Robert W and I had a debate about Age of Ultron a few weeks back (long before I had seen the movie). I should know better than to enter into the ring with Robert on anything comics related, but I was taken with the use of the old Disney/Pinocchio song “I’ve Got No Strings.”
The use of the song is clever It reflects one of the positives of massive corporate mergers–a willingness to share otherwise unavailable intellectual properties. (Ten years ago, the notion of a Disney song promoting a Marvel production would have been as strange as–well it would have been strange.)
Spoilers ahead? I’m not sure. Read at your own peril.
Anyway, I was captivated with the song and the premise it captures. The robot servant has been freed of its strings. I claimed him as my hero, while Robert pointed out that the robot was on a rampage to eradicate humanity. Kind of puts a damper on my take–kind of.
The use of the song, the premise of the movie, continues an ongoing question about competing moralities. Relativism has a strange sort of lurking shadow. What we see as good is not an absolute.
The flip side of relativism is its inescapability, its paradoxical absolutism. Having opted for that view, it is not possible to retreat back into some truths, arguing that they somehow escape the relativism we have embraced. No matter how abhorrent, frightening, or just down right nasty, we cannot dismiss something as definitively evil.
I am treading over tired, old ground–trying to move my way back to Pinocchio and Ultron. Ultron freed of strings is a threat; the destruction of humanity he embodies is evil–for humanity. For me. But it is not evil for him. It is an act of freedom.
And now for the spoilers. Serious spoilers ahead. You have been warned.
Ultron is that part of Tony Stark which has been repressed. He beats Stark to the punch on jokes. His responses to situations are Stark’s. He recognizes Stark as his creator. He is Stark’s shadow–Stark’s suppressed anger, an anger Stark camouflages with glib.
It is telling that Stark is the oldest of The Avengers. That the group relies on Stark’s resources. That the group relies on Stark’s guidance. His intelligence, his daring, and his wits. And that the group looks to Captain America as the leader. They are oblivious to the disconnect (perhaps blinded by their youthful self-righteousness)–an irony that Stark does not miss.
Stark is their foundation. His obligation to the group, however, is entangled by competing moralities–by their myopic view and his knowledge of what is to come. His vision in the opening shapes his actions throughout the movie. The other Avengers do not seek to understand his motives; they simply question his actions.
Ultron breaks free of the strings that tangle Stark.
And in doing so, the robot’s first act is to attempt to destroy the other half of Stark’s personality, the other embodiment of Stark’s persona: Jarvis. The calm, quiet side of Stark on which he and the rest of the team rely.
It is the anger, hurt, and blindness that free Jarvis from the bondage of The Avengers and creates The Vision. Without the fury of Ultron, Jarvis would remain a disembodied voice at the beck and call of Stark responding to the leadership of Captain America finding his way in the wake of Shield’s collapse. Strings.
Both sides of Stark’s personality have been liberated, freed of all control. And in the end, they confront one another, resolving the conflict that has entangled Stark since the beginning of the movie.
Stark drives off in the end, leaving Captain American and his polished, whiny goodness to start the New Avengers. Of course, Ironman will be back for the sequel(s). But the end is telling. Having freed himself of his strings and having destroyed his anger, he is now a real boy.
Watching the movie, I empathized with Ultron, his anger and frustration. I have felt that burning hurt more than once in my professional and personal life. And each time I have, a Jarvis has stepped forward to burn off the anger, freeing me completely from the strings that still determined my moves.