Note: the writer is not an expert in either the Marvel Superhero Universe or in American issues. The following piece represents the writer’s views based on background readings from news sources and Wikipedia. Since this is not a review, there will be minor spoilers for the film.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) is an ode to America.
First, we see the Avengers as an embodiment of American ideals. Iron Man, rich from his own genius and effort, is the realization of the American Dream. Captain America’s character has been politically motivated ever since his conception in the Second World War. Even the Black Widow, the former Soviet spy, invoked the ideal of individualistic choice in her backstory as she defected to the American side.
Yet, interestingly, we see the first half of the film attempt to dismantle American foreign policy. Just as America has championed freedom and democracy since the start of the Cold War, the Avengers make it their responsibility to protect the human race. However, both policies can backfire spectacularly. Iron Man’s project to improve humanity creates the film’s villain, Ultron, in a manner similar to, for example, how American aid to the Mujahideen against the Soviets planted the seeds for the Taliban. When American intervention hit roadblocks in Afghanistan and Iraq, they responded with more involvement in the region, and seemed baffled by why the local population wouldn’t adopt their goals. This sentiment is echoed in a scene where Iron Man is desperately trying to control a Hulk gone berserk. Repeatedly pummelling the green monster, Iron Man complains (paraphrased): “Stop being so stubborn, dammit! Can’t you see I’m trying to help you here?”
The film continues to critique American ideals through the very nature of the superhero team. America values individual achievement, and the superhero is the pinnacle of individuality, wherein an entire nation’s hopes are entrusted to a single person. This clashes with the nature of a team, where individuals are required to suppress their own quirks to achieve the team’s goals. Thus, the film shows American ideals in conflict with the nature of the superhero team. Ultron recognizes this as the team’s weakness, and exploits it to break the team apart.
Although the first half dismantles American ideals, the film ultimately redeems them in the second half. First, Hawkeye shows the good side of American ideals. His portrayal as an American family man grounds the team and gives them something concrete worth fighting for. Next, the ideal of individual choice is redeemed as the twins realize the consequences of Ultron’s plan and choose to side with the Avengers (the Scarlet Witch, in particular, has a brilliant moment of character growth as she chooses to lay aside her guilt and fight). Finally, the Avengers defeat the villain while somehow evacuating an entire doomed city, as if in defiance to anyone doubting America’s ability to effectively showcase its values to the rest of the world.
At the end of the day, Avengers: Age of Ultron is proudly American. It tries to critique American ideals, but can’t help reaffirming them. America might face domestic and international problems, but for goodness’s sake, this film will get a happy ending!