of this Friday’s release of Captain America: Civil War, I have put together a multi-night Marvel marathon. I have chosen the movies to focus on Steve Rogers, his relationship with Bucky, and his relationship with Tony Stark. The marathon is as follows:
Captain America: The First Avenger
The Avengers
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The Avengers: Age of Ultron
There are no Iron Man stand alone films here because they give no insight into his present state that the Avengers films do not already give.

As I watch each film I will post entries on each in turn.

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I was alone for Age of Ultron. Life got in the way enough that even I couldn’t host and just had to watch the movie on my own during the day. Frankly it’s poetic, as I am one of the apparent few who loves the film warts and all. It doesn’t drag like its predecessor and you can see how much Director Joss Whedon’s skills have improved. This movie looks and feels different while being unmistakably an Avengers film, with all the quips and fun that entails.

We begin with the Avengers already assembled. The current crisis is directly connected to where The Winter Soldier left off, giving us a very comfortable transition. They’re taking out a Hydra base that appropriated Loki’s scepter from S.H.I.E.L.D. when it fell. Things seem pretty stable among the group as they work together to accomplish their mission. Even when the twins start to attack, The Avengers don’t falter under the pressure.

Then Tony has his vision.

All of the fears he thought he had moved past in Iron Man 3 bubble up to the surface. In that film he used his suits to shield himself from the world. Now he intends to shield the world from everything else.

Most of the team see Pietro and Wanda Maximoff as merely enemies, but Steve understands them and their perspective implicitly. As the Captain says, “What kind of monster would let a German scientist experiment on them in order to protect their country?” They’re a lot like him, which is why Steve is the first one to reach out to them later in the film.

In the meantime, The Avengers party. Steve invites all his friends, who mostly just so happen to be WWII vets (and Stan Lee). While talking to Sam Wilson he makes it clear that he hasn’t stopped looking for Bucky, and they won’t stop until they’ve found him.

Oh right, and then Steve almost moves Thor’s hammer. He could potentially be worthy, but he’s interrupted by that pesky Ultron.

Like pretty much everyone else, Steve does not take it well when Tony invents a “murder-bot”. However since Thor has decided to be the one filled with righteous fury, he has to be the voice of reason. He wants to make sure Tony knows he did a bad thing, but more importantly he wants to find and stop Ultron. Luckily¬† Howard Stark told him where Vibranium came from back in the day, so Steve and Tony know the significance of what Ulysses Klaue picked up in Wakanda.

There’s a lot to unpack in Steve’s nightmare vision. It’s disconcerting to say the least. He walks into a party wearing military dress. It’s a celebration of the end of WWII, and people are laughing and drinking while brutally injured. Then Peggy Carter asks Steve for that dance they never shared. Next thing he knows, the room is empty and we get a flash of the two of them sharing that dance. Is this what Steve always wanted? To be back then instead of here and now? Would he be comfortable celebrating after all that pain and death? Being a soldier is all he knows. Could he have survived a post-war climate? What is the significance of the empty ballroom? Is it because it’s impossible for him to attend this party? He missed it a long time ago.

I can’t definitively answer these questions. They’re not meant to be answered, they’re just meant to rattle him. And they do. When The Avengers arrive at the Barton house, Steve walks away from the front door in an homage to John Wayne in The Searchers. He can’t even connect to this kind of family life anymore.

After Thor leaves, Steve and Tony get to have a very honest conversation. It’s kind of like holding a mirror to their argument in The Avengers. They respect each other now, making the conversation much more friendly, but their core ideologies still put them at odds.

“Thor didn’t say where he was going for answers?”

“Sometimes my teammates don’t tell me things. I was kind of hoping Thor would be the exception.”

“Yeah, give him time. We don’t know what the Maximoff kid showed him.”

“I don’t know what she showed you. I just know it made you do something stupid. Earth’s mightiest heroes… pulled us apart like cotton candy.”

“Seems like you walked away all right.”

“Is that a problem?”

