Last night my family and I finally got to see the new Avengers movie. For me, it was a religious experience… even my wife, who never discusses my comic-book obsessions without raising at least one eyebrow, likes the Avengers movies… so I was able to share this sacred ritual with the whole family (minus the son in the Marine Corps who has already seen it.) The new wave of Marvel movies is a godsend. They are something that feeds my story-addicted tapeworm in ways that movies never have before. It meshes with my need to read comic books
If you hadn’t figured out the nerd facts by now, I am a comic book collector. I used to subscribe to Avengers, two Spiderman books, Iron Man, Captain America, the Incredible Hulk, the X-men, Daredevil, and Howard the Duck. Shamefully that is not a complete list.
A key to my love of the new Marvel movies is that the films actually consider the old comic-book story-lines while at the same time being willing to take the risk of changing the relationships between characters, inventing new characters, re-imagining old characters, and even (shudder) killing off characters. (Of course you realize, in comic books, all heroes eventually die, but none of them stay dead… through the miracle of comic book story-telling… Selah!)
Okay, now here’s what we comic-book nerds call a spoiler alert. This movie we saw last night provided changes to the Marvel universe that positively thrilled and enchanted me. Hawkeye, the bowman with entirely self-taught swashbuckler skills and no super-powers was revealed to have a wife and kids. His lady-Avenger friend Natasha, the Black Widow, has apparently known about the family all along and is even friends with his kids. Where once we presumed a romance between the two, we now find a redefinition of the relationship that changes everything. It even allows the story to set up a tragic romance between Natasha and Bruce Banner where she utters the classic line, “We are really both monsters,” in a very tender and heart-wrenching moment. The line is later repeated by Tony Stark to the Hulk, creating a beautifully done theme of the duality between hero and monster, hero and villain.
Two new Avengers are introduced and their tragic back-story is added to the hero vs. villain, hero vs. monster thematic mix. When I first started reading Avengers comics in the barber shop in my home town back in the 60’s Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, were already a fixed part of the Avengers, but their complex and convoluted back story as mutant children of Magneto raised by Gypsies had not yet been developed.
These beloved characters have always had a sinister side. You never knew for sure if you could trust them or count on them. They were children of Magneto and had been a part of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Wanda’s powers were dark, unpredictable, and potentially world-consuming. In this movie they are given a different back story, attached first to the Hydra villain Baron Strucker, and then to the ultimate villain of the piece, Ultron himself, the indestructible and omnipresent metal man.
The final piece of the delicious Avengers 2 pie is Ultron himself. Much like Thanos in the first movie, Ultron causes nerd-spasms in the love organs of comic-book nuts like me. Especially when such love and care was taken to get the story right. In the comics he was created by Hank Pym, also known as Ant-Man, and the movie changes his creator into Tony Stark and Bruce Banner. But the essential angst of the character, a Frankenstein’s monster sort of story, is still there. He both loves and hates his creator. There is an extended metaphor in Ultron’s eventual creation of the more human-like android Vision. Ultron keeps alluding to Pinocchio by repeating the phrase, “There are no strings on me,” and the Vision is portrayed as his attempt become a “real boy”. Yet, it is still a Frankenstein story. Just as Stark is afraid of his creation and fears his own destruction at Ultron’s hands, Ultron is most afraid of Vision, and the final piece of the Ultron personality is regretfully extinguished by Vision.
Now that my book report on this movie experience is drawing to a close, it is safe to conclude that the reason I loved it so much, besides the fact that I could share comic-book lore with my non-comic-book-reading family, is the depth of ideas in this movie, and the chance it gave me to reconnect with old stories, re-percolate them, and brew something entirely new.