August 29, 2013 1:35pm PT by Graeme McMillan
Ultron 101: Get to Know Your Next 'Avengers' Villain
The world now knows that James Spader is going to play Ultron in Avengers: Age of Ultron. What the world may not know, however, is just who Ultron actually is, or what to expect from the villain of the 2015 follow-up to last year's successful The Avengers. Luckily, I'm here to help you with that.
Everything You Really Need to Know About Ultron: He's a crazy robot that wants to eradicate humanity.
No, really, that's about it. There's a lot more nuance to the character's comic book incarnation, but most of that relates to his origins, which for reasons of movie continuity -- namely, that he was created by Hank Pym, aka Ant-Man, a character who won't be appearing in Avengers: Age of Ultron because he's already scheduled to make his cinematic debut in Edgar Wright's movie, scheduled to be released afterward -- can't be translated exactly onto the screen.
The comic book nuance, which will doubtlessly appear in one form or another in his movie incarnation, is that Ultron is a robotic Oedipus with pretty dramatic daddy issues. This isn't exactly subtle, either; when he decides to build his robotic wife, Jocasta, he models her after Pym's own wife, Janet Van Dyne, to the point of trying to copy her brainwaves into Jocasta's body (For those playing along at home: Yes, Jocasta is the name of Oedipus' mother in Greek mythology). Later, when Ultron's cybernetic consciousness possesses Iron Man's body -- don't ask -- he reshapes it to resemble Van Dyne's body instead. Like I said, this stuff is not subtle.
Pym didn't intend for Ultron to be this screwed up, of course. He built the original version of the artificial intelligence using his own brain patterns, not realizing that he was making two fatal mistakes in doing so. Firstly, Hank Pym was not exactly mentally stable at the time -- this is, after all, the man who would only propose to his wife after having a breakdown, believing himself to be someone else who had actually killed the real Pym and then kidnapping his soon-to-be betrothed. Secondly, and perhaps more obviously, he forgot that making an artificial intelligence based on the brain patterns of a man who built an artificial intelligence would result in something that just wanted to keep refining and remaking itself, removing such things as "kindness," "empathy" and "non-psychopathic elements of any kind" along the way.
In the 40-plus-year history of the character -- Ultron made his debut in 1968's Avengers #55 -- we've seen multiple iterations of Ultron, all of which ultimately led to this year's Age of Ultron series. That series -- which Joss Whedon has said bears no resemblance to the movie despite sharing the name -- revealed that the villain had actually managed to win for once, albeit off-camera. His vision of a nearly humanity-free robotic utopia didn't last, of course, and a time-traveling team of Wolverine and the Fantastic Four's Invisible Woman managed to save the day at the last moment, resulting in the apparent permanent destruction of the character. Of course, this is comics -- he'll undoubtedly return when you least expect it (or when Age of Ultron the movie is released, whichever comes first).
Everything That Might Be Useful to Know About Ultron: If Ultron has a fetish -- well, one that isn't "destroying humanity" -- it's probably making a family for himself. A common theme in Ultron stories isn't just that he has upgraded himself, but that he wants others to play with. In addition to his bride Jocasta -- who ended up turning against him, joining the Avengers temporarily -- Ultron is also responsible for the construction of two sons (The Vision, who also turned against him and joined the Avengers, and Victor Mancha, a cyborg who didn't know that he'd been programmed to kill all the superheroes at some point in the future) and a second wife, Alkhema, who, you guessed it, ended up turning against him as well.
Given the crossover between Ultron's love of family and Avengers writer Joss Whedon's love of family dynamics gone wonderfully twisted, it's not impossible to imagine that we might see at least one Ultron creation in the Age of Ultron movie.
Something That You Don't Really Need to Know About Ultron, But Why Not: In the comics, Ultron tends to be made of Adamantium, which is the unbreakable material covering Wolverine's bones in the X-Men movies and comics. Whether adamantium exists in the Marvel Studios universe or is restricted to Fox's X-Men license isn't exactly clear right now, but let's just say that it's possible that the movie Ultron will end up being very, very tough to damage nonetheless.
And so, there you have it. Ultron is a potentially unbreakable robot with daddy issues and an ambition to wipe out humanity while building a robotic family, all of whom, for various reasons, have been driven to turn upon him. When you put it like that, suddenly James Spader seems like the perfect choice for the role, doesn't he…?