Age of Ultron

marvel-ultron

First of all go read this from comics alliance

http://comicsbeat.com/thought-bubble-expands-to-third-hall-due-to-immense-exhibitor-demand/

So the next Avengers film, contrary to what we all expected, is going to be about Ultron.

Now, I have some opinions about this and they’re unfortunately not all positive ones.

Firstly in many respects I understand the desire to use Ultron in an Avengers film. For being the premier Marvel super-hero team the Avengers don’t actually have many villains of their own. When you think of the most famous Avengers stories the villains used in them are primarily from another corner of the Marvel Universe. Doctor Doom? Fantastic Four villain. Magneto? X-Men villain. Red Skull and Baron Zemo? Captain America villains. Thanos? More of a cosmic character likely to encounter Captain Marvel, Adam Warlock or Silver Surfer. Even Loki, the villain in the first Avengers film is mainly a Thor villain.

For the guys who are Avengers villains first and foremost you don’t really have many. Kang the Conqueror is probably the most prominent, a time travelling conqueror who wants to take over the past having subjugated the future, but using him means doing a time travel story which is always a narrative headache. Graviton? Molecular Man? The Hood? They’re basically pathetic schlubs who luck into amazing power, good for a fight scene but not for driving a narrative. The Masters of Evil? Well they’re a kind of evil Avengers which can work but they usually need a guiding force and that’s normally Zemo or another Captain America villain. And then you have Ultron.

Ultron is nice and conceptually simple. He’s an evil robot that wants to kill everyone. That’s pretty easy to build a narrative around. In addition not only is he physically powerful enough to go toe to toe with Thor in a punch up he’s also smart and able to do things like upload his consciousness into computer systems. So he provides a conceptually clear threat to our heroes and can engage them as a threat on multiple levels.

So it makes perfect sense why they want to use him and I agree that he’d be a great choice for an Avenger’s move villain.

So why don’t I think using Ultron is a good idea?

Well to answer that you need to know a lot more about the history of Ultron, so allow me to explain.

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In the comics Ultron was created by an Avenger, Ant-Man (real name Henry Pym). He was created waaaaay back in Avengers #54 in the 60’s. The original version was developed using Pym’s own brainwave patterns and shortly after his creation he immediately developed an Oedipus complex that caused him to want to kill his “father” (Pym) and marry his “mother” (Pym’s wife Janet Van Dyne also known as the super-hero The Wasp). Unfortunately for him as he was originally built by Pym Ultron was basically a face on wheels and not capable of accomplishing either of these tasks. So he hypnotised Pym (look it was the 60’s the moment you decided to become a super-villain you gained the ability to hypnotise people, they gave it out with the purple cape) into forgetting that he had ever created Ultron and set about building himself a stronger body.

Ultron

Once he had a sufficiently tough body Ultron set about trying to accomplish his three main goals of killing his dad, shtupping his mum and taking over the world. And of course the Avengers stopped him only for him to return again and again.

There would be many changes and developments for Ultron as an individual over the years, most significantly replacing his original body with a new one made of the indestructible  metal Adamantium, however his main contribution to Avengers lore has been his creation of various other robots, many of which would go on to become Avengers in their own right.

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The most prominent of these would be The Vision, a “synthezoid” with the ability to alter his density to become intangible or rock solid, fly and shoot lasers from his eyes and also possessed of the soul of a poet. The Vision was built to infiltrate and betray the Avengers from within but rebelled against his programming and went on to become one of the most long standing and respected Avengers in his own right.

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He even went on to marry another long standing Avenger The Scarlet Witch. Oh and his brain patterns were based on yet another Avenger, Wonder Man, effectively making them brothers of a sort (and they had a love triangle with the Scarlet Witch).

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He also created Jocasta (a copy of his “mother” Janet Van Dyne that he wanted to marry, which is all kinds of squicky) Alkhema (a villain but with a brain based on yet another Avenger Mockingbird) and Victor La Mancha (a robot disguised as a teenage boy with electromagnetic powers that was again designed to infiltrate the Avengers and betray them but ended up joining the Runaways and is now a member of Avengers A.I.).

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It i this aspect of Ultron that is to me the most interesting thing about him. He is a robot, and a pretty one note robot at that wanting nothing less than to wipe all non artificial life in the universe, but he also craves a family. And through various connections Ultron has a pretty sprawling family for a genocidal robot. In addition to his mum and dad, his two sons and two daughter/wives (ewwwww) that he directly created he is linked to many other prominent Marvel characters through their connections. Through his son the vision he has a daughter in law, The Scarlet Witch who herself has two children (if you’re wondering how a woman and a robot can have kids, well its a long story that doesn’t entirely make sense, suffice it to say, magic.) that also go on to become Avengers. The Scarlet Witch also has an Avenger brother, Quicksilver, and her father is, of all people, Magneto! Meaning Ultron and Magneto are related; a guy who controls metal and a robot, both of whom are racial supremacists, how has nobody ever done a story with these two yet?

And The Vision has his brain based on Wonder Man, yet another Avenger so that brings in Wonder Man’s family such as his murderous brother The Grim Reaper.

