In the latest Marvel blockbuster, Joss Whedon does one thing no one expected (well none of the normal masses anyway), he rips apart the Avengers emotionally in a bid too excavate to their darker sides and unleash an unstoppable juggernaut of an issue that will truly boil to the surface in 'Captain America: Civil War' and end most likely when the original Avengers reunite in 'Infinity War'.
In his bid to really breakdown these characters, Whedon got the chance to leave on a high and finally close a chapter on the six heroes lives in a big way. Ever since the mega franchise got underway, there's a thin line that has been constantly pulsating under each protagonist until now.
See while a character gets one arc each film, just like in the MCU. Our heroes here also have an overarching arc that has played across multiple films and come to one final close with the Age of Ultron.
One of the greatest fears going into the big bad bombastic sequel was that the film would become an Iron Man show. The Avengers while hilariously fun and enjoyable, sometimes felt like the Tony Stark show (through no fault to the makers but to Robert Downey's sensational charisma) even though characters were balanced. The general consensus was that Whedon gave each character the kind of voice he gives all his characters and while it matched Iron Man's witty quip heavy ways, it didn't do much to suit everyone else.
This time round Whedon breaks the barrier and while Thor and Cap can quip with the best still, they actually feel genuinely themselves (Cap's 'language' line being a perfect example). While this is on the surface, deep below the film's conflict rode on the 'suit of armor' Tony wished to build around the world; Ultron.
Making Tony Stark the creator of Ultron meant that we might have to see an even bigger Iron Man show in this film, clearly threatening to become another X-Men franchise; I mean, Wolverine and X-Men franchise.
Thank god that was not the case and a whopping ten characters of which there are nine Avengers, got something worthwhile to do and at least one moment to shine. For the lead six though (yes I'm counting Hawkeye), there are full blown arcs that in some sense pertain to everything they've been about so far.
These arcs have clearly defined much of their runs as characters from Iron Man to 'Age of Ultron'. So let's have a look at these individual arcs, how Joss Whedon rounded them out and what is next in the horizon for our Avengers.
“Yeah! well I guess they’re my mess”
Okay, unlike Hawkeye, I'm not that great an aim and this one's definitely a wild shot. Probably I'm reading too much into it especially all the meta comedy Clint doles out through the Avengers about his own use to the team, still it seems to fit.
Contrary to popular belief, the world was not introduced to Clint Barton in The Avengers but actually in Thor as an agent hired to take out a rampaging god of thunder during his break in into the SHIELD facility housing Mjolnir.
As a situation about being worthy it's no surprise that that's what the arc should be about. Sure Hawkeye still 'cannot get it up' as Stark would put it, but he proved his worth and in turn leadership time and again in Age of Ultron.
In what is essentially the beating heart of the film, Hawkeye reveals two powerful things. The first how he is one man with bow and arrows in a field of gods, yet he fights valiantly, nearly sacrifices his life and proves to be worthy of being called an Avenger.
The second is a much more poignant reflection as he tells his wife 'They are my mistake'. In a way Hawkeye is still haunted by his actions from the prior film, his mind wiping helping in part to accomplish Loki's scheme hence force the world to need the Avengers. The same Avengers whose action will haunt him for the rest of the days thanks to the Chitauri, Ultron and hordes of others.
It hurts him that much harder and in favor he tries to prove his worth and the worth of others to everyone; his family, the twins, his team.
Black Widow: Trust
“It's really not that complicated. I've got red in my ledger, I'd like to wipe it out.”
Despite being much more prominent then her so called best friend, Widow's arc could be either put in as Secrets or the aforementioned Trust. I decide to go the positive way.
