May 23rd 2015

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY No deal in federal budget for single-income families

CANBERRA OBSERVED Mixed budget: 'Battlers' put on the backburner

SOCIETY Marriage myths do not stand up to close scrutiny

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Supreme Court argument goes to heart of marriage

POLITICS Understanding Orwell: the dangers of ideology

EDITORIAL Executive salaries: Telstra CEO bells the cat

ECONOMICS Productivity: do we understand it at all?

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS UK election: implications of Conservative victory

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Floating reasons to build our submarines here

CINEMA Best-laid plans oft end in corruption

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS New fronts in the fight against human trafficking

EDUCATION Non-government school tuition trumps SES status

CLIMATE CHANGE Bjorn again sceptics show face of intolerance

DRUGS Ice: an epidemic rages under our very noses

BOOK REVIEW The man who would not be prime minister

BOOK REVIEW The father of the green revolution

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Best-laid plans oft end in corruption

by Symeon J. Thompson

News Weekly, May 23, 2015

The Avengers: Age of Ultron is here. It’s loud and dramatic, but deftly made and rich in allusions.

The latest extravaganza from the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a surprisingly thoughtful film exploring questions of family and worthiness, while still managing to be full of wildly entertaining action scenes. It builds on what has gone before, as it continues to knit together a cinematic version of one of the most popular of modern mythologies.

S.H.I.E.L.D has been shut down following the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. That film
revealed that HYDRA, the occult Nazi death cult and terrorist syndicate, had infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D, aiming to use S.H.I.E.L.D’s global reach and technology for world conquest.

As a result, the Avengers now operate as an independent entity seeking to make the world a safer place. They are funded by Tony Stark (Robert Downey jnr), aka Iron Man, who is still suffering post-traumatic stress from the alien invasion in The Avengers – referred to as “The Incident” in the Marvel Netflix series Daredevil – but who is trying to rebuild his life.

Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) leads the team, which includes Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson), the Soviet-trained assassin; Clint Barton/Hawkeye, the master archer and special operative; Dr Bruce Banner/The Hulk, the mild-mannered scientist whose green rage monster remains almost unstoppable; Thor, the alien “god” with a big hammer who has remained on Earth since the events of Thor: The Dark World; and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), formerly of S.H.I.E.L.D and probably still in touch with the Old Man / Master Spy himself, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).

The Avengers have tracked Loki’s staff to a HYDRA base in Sokovia, an eastern European country that has been in the middle of other people’s wars for some time.

While retrieving the staff, the Avengers come across the Twins, Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda (Elisabeth Olsen) Maximoff, childhood victims of the war who have sworn revenge on Stark for providing the weapons that killed their family and destroyed their home.

While retrieving the staff, Stark is haunted, care of Wanda, by a vision of total destruction. On returning to the Avengers’ base, he and Dr Banner realise that there is some sort of artificial intelligence in the staff, and they can use this for their ULTRON project – an attempt to make a set of sentient robots to help defeat the next alien invasion.

Of course, things do not go to plan, and Ultron (James Spader) decides that the best way to make “peace in our time” is to annihilate humanity, and a new war erupts as the Avengers try to defeat him.

The Age of Ultron draws on the age-old fear of mad scientists messing around with things they do not
understand in an attempt to “improve” humanity but dooming it instead. This is the fear that drives Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and James Cameron’s Terminator series.

This is also the key error that has driven progressives and revolutionaries since the Enlightenment – the idea that we can plan out a perfect society on Earth: which has resulted in totalitarian regimes such as those of Soviet Russia and Communist China.

The problem with such ideas is that they fail to take into consideration the human element, and so prefer to rid themselves of it as much as possible. But since the people running the show are always flawed, the system becomes another exercise in corruption and control.

It is not for nothing that Ultron compares himself to God. His remarks are, properly speaking, a blasphemy designed to justify his own design, a design that has no place for mercy, and where justice is taken from the human plane and made into something abstract and inhuman.

These ideas remain popular among some intellectuals who believe that with all their know-how they should be able to make the world perfect – forgetting that they too are fallible and that their mechanical systems cannot deal with the vagaries of humanity.

This film is full of subtle messages throughout that praise the traditional family and life. These messages show that these things are still the most important part of our lives. Moreover, the Avengers strive to do everything to defend civilians, unlike in many action films out there.

None of these films is perfect; but they are perfectly human in their flaws and their striving for the good. And they’re awesomely entertaining to boot.

Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics Circle of Australia (FCCA).

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