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So despite being a robot Ultron has all these links to different people forming a twisted and bizarre family dynamic, and that to me is what makes Ultron stand out from being just a genocidal robot, he’s a black sheep. A member of a family which is largely composed of noble super-heroes who wants to kill , literally, everyone. Henry Pym’s anguish at creating Ultron is akin to the mother in We Need to Talk About Kevin, the pain at being responsible for bringing such evil into the world. It’s like if Captain America turned out to be Hitler’s Dad.

It also brings up fascinating questions about nature vs nurture since Ultron is, in part, Henry Pym. They share a mind but in different contexts and it suggests that the capacity for evil on that scale resides within Henry Pym. And that works well for Henry Pym since his defining characteristics all seem themed around how he is a hero but so very easily could not be (like when he abused his wife during a period when he was mentally ill). Ultron defines Henry Pym as a character as much as he defines Ultron.

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So after reading all that you’re probably thinking; “Adam that all sounds fascinating. Not only have we got a genocidal robot that can engage our heroes on multiple levels but we’ve got a personal story of betrayal of the son in there that’s rife with potentially interesting character dynamics and symbolism. Why do you think this is bad idea?”

It’s because Hank Pym will not be appearing in Avengers 2.

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Yup, Hank Pym, the creator of Ultron, won’t appear in Ultron’s origin story.

And neither will the Wasp, Jocasta, Wonder Man or The Vision (we might get the vision but this is not confirmed) or indeed any of the characters that make up Ultron’s family except the Scarlet Witch and without the other family she has no connection to him.

Now, let me first and foremost state that I am not a comics purist. I understand that in adapting a story to a film you have to make changes. For example, you couldn’t do the Vision’s origin as it appears in the comics. To do it that way you first need to introduce Wonder Man and have him appear to die, then you need to introduce Ant Man, have him create Ultron, then The Vision shows up, does a few normal missions where he proves his worth as an Avenger and then reveals the shocking twist. You can do that in serialized story telling because you have the space to do a few filler issues where the point is to establish vision as a character before revealing the twist, you don’t have the luxury of doing all that in a 2-3 hour movie.

But if you do Ultron without Pym you rip the heart out of Ultron. He loses his whole family and the weird and fascinating Oedipus complex. He loses the aspect of the betrayal of the son, he basically loses everything that isn’t killer robot.

Now you can do one note killer robot and make it work, Sci-fi is littered with good examples such as the Daleks orThe Borg. But that simply isn’t Ultron. It would be akin to using Magneto and not referencing the concentration camp stuff, or using Thanos and not using his love (as in the romantic kind) of Death. The character’s have other aspects that make them function fine as antagonists but you’ve massively wasted the potential of the character.

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You’ve also torpedoed the character of Henry Pym. Hank Pym is the hero that fails. That’s pretty much been his defining motivation for the past 40 years. Hank Pym is the guy who strives for heroism everyday of his life but also beat his wife and built a killer robot. No other super-hero in the marvel universe is carrying such a burden on his shoulders (maybe Spider-Man in terms of how much it defines them but Peter failing to stop a thief doesn’t compare to building a creature that once killed the entire population of a country in terms of consequences). And that burden and trying to repent for it is what makes Henry Pym so fascinating to me. Take that away from him and you turn him into Reed Richards, just a science guy who thinks it’s cool to wear tights and punch people.

But, the Ant-Man movie they’re making might not actually feature Henry Pym but one of the other Ant-Men in Marvel’s history. So maybe they’re not concerned about ruining Henry Pym’s back story. In that case is there a way you can run this so that Ultron gets all his unique aspects back but doesn’t involve Henry Pym?

Well, you could have another Avenger build him. That way you still get to do the betrayal of the son and the twisted family dynamic stuff without introducing Ant-Man into the equation. But which Avenger? The most obvious choice would be Iron Man since he can feasibly construct an A.I. (he’s already built Jarvis after all) but this would ruin the character of Tony Stark by turning him into Henry Pym. Tony Stark can’t be the glib sarcastic guy if he’s built a genocidal robot, he’d have too much guilt on his hand. Having said that though Tony Stark does feel guilty for building weapons of war so maybe this would work. Bruce Banner is the other option since he has already made a monster that threatens the world (The Hulk) but could less plausibly build a robot.

Or, as a total wild card, maybe the Scarlet Witch. Fox has all the rights to Marvels X-Men characters so they can’t really do much with her mutant status in Avengers anyway. So why not make her a technological hero ironically called a witch. This allows her to build Ultron and immediately establishes the relationship between the two. In fact how about having Wanda make the Vision as  a husband for herself and then having the Vision create Ultron, who then betrays the two of them. Sure it reverses the family dynamic but it preserves many of the same themes and means you don’t need Ant-Man at all.

Whatever ends up happening I have faith in Marvel Studios, who have yet to make a bad film, and faith in Joss Whedon that they’ll figure something out. But my fear is that Ultron will be relegated to just an angry robot when he has the potential to be so much more interesting than that.

Also this scene needs to be in the film.

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