If one is to map Black Widow's initiation into The Avengers program through her SHIELD connections, then the beginning comes with her rivalry against them. As she eloquently puts it to Loki in The Avengers;
Regimes fall she tends not to weep; her loyalties at one point were questionable for her to tap into such an ideal during the act
He made a different call; Something, a modicum of respect and trust forced Hawkeye to not kill her. Heck take her into SHIELD, which even prompted Fury to trust her further but not that much (see Fury Death, Captain America: Winter Soldier)
Charting her then MCU career, Widow's first major appearance was in 'Iron Man 2'. Like much of the film, her role was messed up with no sign of character or an arc. The only saving grace being a badass Widow at the end, proving that there was a lot underneath this enigmatic woman. Her secretive ways and motives prompting Tony to question how she does it.
Avengers gave the character a massive boost, she tried to find a basis for trust and penance for her darker secrets as the world around her began to crumble and the ground disappeared with the arrival of 'Monsters and Magic, and nothing she was trained for'.
It's by the way where the seeds for an interesting relationship between her and Hulk were developed from, (which those complaining about the 'out of nowhere' romance didn't realize) bringing the two 'monsters' together. One was Hulk, who despite Banner's need in the mission could not be trusted and the other Widow, who none of the outsider (not from SHIELD) Avengers especially for Banner could not be trusted.
Despite their camaraderie, and his trust in her trust in Clint (portrayed by a nod to Captain America when he is told that Barton can be trusted to fly them to New York in Avengers), Captain America is still skeptical of Widow in the sequel, 'Winter Soldier'.
Carrying forward the idea of the burden of her secrets, her arc follows her realizing finally that the world of spies is gone; now she is a hero, let alone a super hero. Prompting this further, she lets her secrets out and becoming the hero Cap sees her as. She virtually gains his trust and respect.
As a hero in 'Age of Ultron' now, while it may seem a bit odd she is entrusted with in one way to put it; taming the Hulk. It's a powerful job that brings her closer to Bruce ('there's no bylaws against their romance' ) and eventually lets spill the emotional trauma and toll her secrets take on her. It's a hefty thing to take away her choice of being a mother and in essence something more.
It's not that being the mother is the only thing she can be, but it's a part of hers that is stolen and is in fact from the comic books. (Sorry had to take a detour to justify pro-feminist Whedon's work after the whole controversy).
Despite pushing him for altruistic but unfair reasons, she gains Banner and Hulk's trust and does so in the process becoming co-leader for the coming Avengers. Unfortunately her love and his ability to trust her is not enough for Hulk.
Yet Widow becomes a hero, and her arc encompasses itself by her ability to reach out to those in an emotionally critical way so as to save herself from a life of coldness and loneliness, in essence her ability to trust those around her even after what happened to her (in the red room).
“I can't have this, any of this. There is no place on Earth I can go where I'm not a monster.”
Hulk's journey in the MCU began in 'The Incredible Hulk'. The green skinned stepchild of the MCU, TIH began with Bruce Banner on the run and having been incident free for quite a long time, in Brazil. He's among people, but people who don't know about the 'other guy' and Banner.
The world is also unaware of the Hulk, or any experimentation to re-create Captain America.
At this point there's no real tension that can trigger Bruce's temperature, plus he is learning Yoga to gain a measure of control. Now throw him back into the world like General Ross is want to do and Bruce gains no actual control over the Hulk.
Hulk smashes and he destroys, but part of him still feels. He is in fact the ball of emotions that Bruce (as an introverted and dedicated also guilty) man keeps within himself, that the so called Monster can unleash. Amidst the people he loves and the place he knows and all the chaos, those emotions release but Hulk or maybe Bruce in his conscious gains a sense of direction, to channel himself.
That's where the end leaves him, in his own house away from the world, Bruce is able to tame the beast. As so poetically puts it to Captain America; 'I am always angry'.
Bring him to The Avengers, around 3-4 years later and Bruce Banner has progressed so much so that he once again can fit himself into a society where sure there's a hectic frenzy but he himself is not known, nor pursued causing him stress. He's calm and within this place he can do some good finally.
