If the Marvel Cinematic Universe has one pervasive flaw outweighing all others, it’s likely its lackluster villainy. Aside from Loki and S.H.I.E.L.D. President Robert Redford, just about every Marvel movie villain has been poorly drawn, light in gravitas, and outright forgettable. Heck, just trying to remember a single line of dialogue spoken by Red Skull, or whatever the motivation of the goblin king in Thor: The Dark World might have been, would be an act of futility. Marvel writes good heroes — and good antiheroes — but loses its way when it comes to the bad guys.
So, we approach Avengers: Age of Ultron with hesitation. Will this next film, ostensibly the biggest of the bunch so far, feature a central nemesis worthy not only of its driving conflict but of its title? Well, from the looks of the final Age of Ultron trailer, yep.
Narrated extensively by the robotic James Spader himself, the trailer offers the most detailed exploration of the character’s psychology yet. Ultron’s speech begins as such: “I was designed to save the world. People would look to the skies and see hope,” delivered with a lace of pain and resentment, palpable despite mechanical inflection.
And then, the vitriol: “I’ll take that from them first.”
What we usually get from automated villains is abject ambivalence to pain and
suffering, a value of the “rational” over the empathetic. But in our final
glimpse of Ultron before the film hits in May, we seem to find something a bit
more complex. Perhaps a marriage of Ultron’s inborn computerized logic, as insinuated by his following statement, "There's only one path to peace: their extinction," and a
probing derision for all mankind. A misanthropy rooted in, as the previous
trailers might hint, his own subjugation.
Along with this deeper understanding (granted, with a ways left to go... but that's what the movie is for) of Ultron's interior makeup, we also see signs of the scope of his destruction. More dangerous even than Loki, Ronan the Accuser, or that throne-seated Thanos (so far), Ultron might not simply be the most complicated of Marvel's villains yet to come, but the most genuinely threatening.
The terror running through the usually stoic Tony Stark's eyes when he and science buddy Bruce Banner acknowledge the significant dangers in his development of artificial intelligence speaks as many volumes as the intercutting scenes of New York City falling to pieces do about Ultron's capability for ultimate destruction. We're not dealing with a lightweight, "filler" baddie here. Not in terms of conflict, nor in regard to character.
What makes Ultron all the more fascinating is his method of taking down the Avengers. Instead of inspiring assembly, as did big bad Loki, Ultron provokes dissension. Tony Stark fights the Hulk; Thor chokes Tony Stark; who knows what other enmities promise to form among the band. Doing away with the team from the inside out, as Ultron vows he will, is way more intriguing than sicking a bunch of Chitauri on 'em.
After a league of letdowns in the villainy department, Ultron promises to be the best evil doer that Marvel has set forward. And even if he's kind of a disappointment, we still have Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, and Baron Wolfgang von Strucker to pick up the slack.
Images: Walt Disney Pictures (2)