Meet Your Avengers 2 Villain: Ultron
When Marvel released the identity of the next villain the Avengers will be facing, I'll admit I felt just a twinge of disappointment. I thought the announcement was all but made after the credits rolled and we saw the manic purple grin of Thanos the Mad Titan, a bad guy of such epic proportions I could spend the rest of my career writing about nothing else. However, even though I was really looking forward to the moment Thanos put on the Infinity Gauntlet and punched the entire universe in the face, the villain they announced is the next best thing.
Meet Ultron, the evil computer Skynet wishes it could be when it grows up. In the comics, Dr. Hank Pym (better known as Ant Man or Giant Man depending on when you were born) decided that since robots were already replacing human beings at every other job, why not build a sentient, self-replicating AI in a heavily armed body to replace superheroes? Since then, Ultron in its many versions and upgrades has continued to haunt the Avengers, and even defeated them on more than one occasion. In at least three (and probably more) possible alternate futures of the Marvel Universe, Ultron conquers the world and hunts the superheroes into extinction. Even in the main timeline, no matter how many times it has been destroyed, some distant future version of Ultron continues to send its robot minions back in time to take out the Avengers. Lest we condemn Dr. Pym too harshly, we must remember it was only 1968—there was no way he could have seen The Terminator yet.
Ultron has always been one of the all-time greats in Marvel villainy, because an Ultron story is about more than just shutting down a renegade machine. The antagonist is a literal living embodiment of human arrogance and heroic hubris, and every time the Avengers are called upon to stop this homicidal robot, there is always the inevitable, awkward conversation about whether or not this is all Dr. Pym's fault. There was even an entire storyline about Wolverine going back in time and assassinating Pym before he could build the damned thing, but if you've ever read a story about time travel you can guess how well that went. Facing Ultron always invites uneasy questions: the superheroes have to wonder if they actually create more problems than they solve. The most confident, brave and powerful souls are forced to look back on their careers and try to calculate whether they've done more harm than good. After all, Ultron, one of the most tireless and relentless evils the universe has ever known, only exists because Dr. Pym was trying to save the world.
Even though Whedon said that Pym will play no part in the making of this iteration of Ultron, hopefully it just means a better known, more photogenic Avenger will be fulfilling the role. Tony Stark is the logical choice, as he's already established himself as the most prominent producer of killer robots in the Marvel Movieverse. But I'm sure SHIELD has the old Destroyer armor sitting in a warehouse somewhere, just waiting for some precocious nerd to put a murderous AI in it. Ultron being born out of a heroic mistake is an important aspect of the character, because believe it or not the tale of this genocidal AI is actually a parable about the perils of parenthood. Despite all the noble intentions Pym put into his intellectual offspring, Ultron still turned out to be a whiny self-centered brat who hated his father so much that he would destroy the entire world just to spite him. But it turns out parental disobedience runs in the family. Other than upgrades or copies of itself, none of Ultron's descendants have ever turned out as their father planned. Jocasta and the Vision were built, programmed and raised to irrationally hate humans, but both turned on their creator to side with Grandpa Pym. It's almost as if the creation of a new and independent free-thinking being could have a lot of unpredictable complications.
The good news is that portraying fucked up family dynamics is one of Whedon's core strengths. And I think a superhero movie about the heroes dealing with the consequences of their actions rather than just subduing some external aggressor would be an interesting twist on a very familiar formula. A movie that makes you wonder if the heroes aren't really the villains is overdue. Nick Fury hinted at it with his "hilariously out-gunnned" speech, and the new Agents of SHIELD show is starting to address some of the civilian fallout, but having an alien warzone invade downtown Manhattan during rush hour is some serious perspective-changing shit. The Avengers have had a profound effect upon their world, and Ultron is the perfect villain to make them examine the righteousness of their deeds. Just think, The Age of Ultron could be The Dark Knight of the Avengers franchise.
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