Warning: this will have tons of spoilers.
There is a moment in Avengers: Age of Ultron when, after a pretty climactic scene, Maria Hill is shown picking pieces of shattered glass from her feet. This struck me. I cannot remember another movie, aside from Die Hard, where someone was shown what actually happens with all that shattered glass: you get cut.
Avengers: Age of Ultron is a movie with a lot of stuff going on. It is, in fact, a bit overstuffed. But nearly everything that happens relates to the themes of war and peace. Specifically, the unintended outcomes of war, the unexploded bombs, the civilians casualties, and the often horrible things people will do in the name of peace, in the quest to end fighting.
At one point in the movie, before Tony Stark creates Ultron, he quips, “Peace in our time.” It’s probable that he was quoting Neville Chamberlain, but there was another quote associated with that phrase from John F. Kennedy:
What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children — not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women — not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.
In many ways, Tony was trying to make a kind of “Pax Americana” — or rather, a “Pax Robotica,” a peace enforced through the Ultron program. He was trying to create a weapon of peace and ended up causing another war.
And Steve Rogers knows war. Steve Rogers grew up surrounded by the images of war. His greatest fear is the war ending and not having any place afterwards. His greatest fear is peace, knowing that he was literally designed for war. His body was made to be a weapon.
As was Natasha Romanoff. She was programmed by the Red Room to be a weapon for a different war, a colder war. Trained to spy and seduce. And then having anything that could possibly distract her from her mission — even the ability to have children — taken away. No wonder she feels she owes Clint a debt.
Bruce Banner is not a weapon. Bruce Banner is, as Natasha says, a man who runs away from battles even though he can win every one. Bruce is a man who is afraid of himself, of his own anger. He is a man at war with himself.
Thor revels in war, in battles. He boasts about the “glorious screams” of the dead. He is from a culture that believes those who die in battle go to Valhalla. But his greatest fear is seeing his friends made blind in Hel. War is not so glorious when it kills the ones we love.
Wanda and Pietro Maximoff are the outcomes of war. Their parents were civilian casualties of war and they were trapped for two days, staring death in the face and the name of death was “Stark.” Their anger is justified, even though their methods are not. Even Steve Rogers can sympathize with them:
Maria: They were apparently volunteers. It’s nuts.
Steve: Right, because what monster would let a German scientist experiment on them to protect their country?
Maria: We’re not at war.
Steve: They are.
Nick Fury also knows about war. He’s been trying to stop them for a long time. First, it was a war with Loki. Then a war with Hydra. And now Ultron. He knows there are many things you just cannot control. When he talks to Tony, he even says:
You’re a really smart guy who’s come up with a lot of things. War is not one of them.
War has unintended consequences. Shattered glass. Civilians in the firing line. The movie goes out of its way to show the Avengers saving civilian after civilian.
Ultron is the final outcome of war, the never ceasing war machine that grinds on and on, the one that will survive if even one body is left. He can’t see the difference between saving the world and destroying it. At one point, he says that he killed someone:
Wouldn’t have been my first call. But down in the real world we’re faced with ugly choices.
All Ultron can see are “ugly choices.” That is who he is.
The Vision is not a war machine. The Vision is on the side of life. He sees what human beings are — fearful and in need of protection — and thinks them beautiful anyway. He sees beauty where Ultron sees ugliness.
“In need of protection.” Those are the words the Vision says. That is also the creed of S.H.I.E.L.D., too — protection, from one man or from an army of robots. And S.H.I.E.L.D. steps up and becomes the thing they should have been. Protecting civilians from war, the unexploded bombs and shattered glass.
Because that’s really what the movie is about: war and peace.