Then they had to suck him right back in. While Bruce is still wary of his control over the Hulk in Hulk state, he knows he can at least transform on his own. The Mind Gem does a number on him though, yet he still tries to find a measure of control as noted by his free fall onto an empty building so as to make sure people don't get killed.
It's of course funny that of the six Avengers, Hulk is the only one who has not caused major death on screen. Though the amount of people he might have off screen mistakenly in 'The Incredible Hulk' and 'Age of Ultron' is another case altogether.
This is where irony strikes bitter. His isolation long ago gained him a sense of composure, his return to his real world is a nightmare. The constant tug and pull between Banner and Hulk is of legend, their co-existence unfortunately being a necessity.
Yet as 'Age of Ultron' shows, amidst all the chaos once again Banner hasn't gained the kind of stability with his other side like he had previously when the Avengers first assembled. He requires Widow to bring him back.
It's no coincidence that the last shot of Hulk in the film, is one where he is sitting cross legged on the floor of the Quinjet like in a meditative state. It's the bitter irony that disallows Banner to have the best of both world, love and friends within his sphere and a sense of direction with the Hulk.
In isolation he will able to prevent himself from harming anyone and taming the other guy, but when he's back in the real world that grasp will slip and many will see Banner for what he truly is; a monster, and that scares him much more than the sad loneliness he faces now.
“Brother, however I have wronged you, whatever I have done that has led you to do this, I am truly sorry. But these people are innocent, taking their lives will gain you nothing. So take mine, and end this.”
To be honest, the Thor films have been the weakest of the solo features. His own presence in 'The Avengers' has sadly been limited.
Thor's journey in my opinion should have continued on Earth from the first movie forward. Yes, it's hard to see a better villain for the Asgardian and The Avengers than Loki, but it's also put the character in such a position that his transformation from a proud future king to a humble prince falls flat in the first film.
Still, Thor's arc of realising he was never fit to be King, fits into how far the man has let slip his pride and ego. In The Avengers he doesn't get to show it, but he realizes that neither of the two (he and Loki) at this stage have the ability to rule. He has learned that painful lesson.
In the 'Dark World', that notion takes on a profound definition when Thor finally realises he was never meant to be, never wanted to be King. Another notch in his belt as far as him gaining a measure of wisdom and understanding is concerned.
Finally in 'Age of Ultron', Thor let loose of all his pride and vanity is able to realise that there are greater forces he needs to stop. He needs to do what Iron Man is trying to but can't, protect the world from the oncoming onslaught of a mysterious mastermind (Thanos).
Yet as in his visions, Heimdall puts it; Thor's hubris is what brings them down. The God of Thunder's inability to realize truly his own faults and those of his fathers (as expressed subtly in 'Dark World' and his brother) will bring Asgard down. This is though more of his selfishness to be with Jane, than his pride in letting the kingdom slip.
Thor now a better warrior and a far better god will have his toughest task yet, ahead of him in Ragnarok. A journey that like with 'Captain America: Winter Soldier', will change the universe for better (or worse?).
Captain America: Time
“I don’t know; family, stability, the guy who wanted all that went into the ice 75 years ago. I think someone else came out...I’m home.”
Time has always been an essential theme with Captain America.
Even to this day, it is essential to the comics and in truth the film series as well. After all the Time Gem is set to be introduced, don't be surprised if it becomes a temptation to see this so called 'dark side' Cap has.
At the end of his World War II romp, Cap found himself displaced into the future (well actually the present). The point is; he became a man out of time. It has literally affected him since; in hilarious too oft poignant manners.
In Avengers this took a huge turn, when Captain America was forced to finally meet the world he is a part off. All jokes about 'flying monkeys' aside his arc featured a subtly difficult ordeal in witnessing the changes his presence had brought to the planet (SHIELD and Hulk especially). In a sheer moment of pleasure the man out of time proves his worth both as a fighter and then as a leader. Hints that Cap is able to adjust because of war, something that is the bed rock of his existence from the past.
