2015 was a weird year for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Just a few months prior to the premiere of the highly-anticipated Avengers: Age of Ultron, Kevin Feige and his squad of filmmakers unveiled the next slate of films for their cinematic universe. Awed was the world at large at the smorgasbord of titles such as Captain America: Civil War, Thor: Ragnarok, Captain Marvel, Inhumans (RIP), and the then-two parter that was Avengers: Infinity War. The second Avengers film hadn’t even come out and we had the entire Phase 3 already to look forward to. Much of the talk about Avengers: Age of Ultron had been overshadowed by the immensity of these future titles. So much so that Kevin Feige and co. have decided to hold off from pulling this kind of announcement off for future films, hoping to let the world simmer in the ongoing Avengers: Infinity War mania.
Avengers: Age of Ultron didn’t have that privilege. Between the game-changing impact of the first film and the anticipation for the films slated to follow it, Age of Ultron had a lot to live up to. Even though the film had all the best ingredients of the first film with a ton of new fanboy flavor; Ultron, Wanda, Quicksilver, and Vision among others, the likelihood of the film’s weight collapsing in on itself loomed grimly. And collapse it did. At the time of its release, response to the film was anemic. Not only did Age of Ultron fail to spark the joys and emulate the highs the first movie gleefully gave us, the world building felt like too much for Joss Whedon to balance in this high-wire act of million-dollar filmmaking.
But as with most artforms, time will be its truest critic. And time will be kind to Avengers: Age of Ultron in the wake of Avengers: Infinity War. I can no longer look at Age of Ultron with the dismissive spoiled fanboy lenses I had three years ago. I watch Age of Ultron now with an understanding of the cost these heroes had to sacrifice to stand their ground against Thanos; I see a film that does its due diligence underpinning the thematic trajectory of the Avengers in the years to come; I see the nuanced brilliance behind the threads that weaved a deeply profound arc for Vision, my new favorite character in the MCU.
More than any of the other MCU films prior to 2015, morese than Guardians of the Galaxy, Age of Ultron to me felt like Marvel Studio’s first foray into the tapestry of Silver Age nerdom. Seeing a raccoon wield a machine gun on the shoulder of a talking tree is cool and all but to me, it doesn’t compare to the eventfulness of seeing Joss Whedon and co. commit to the audaciousness behind the Vision’s birth. There was something about seeing a synthetic be brought to life by Thor’s magic lightning, whose consciousness was made up of various dispositions that screamed Silver Age superhero pulp. Nevermind that a Celestial head floating in the depths of space doubled as a mining colony. This was happening on Earth. A world that was still anchored by verisimilitude (one where Falcon couldn’t have a telepathic burd). But when the Vision was born, the veil was lifted. The MCU was no longer a world of spies and heroes. It became a world of miracles. Unexplained. Untethered by logic. Just handed to you on a silver platter.
Vision is created in the 11th hour when the Avengers seem to have no alternative in sight in their fight against Ultron. What starts out as a simple plan to prevent Ultron from building a new body ends up being an accidental solution for them: create the ultimate antithesis to Ultron. When Vision busts out of that cradle, fully crimsoned and confused, he is greeted with hostility from the Avengers. He solemnly glances out the New York skyline and assures the Avengers he means no harm. It is through this debut that we learn about Vision humanity, an overarching theme that pays off during his last moments in Avengers: Infinity War.
When Roy Thomas and John Buscema wrote Avengers #58 fifty years ago, a comic that inaugurated Vision as a full-fledged Avenger, it wasn’t just a watershed moment for comic iconography. It was a moment that laid the groundwork for Vision as a character for the decades to come. That he was human in spite of what he was made of. That the people surrounding him engendered a selflessness that he was not born with. In the tradition of taking themes from the source material and having their own way with it, Whedon and co. refine the themes of this iconic comic into the Ultron’s final moments where he is confronted by his son for the last time, arguably Age of Ultron’s finest moment.
Humans are odd. They think order and chaos are somehow opposites and try to control what won’t. But there is grace in their failings. I think you miss that.
But a thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts. It’s a privilege to be among them.
