Tag Archives: Hawkeye

Masculinity in Age of Ultron

I saw Age of Ultron Thursday night and I have thoughts. There’s the obvious nerd-out factor of the film, and it’s really cool and does a lot of things right (and, arguably, does indeed go smaller than the first Avengers), but those are essays rants for another day.

So let’s talk about how the movie portrays the idea of masculinity. Because it’s actually really interesting.

Age of Ultron, like The Avengers before it and probably every Marvel movie until I get my friggin’ Captain Marvel movie, is very male dominated. But that doesn’t stop it from portraying a variety of roles for the men to take on. Macho men being manly all the time this is not, rather the Avengers portray different shades of masculinity.

Bruce Banner may be the most obvious. His ‘alter-ego’ is inherently violent and destructive, a stark contrast to his more mild-mannered usual self. He’s a violent man who eschews violence. Here’s a man who would rather that problems not be solved by punching.

This serves as something of an antithesis to Thor, who delights in battle (and tries to comfort Bruce at one point by telling him how well he fought). That said, when Thor competes with Tony, it’s not over who’s the better fighter. Instead they’re boasting of the impressive accomplishments of their significant others. Implicit here is that these two who embody traditionally masculine traits (Thor’s the fighter, Tony is characteristically bawdy) are both with accomplished and important women, and both are okay with it. Being ‘manly’ doesn’t mean downplaying the accomplishments of others and sometimes it means deferring to that as the true measure by which they measure themselves.

It’s Steven Rogers, though, who as Captain America is in some regards the paragon of masculinity: he’s brave, physically fit, honorable, a leader, and so on. But at the same time he’s also humble, he hopes for the best in people, is willing to be vulnerable, and knows he can’t always do it alone. He’s a lot like Captain Awesome from Chuck, in that he embodies a sort of ideal masculinity, but without a lot of the toxicity that goes with it.

Which brings me to Hawkeye, who gets a vastly expanded role in this film. Not only do we get a deeper look into his inner life, but we also see his role as a part of the team. Clint is, not unlike his comics counterpart, effectively the most normal of the Avengers. More than that, though, he’s the one with the most normal and fulfilled personal life, making him also the most stable; the least ‘manly’ of the Avengers is also the one who’s got it the most together. Furthermore, within Age of Ultron he carries much of the film’s emotional weight; he may not be the hardest hitter but he is the heart. In many other stories this position is usually occupied by a woman, or the most feminine one if there are multiple (think Katara from Avatar and Kaylee from Firefly). Clint isn’t seen as less capable for it; he, like Raleigh in Pacific Rim, portrays a form of masculinity that’s supportive in nature.

The male action hero has been somewhat pigeonholed over the years. There’s an immense focus on the John McLane, John Matrix, and Indiana Jones type, that is the swaggering, self-reliant, gun toting, never backing down sort. Compare The Expendables, an ensemble cast of very traditionally manly action heroes, to Age of Ultron. The former are all cut from the same hyper-masculine cloth, whereas the male Avengers are more nuanced. None of them are seen as lesser for not being as much of a brawler as Thor or as brave as Captain America. Rather, the film acknowledges that masculinity comes in different forms and that’s perfectly okay.

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The Avengers > The Dark Knight Rises

You read that title right: The Avengers was better than The Dark Knight Rises.

Man. Always fun to stir up some controversy.

Why do I think this? So glad you asked.

But let me preface all this with something: I’ve loved Batman for as far back as I can remember. I loved The Dark Knight, heck, it was one of the first movies I added to my BluRay collection. I’m not some Batman hater championing The Avengers because it’s not Batman; I legitimately think The Avengers was better.

The Dark Knight Rises is called the end of the Dark Knight Legend. Which it certainly is. Unlike it’s predecessor(s), however, it doesn’t stand alone. Rises depends on The Dark Knight and Batman Begins for the plot to have impact. It still works without them, it just nowhere near as well and winds up feeling incomplete.

The Avengers has no such problem. Having seen the prior movies does help us understand the characters more, but the script is deft enough to sum up what’s relevant to their characters quickly. Even a hitherto unseen character like Hawkeye (besides a brief cameo in Thor) has development and character.

In addition, each of the main characters in The Avengers (The titular team and Loki) are given their own character arcs. The characters in this film feel complete and round, as opposed to the archetypes of Rises.

Another thing that’s comparable about these two movies is the presence of a woman that spends a lot of the time in a catsuit. The Avengers has Black Widow, Rises has Selina Kyle. Both are remarkably good protagonists, both use others perception of them as women as a tool, both have their own goals.

But it’s Black Widow, and not Selina Kyle, that sticks out as being better. Unlike Selina Kyle, Black Widow has a much fuller character and development. In Rises we know Kyle’s a master thief, and we know what she’s after. It’s implied in passing she perhaps fancies herself a modern day Robin Hood, but that’s it. We’re never told why nor are we given a personal reason for her actions. We can see what she does, but never does she come into her own person.

Black Widow is given a couple of key scenes where we meet the woman wearing the catsuit. We find out that she has red in her ledger that she needs to clear, and that’s her motivation for wanting to achieve her goal. Selina Kyle’s steals to get something that will clear her name of her previous thefts. As great as she is, she feels like just another archetype.

The other thing is The Avengers has you pour more investment into it. Yes, Gotham at risk is indeed a serious threat and we want to see Batman rise to the challenge. But in The Avengers we watch a group of people who are heroes in their own right learn to set aside their differences for the greater good. It’s a different conflict, but one was handled better than the other.

Furthermore, Batman and Iron Man are both called to make sacrifices. Batman’s feels like an eventuality, something that had to happen. Iron Man’s was a culmination of the development of Tony Stark’s character within the film. We have an investment in him and the people who care about him due to the events in the film thus far. Rises had a few moments, but focused too strongly on Batman as a symbol and not enough on the actual people around him.

In The Avengers we legitimately care about the characters and who they are. Not just the fate of New York/Gotham, but the fate of the very heart and soul of these characters. Sure, The Dark Knight Rises had it too, just The Avengers had it more.

Then there’s the heroism. No moment in The Dark Knight can compare to the shot of the assembled Avengers in New York City ready to save the day. None.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved The Dark Knight Rises. It’s a perfect ending to an excellent trilogy with regards to both plot and theme. And maybe comparing these two movies is like comparing apples to pipebombs. One’s an epic, the other’s an adventure. Both are very different and both succeed at what they set out to do.

At the end of the day though, The Avengers was just a better film.

 

Writer’s note: I realize there’s much more I could get into here (like how The Avengers had more heart and humor, etc), but I’m already past my self-imposed deadline and have to go to work soon. My apologies.

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