Age of Ultron and the Impending Collapse of the MCU

We all know the MCU is inevitably going to collapse, right? It’s a shared superhero continuity, an attempt to force an ever-expanding number of stories into the straitjacket of continuity nitpickery. It is not only deliberately encouraging the paranoid reading style and gossip about imaginary people, it wants us to see Guardians of the Galaxy and Daredevil as two windows into the same world.

So of course, sooner or later, it will do what the comics always do, and implode. The need for ever-more obscure references in order to build ever-more elaborate conspiracies for viewers to unravel, combined with the unrestrained growth of constantly adding new characters and new media–so far, in order to fully follow the MCU, it is necessary to watch two network television shows, a web-series, and five film series–and those numbers are growing allm the time.

Now of course it’s possible to follow and enjoy an Avengers movie without knowing what’s going on in Agents of SHIELD (says the person who hasn’t watched any Marvel TV shows). But remember, it is the nature of a conspiracy theory to grow more convoluted and complex with time, and a shared continuity is essentially a conspiracy theory about a group of fictional works. Right now, the MCU films spend relatively little of their time laying clues for future films or paying off clues dropped in other series–but that amount is growing.

There is a particular minor subplot in Age of Ultron (if you have seen the film, you know which I mean) which serves no purpose except to bring Age of Ultron‘s own story to a screeching halt so that it can spend a few minutes congratulating us nerds who recognized how Captain America, Thor 2, and Guardians of the Galaxy were building toward Avengers 3. (To his credit, Whedon apparently fought against including these scenes, and had to be forced into it by executives threatening to cut a major character-building sequence. But not too much credit; that sequence includes Black Widow suggesting that being unable to have children makes a woman a monster.)

This kind of thing is only going to keep getting worse. How long until plot threads introduced in Agent Carter get resolved in Ant-Man 3? Until we get entire films that exist solely as set-up and teaser for the next big crossover? Until the whole thing is just the same mess of conflicting reboots, alternate universes, and continuity lockouts as mainstream comics?

(Rhetorical questions, but I’ll answer anyway: No later than Avengers 4, and possibly much, much earlier.)

9 thoughts on “Age of Ultron and the Impending Collapse of the MCU

  1. Now of course it’s possible to follow and enjoy an Avengers movie without knowing what’s going on in Agents of SHIELD (says the person who hasn’t watched any Marvel TV shows).

    Oddly, it’s also possible to do the opposite. My mother-in-law loves Agents of SHIELD and hasn’t seen a single MCU movie. She was a little confused post Winter Soldier, but not too much. But then, she was a huge fan of Lost, so she’s used to TV shows being confusing for no apparent reason.

    But not too much credit; that sequence includes Black Widow suggesting that being unable to have children makes a woman a monster.)

    I know this is a common criticism of the movie, but as a woman and a woman who has a child, I disagree. I saw the fact that she had the ability to have children stripped of her as symbolic of the much larger physical and mental abuse and violation she went through in the Black Widow program. It was the idea that they made her into what they wanted – a killer, a monster. Part of their monstering of her was the fact that they took away the ability to create life – both biologically and symbolically in her inability to have a “normal” life – whether she was ever going to use it or not. The fact that it was never her choice was the true violation and what made her feel like a monster created by someone else.

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  2. See, I think what the intent was that the Hulk can’t have children as a side effect of turning into a monster, and Black Widow can’t have children as a side effect of efforts to turn her into a monster. It’s her simultaneously putting herself down in a way that shows the character’s underlying insecurities and internal conflicts, and trying to establish a common ground and rapport with the dude she’s pursuing romantically. (Which, by the way, is a point I’d put in the movie’s favor: Black Widow is the initiator and main driver of her own romantic subplot. That’s sadly rare, especially in action movies.)

    The problem is that in the scene as it plays out, what actually happens is that Hulk says he can’t have children because he’s a monster, and Black Widow responds that she can’t have children, and is therefore also a monster.