In 'Winter Soldier', we find Cap two years ahead still struggling to adjust and in a sense finding an addiction and reason to move forward thanks to his work with SHIELD. He may have hated their methods and not willing to admit it, but being with SHIELD made him feel at home.
Bringing it down was the price he was willing to pay. Cause even though he seems to need a war or something to fight for, (for stability in this time) he is Captain America; the virtuous noble hero. His confrontation with his former friend forming the crux for Cap to learn that he needs to let go and move forward. He has to accept his status, because that's the only way he is going to be able to truly save his friend Bucky.
This brings us to the Age of Ultron. Captain America is still fighting the good fight and as Ultron puts it part of him still feels that fight is all he has left while part of him just wishes to go back, yet the world is changing again and again and Cap feels partially responsible so he soldiers forward. When he truly has let go of his burdened legacy and past, then he will be truly mighty enough to lift Thor's hammer.
Iron Man: Legacy
“It wasn’t a nightmare. It was my legacy. The end of the path, I started us on”
Apart from Captain America, this is probably the most concrete arc that has run through the five films Iron Man has been a part of. In fact each piece of the film neatly embodies the idea of the kind of Legacy Tony has been left with, blames himself for leaving and wants to leave for the better.
The dialogues even point towards that.
From the onset it is obvious. Tony is ten times the womanising spoiled party boy his father was. He runs a company that is left to him from his father. He is in essence molded into an iron monger. Once however Tony goes through his crucible, he realises that terrible effects his company has on innocent lives (whether it be through the under the table deals to terrorists or to the US Army). He has been oblivious and ignorant to his war profiteering partner and business and it haunts him that is what he will be left to be remembered as.
Tony thus shedding a bit of his ego, becomes Iron Man. A hero that literally changes the modern age of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After which his legacy changes to something else, until certain death comes knocking at his door.
In 'Iron Man 2', Tony is moving towards slow poisoning and he in turn finds the solution to his life within his father's work. He finds that while his father has left him burdened and bitter towards him, he has a legacy once again worth preserving handed down to him by his equally heroic father. It's another step in his evolution.
Then the world just had to get weirder. Most forget due to the power of his suit and the fact that he is 'a genius, playboy, philanthropist' that Tony is in fact against a bunch of gods; a man in a tin can suit. His heroic in arc propels further to realise that he has more to offer and he is far off from the men and mistakes his father and the like of Fury made. It also scares him that while he is a hero now, he just isn't enough. He needs to leave the world in the safest of hands.
In 'Iron Man 3' PTSD strikes as the man once so confident, so smart and sharp is left a shambles. All the comedy may cover it, but Tony is forced to question his own existence, the idea of who he is himself behind the suit and whether he is enough. He has seen what is out there and now he has to find what is within him to be worthy of being called a hero. Tony Stark realises, suits or no suits; he is Iron Man.
'Age of Ultron' brings him back into the fold. The fall of SHIELD forces him to suit up once again (Despite giving it up) and hopefully end the conflict until he is made to realise that there is still the danger of what is out there. It forces his hand and in his fear and driven down tiredness of being a hero, he creates his greatest mistake.
Another essence of his Legacy; Ultron. A son who embodies all that is wrong with him, Iron Man is forced to face with his darker reflection and push himself to once again save the world. Tony makes a mistake and while he arrogantly admits to it, he keeps on making the mistake (though a good one, if there's any as such) with his other son; Vision.
As Vision puts it, they're (him and Ultron) a duo of disappointments. The cycle is complete, Tony is a flawed man and his pursuit to make a bigger change for the better he realises this. It not only chips away at his hubris but makes him a better man for it and that's the legacy he will carry forward. Even though we know another big fault is in his future (Civil War).
In closing, the Old guard finally drifts apart (happy for now). They all grow from their experiences, overarching in a one of a kind universe such as this. It's always interesting to see how characters are thrust forward in the MCU and it will be intriguing to know what that will be for the New Avengers already arrived and soon to come.