“I don’t trust a guy without a dark side. Call me old fashioned.”

“Well let’s just say you haven’t seen it yet.”

“Banner and I were doing research.”

“That would affect the team.”

“That would end the team! Isn’t that the mission? Isn’t that the ‘why’ we fight, so we can end the fight, so we get to go home?”

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“Every time somebody tries to win a war before it starts, innocent people die. Every time.”

Steve wins this argument, and not just because ripping a log apart with your bare hands is the perfect way to punctuate any point. Tony has been in the war business. He knows where the line is. An all encompassing defense system run by an artificial intelligence is potentially genocidally dangerous. Or has Tony not seen The Terminator?

It seems like Steve gets through to Tony, making him want to do whatever it takes to make up for his mistake, because from this point forward The Avengers start to rally. They get to Seoul and intercept Ultron’s creation of his new perfect body. Steve even encounters the Maximoff twins who have turned against Ultron after discovering his plans for global annihilation. And because Steve knows what really matters, he even makes sure Pietro saves people who may get hit as Wanda slows the train they’re on. However, then Wanda reminds Steve that “whatever it takes” means something just as dangerous in Tony’s eyes.

The Avengers fight over the creation of The Vision. There’s no way for Steve to know this thing could be trustworthy while Tony has to believe the piece of him within Jarvis can make the difference. Before things can go too far, Thor swoops in and takes matters into his own hands.

So yeah, that’s why Thor isn’t in Civil War.

The thing is, as soon as The Vision lifts Thor’s hammer Steve is on board. If this new thing is as worthy as Thor then he must be a friend. So they prep to finally take Ultron down, no longer playing catch up. Steve only has one addition to the plan. Save the people.

I cannot stress enough how much it means to me that the bulk of act three in this film involves evacuating a city. There are too many blockbusters that kill thousands for the sake of spectacle. This film finds spectacle in saving innocent lives, all while allowing The Avengers to fight an army of faceless minion robots.

The Avengers form up around Sokovia’s core switch and holds the line against Ultron. Tony makes it clear he and Steve are cool now. As Steve always said, they’ll face this great threat together. They destroy nearly every Ultron, but one manages to get to the core. Luckily they’ve evacuated the city by then, and Steve is the last to jump to safety on a S.H.I.E.L.D. life raft. Thor and Tony destroy the city and bing bang boom the Earth is saved.

Things are actually pretty happy in the aftermath of Ultron. Happy, but irrevocably changed. The Hulk has vanished and Thor is leaving to investigate the Infinity Stones. Meanwhile Clint is joining Tony in retirement. It seems Tony only suited up again to help with the Hydra problem, but now he’ll be returning to his post-Iron Man 3 status quo.

This leaves Steve and Natasha in charge of The New Avengers. Sam Wilson, James Rhodes, Wanda Maximoff, and The Vision. Unlike the other original members, Steve and Nat have nowhere to go except The Avengers. This is where they can be the most good to themselves and the people they care about.

There’s not much of a civil war in sight between Tony and Steve as we leave things here. It simmers under the surface sometimes. Their conversation on the wood block came dangerously close to the argument they had in the first Avengers, but neither of them want them now. Something has to give to get them there, and that something will most likely be Bucky. We can see how Ultron would push Tony towards supporting government oversight. If somebody had been looking over his shoulder, maybe he wouldn’t have been able to create Ultron. Or at least not in the way he did. Meanwhile, we can see how Steve can stand against it. They didn’t ask anyone for permission to get to Africa, or Korea, or Sokovia, and the planet is safe because they didn’t have to go through any bureaucracy to do what was right.

Which side is right? Well that’s the problem. They both kind of are.

-JP

PS, This was fun! I’m finding Tony and Steve’s relationship to be much meatier than Steve and Bucky’s. I am thoroughly excited for Civil War, obviously, and hope it lives up to the hype. However, this whole thing was also exhausting. Don’t expect me to do the same thing for Thor when his sequel comes around.

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