    Part of their monstering of her was the fact that they took away the ability to create life

    That’s exactly my problem, that it is depicted as PART OF monstering her instead of a SIDE EFFECT of monstering her–that, in other words, being unable to create life is monstrous. The monsters here are the people who took her ability to create life, not her for losing that ability, and the movie never, ever addresses that point.

    To be honest, I think the biggest problem is the explanation of WHY they did it to her, that having a baby is “the only thing that could be more important than a mission.” It’s outright stating that parents are inherently morally superior to non-parents, which is to say it’s restating the claim that non-parents are less human than parents.

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  3. Regardless of whether she is justified in thinking it or not, I think she believes her ability only to kill and not create life is part of her “monsterousness.” She definitely believes the people who did it to her are monsters, but I also think she thinks she is as well. Now, I believe she’s wrong in that, but I can see why she may feel that way. Women with fertility issues definitely struggle with a lot of different emotional nuances. Unfortunately, I think that conversation could have been a lot more nuanced, but it’s also more nuanced than “Joss Whedon thinks people who can’t/don’t want to have kids are monsters,” which I’ve actually seen expressed on Tumblr.

    To be honest, I think the biggest problem is the explanation of WHY they did it to her, that having a baby is “the only thing that could be more important than a mission.” It’s outright stating that parents are inherently morally superior to non-parents, which is to say it’s restating the claim that non-parents are less human than parents.

    I thought that was a weird explanation, actually. I assumed they did it to her because fears of getting pregnant might keep her (and the other young women) from using sex as a weapon. Especially because medical technology – including abortion – doesn’t exactly seem like something you want to have to take advantage of there. The idea that having a baby would transform you from being a monsterous killer to not being one is very wrong, I agree.

    However, I also think that the movie itself contradicts that idea. After all, Hawkeye has a family and is very committed to the mission. Now, you could argue that this idea applies only to women and not men (ick), but I think the idea that “having a baby is the only thing that could be more important than the mission” is Black Widow’s interpretation, not the necessarily the movie’s. But again, the scene is far from perfect, so I see how it’s easy to interpret it either way.

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  4. “The only thing that could be more important than the mission” is clearly a loyalty thing. It reads as a concern not that she would suddenly be unwilling to kill, but that she would have a reason act – lethally or otherwise – not controlled by them.

    The one thing MCU has going for it is the involvement of live actors, whose mortality implies mortality of the continuity. Letting continuity errors creep in isn’t lethal, any form of storytelling with continuity is going to have a plot hole or two if it runs long enough. The fatal flaw of comics is the elements of the status quo are declared inviolate, such that continuity is deliberately, not accidentally, violated to preserve them. Live actors means retirement or death, which puts a hard limit on keeping their characters around without properly disposing of the continuity and getting a clean restart.

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  5. How dare a movie franchise expect an audience to watch more than one movie to understand what’s going on? I mean, can you imagine the outrage if Harry Potter or Star Wars tried the same thing?

    Wait a minute…

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  6. “so far, in order to fully follow the MCU, it is necessary to watch two network television shows, a web-series, and five film series–and those numbers are growing allm the time.” Thats sounds to me like exactly what you said.

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  7. It is, in general, not unreasonable to expect viewers of Harry Potter 7 to have watched Harry Potter 6. It is rather less reasonable to expect viewers of Guardians of the Galaxy 3 to have watched Daredevil season 2.

    But either way, the main thrust of the argument is not about the continuity lockout (though that is an issue, and a major reason why comics have a tiny fraction of the readership they did 30 years ago), but rather that catering to the paranoid viewing style means that the overarching continuity will get ever more convoluted, as a result of which things like the Thor side quest in Age of Ultron will get more and more common until you get entire movies that are more tie-in to the next big event than stories in their own right.

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  8. One advantage the MCU has is that it’s considerably cheaper to follow it than to follow comic continuity; requiring only the price of a movie ticket (and/or a DVD) twice a year, and an internet connection (and that’s if you’re not pirating it), as opposed to being able to purchase issues of a dozen different comics a month.

    I’ll resist the temptation to wade into the debate over That Scene until I’ve re-watched the movie early next week.

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