Thursday, 30 April 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron - A fantasy in more ways than one

Why don't civilians ever die in Marvel films?

For all the destruction on screen, both the superheroes and the filmmakers shooting and choreographing the explosive set-pieces go to great lengths to ensure that no innocent bystander is ever harmed amidst the chaos.

The obvious answer is that these films are mere light blockbuster entertainment, and that seeing civilians drop dead here and there would be tonally out of place with their sense of escapism.

But that would be to do the Marvel studio a disservice, Theirs are sophisticated and smart films, on one-hand full of hilarious zingy one-liners and fun interactions between their many charismatic characters, and on the other insightful and moving character studies with thoughtful plots featuring interesting real-world parallels.

The plot for Avengers: Age of Ultron, for example, speculates on the futility of using technology for the morally good purpose of protecting the world; the AI Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) implements to complete the global defence program he has been working on in order to defend earth from future alien attacks promptly goes rogue and turns against the Avengers, aiming instead to wipe out humans and start Earth over again.

Yet despite this philosophical premise, any sense of moral ambiguity and the potential difficulties of protecting the world through such destructive warriors is trumped by the invincibility and infallibility of the superheroes. Even when, in one intriguing scene, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) loses control and wreaks havoc on a city as the Hulk, Iron Man comes to the rescue and miraculously manages to contain the Hulk's fury whilst simultaneously ensuring that no civilian comes to harm.

These scenes of hectic violence that kills the bad guys with no consequences for the innocents feeds the American fantasy of solving the world's problems through heroic force. Aptly, on the day Age of Ultron  was released, news broke that a US drone strike targeting al-Qaida accidentally also killed a US and Italian citizen who were being held hostage. From Vietnam to the War on Terror the US has seen itself as the world's superhero, but the realities of war means that thousands of innocent civilians are killed as collateral damage in the name of making the world a safer place- an uncomfortable truth that would rather be ignored, as in Age of Ultron.

Again, to apply such sombre moral concerns onto films that are harmless, unpolitical fun may be seen as taking popular escapist entertainment too seriously. But escapism and political ambiguity can coexist - just look at that other huge pop culture phenomenon of recent years, Game of Thrones. With its exotic landscapes, names, creatures and outfits Game of Thrones is certainly of the fantasy genre, but is far more willing to involve itself with grubbiness of reality. No well-meaning action it seems is ever free of negative consequences, and consequently moral complexity abounds. There is never one simple moral decision to be made, and its characters feel all the more human and relatable for having to choose between courses of action that will all have undesirable consequences.

As fun as Age of Ultron and other superhero films are, they'll never do justice to the intriguing premises they introduce without embracing such moral ambiguities. With so many Marvel films to come over the next few years, the studio would do well to take not of Game of Thrones' popularity and add a little more complexity - even if that does mean killing a few civilians.

1 comment:

  1. I have never really thought of it like that. I have always enjoyed anything to do either marvel and superheroes and that's never going to change, however i do agree that including more realistic outcomes like civilian deaths and also including certain situations that may not always result in a happy outcome will be a good thing and if anything would increase the popularity of the films.