For the Vision, this privilege is tested through a handful of circumstances in the character’s brief but meaningful stint onscreen. A year after his birth, the Vision has begun acclimating to boring human life. He starts dressing like Ned Flanders and is learning recipes from a cookbook. This is Vision living the dream; he gets to bond with the girl he likes and learns how chicken paprikash is supposed to taste like. But when the Sokovia Accords are sanctioned upon them, like everyone, Vision is compelled to make a choice. Like the flawless calculating machine he used to be and was created to be, Vision coldly brushes off the right of choice in the wake of world-ending threats like (ironically) himself.
But he soon falls into the mire of human error for the first time when he inadvertently shoots Rhodey out of the sky. “How did this happen?” a disgruntled Tony Stark asks. Vision simply chalks it up to distraction. Distracted by the love of his life in his arms as he willingly atones for his mistreatment of her. Even in turmoil, there’s a whimsical charm to Vision’s error. That Vision would cause havoc for the team because of a girl is adorable.
Two years after his birth, Vision has discovered his true self, having basically been remade anew by his choices. Not only does he don an actual human form but he’s now in the throes of his one and only love affair with the girl of his android dreams. Like a child leaving his parental nest for the first time in search of a larger world, he turns off his transponder for the first time since his birth. While this distresses Tony for obvious reasons, for Vision it’s a liberating feeling. He makes a hugely personal choice not in servitude of Iron Man and the Avengers but for his own desires. It’s selfish in the face of the imminent threat but a very human choice nonetheless.
It’s also during this period of self-discovery that Vision is forced to deal with a harsh truth: there is a price to pay for his existence. He’s faced with his mortality for the very first time when he is brutally stabbed through the chest by Corvus Glaive. It’s a moment that literally happens out of nowhere – Vision and Wanda share a beautiful moment about enjoying their time together and not worry about the larger pieces at play – and a harrowing reminder of how our own mortality creeps up to us in unexpected ways. The Vision is just as confused as the audience when the otherworldly technology powering him can’t seem to repair his wounds.
In my opinion, no other film in the MCU comes close to the thematic magnitude of sacrifice delineated in Avengers: Infinity War and it is Vision’s arc that distills it perfectly. You see, when faced with the harsh truth that he has to die one way or another, Vision doesn’t take a moment to ponder his fate. He doesn’t get to calculate the odds of making it out alive. He, without hesitation, selflessly accepts his fate, having understood the choice long before the Q-ships arrived on Earth. In fact, it’s the Avengers who decide to do otherwise. Captain America firmly states that the Avengers don’t trade lives to save others. Vision calls Cap out on this; Cap did the exact same thing seventy years ago so why should he have the right to do anything less than lay down his life? An alternative is brought up: instead of straight up killing the Vision, why not figure out how to rip the Mind Stone off without killing him? It’s a band-aid solution. Vision knows this deep down. He’d rather be a source of ease than burden but he nonetheless puts his trust in his family and their decision to save him out of love and respect.
In a film unbridled with undignified deaths for our heroes – Loki’s neck is snapped in half and is tossed aside like a chewing gum wrapper; Heimdall is mercilessly impaled, no sympathy spared for him; Even Gamora, who is at the center of Thanos’ affections, is thrown over a cliff forced to go through the horrific pain of falling down – it’s Vision’s death that cuts the deepest, in that it’s a very poignant end for his arc. His final moments, no matter how grim it may seem, are filled with love. He may be asking the love of his life to mercy kill him but he does it with so much compassion and consolation. “You can never hurt me. I feel you.”
That they give Vision such a powerful moment in death is a testament to the existential nuance in his three-film arc. Even in his dying moments, Vision embraces the finiteness of life. Grateful that his final moments are spent on his terms; with his soul mate and through his choice. While everyone before him dies with a whimper, Vision dies with pride. And in his dying breath, he imparts to Wanda the most human sentiment there is, “I love you.” Nevermind that they double down on his death. Vision dies living his truth. One that is filled with love, compassion, understanding, pain, and failure. Grace in failure, as he once spoke to his father.