Today my oldest son took me to see the latest Avengers movie as my belated Father’s Day gift. I enjoyed it tremendously. I have a bone to pick with one of the central plot points, but for other reasons, the film redeemed itself spectacularly. Let’s start with the “bad” first.
Like so many other people, I grew up reading comic books, and the Avengers were one of my favorite titles. And in the world of Marvel Silver and Bronze Age and the 80s, Ultron was Hank Pym’s cross to bear. I realize that many of you may be saying “C’mon, you’re being silly. It was a great story!”, and you’d be absolutely right. I freely admit that the hang up about this is my own, and as stupid as it sounds, it is because these characters were as much my friends growing up as any flesh-and-blood people actually were. And because I actually give a damn, part of me was wondering all the way through “Is it too much?” Ultron was, and is, an extinction-level baddie, who was one of the many bad pennies that The Avengers had to deal with time and again. Because of this, I couldn’t help feeling that putting his creation on to the consciences of Tony Stark and Bruce Banner was a manifestly unfair act in story-telling. Tony is a man whose entire life has been shaped by his self-doubt and failure, a man who is divided between constantly running from his demons, and trying to make up for them. No matter how tormented be may be privately, at least he gets to hide behind the image of success, and a million-dollar smile, even if the music he hears when he closes his eyes is a thundering rendition of “Eminence Front”. Bruce Banner can only dream of that kind of peace. Instead, the best he can hope for is a life of anonymity in the shadows, where he can hide from EVERYONE, especially himself, and the monster that is freed by rage and anger. He lives a life in which he can’t close his eyes, because all he’ll hear are the screams of the hundreds of thousands the beast within has killed or maimed since being freed in an accident of science. This is why I questioned the retcon of the old familiar story. These two have enough on their plate without throwing Ultron into the mix. But that said, “It is done”, and so the cinematic universe continues.
Moving on to the “good”, first and foremost, the team has completed its metamorphosis from a group of unique individuals, into an actual “team”, with even a haunted Bruce Banner willingly freeing The Hulk when the team gets in over their heads with Hydra forces at the beginning of the movie and Hawkeye is injured. The team calls in a “Code Green”, bringing the gamma beast into the fray, and tipping the balance into the team’s favor.
Even so, there is still room for surprises, and we get to see Natasha let her guard down, and admit her attraction to Bruce Banner, which in a fun scene, she herself admits is improbable. We also got to see them all having fun in moments where nothing of consequence was at stake, and it very much felt like we got to enjoy it with them. But the part that hit it out of the park for me was the fact that Hawkeye got his due in this film.
In a world where so many spend so much time and effort attacking symbols for what they want to see in them and spend so little addressing the actual issues, because doing so might offend someone, or laud men in dresses for their “courage” while vilifying those who patiently ask “How is that courageous?”, Hawkeye reminded us what real heroism looks like. I know, I know, he’s a fictional character on a team of super heroes. How can that possibly represent real heroism?
The answer was plain as day in the story. Hawkeye and the Black Widow aren’t like the rest of the team. They aren’t invulnerable. They don’t have super powers, or a special suit to help keep them safe. They can be injured…severely…or even killed. And yet, they suit up. They play their parts on a team as members of a team. They are unafraid to put their lives on the line to save a teammate, or anyone else. When other people are running from danger, they run toward it. And they don’t have to.
When everyone on the team is paralyzed by the visions of their fears, the juxtaposition couldn’t have been more jarring to me. Captain America, in looking to those dreams, had to confront the truth that he fought for something he never got; the right to come home, and enjoy the peace he gave so much for and do it with that special someone. And now, he fights to give others that opportunity. And yet Hawkeye opened a home that only two others knew he had when they needed a safe place, and when the team had to leave, maybe for the last time, in order to settle accounts with Ultron, he left that oasis, a pregnant wife, and two small children, in the hope that whatever sacrifice he made, and whatever price he paid, other people would get that chance to go home, to be surrounded by their loved ones, to live.
His wife didn’t hesitate to support his decision to do so, and she clearly understood that even if he wasn’t super-human, he was still central to the team being a team, and only asked that he made sure that they were worth the sacrifices he was chancing. But the finest moment came when he put himself in harm’s way to save the Scarlet Witch, who he had been fighting only a short time earlier, and gave her the game-winning pep talk when he could no longer ignore that there was still much work to be done if they were to carry the day.
Doesn’t matter what you did, or what you were. If you go out there, you fight, and you fight to kill. Stay in here, you’re good, I’ll send your brother to come find you. But if you step out that door, you are an Avenger.
And then he pulled an arrow from his quiver, kicked open a door, and went back outside.
The men and women who run toward the danger.
They are the heroes.
The ones who will STAND when the odds are against them, because the fight matters.
They are the heroes.
And although Joss Whedon can be the world’s biggest knucklehead when he gets in front of a microphone, he understands how to tell stories that inspire. And for that, I can forgive him.