First, a little story about Artificial Intelligence.
A few days, lots of people on Facebook were passing around the link to How Old Do I Look?, a site which claims to be able to do what it advertises: tell how old you are based on a selfie or other photo. Out of curiosity, I tried it out on a photo of Diana which I had on my phone.
A pretty little girl, no? The site declared her to be 45.
This fails the Turing Test. Any human on earth would look at this picture and say, "That child is certainly younger than eight, probably younger than 6." As it happens, Diana is rising 5. The site's complex set of algorithms for skin smoothness, contour, hair texture, and whatnot have nothing on the recognition patterns and judgment of a barely-verbal child. (I did ask my own barely-verbal child, William, to tell me if this picture was an old lady or a little girl, and he said, "Julia" ["Du-a"], and then went on to identify all the rest of his sisters as Julia. So I'm not admitting that as evidence.)
And then I went to see Avengers: Age of Ultron, and I just couldn't suspend my disbelief long enough to buy into the whole AI taking over the world plot thread. The non-suspension of disbelief issue wasn't new to this movie, though; last week I let the big girls watch the first Avengers so they'd be up enough on their Marvel mythology to comprehend the new one (they've also seen both Captain Americas, but I'm not ready to sit through Thor again), and I just couldn't. The bloated battle scenes, the ridiculous odds, the photogenic scratches as the only mementos of battle. Look, even King Leonidas died in the end. And one million guys really did trounce three hundred (really more like a thousand, counting the non-Spartans), because that's actually how crazy odds like that work out. But the three hundred bought time, and there were other men like them to finish the job.
But there are no other men like the Avengers (or women either, because let's acknowledge the fuss about gender issues, and the inherent absurdity of Black Widow wearing a full bodysuit, whereas Hawkeye's arms, which you'd think would be protected as his great asset, are always exposed). The Marvel-verse of heroes is mind-bogglingly big when you think that someone had to sit around and come up with all this back story and costume design, and yet on the grand scale of planetary destruction they cause an outsized share of damage trying to avert Armageddon. South African cities, Seoul, fictional Russian statelets -- it's time for the rest of the world to share New York's pain as the Avengers rumble through the landscape, ripping up glass buildings and barreling trains through city streets in lovingly choreographed action sequences. Every now and then the camera slows the action so we can admire our heroes en tableau, administering an picturesque ass-kicking to robots or aliens so interchangeably other that we need waste no precious drops of pity on them. It's kinda awesome, but it's fake awesome, in the way that things that have no stakes and make no sense are.
In fact, threads of psuedo awesome and profundity run through this, and all its legion of prequels. Nick Fury shows up at a few crucial moments and says some stuff about how if we do not all hang together, we shall assuredly all hang separately, and how you do the best with what you're given, which would totally be significant if he'd not been given an unlimited budget by someone fictional and unlimited CGI by Hollywood. Ultron, a big chiseled sentient robot conceived by the damn-fool team of Tony Stark and Dr. Banner, makes a number of pronouncements about the limits of humanity and our puny abilities and comprehension, and I kept bouncing back to the computer program identifying Diana as being 45.
MrsDarwin, you say, you are entirely the wrong person to review a superhero movie. Don't be hatin'. Not so! There were sections that I liked, but they had nothing to do with action, battles or Tony Stark's crazy housekeeping and construction expenditure. I liked the moments of human interaction -- two orphans describing the terror of a two-day ordeal of helplessness; the slight rivalry between Thor and Captain America; the refreshing prospect of an Avenger with a normal homelife; Steve Rogers wondering what place he can call home. And chiefly, the tension between Bruce Banner and Natasha Romanov, a conflict fueled by internal obstacles and the fascinating, all-too-brief glimpses of Natasha's backstory. When are we going to get a Black Widow movie? (In a twist of supreme irony, Scarlett Johanssen was pregnant during the filming of Avengers: Age of Ultron.)
So yeah, it could be that I should stick to costume epics and kitchen-sink dramas. But it seems to me that if superhero movies are the mythologies of our times, someone needs to be pointing out where fantasy devolves into a collection of wish-fulfillment imagery. And someone needs to remember that the gods of fantasy only matter to the extent that they're human. Because there's only one God, man, and his epic battle is fought on and for the varied terrain of the human soul.