[This post contains mild spoilers.]
I suppose when you’re dealing with apocalyptic themes, it’s hard to get away from the Bible, but I was surprised by the amount of biblical language that showed up in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Joss Whedon sprinkled biblical allusions throughout the movie, and he put most of those allusions in the mouth of Ultron. Ultron is an evil artificial intelligence with a god complex, so it isn’t surprising when he starts quoting the Bible.
But one particular biblical reference perplexed me as I watched the movie. When the Avengers asked the Vision who he was, he answered, “I am I am.”
This line immediately reminded me of the book of Exodus. Moses sees a burning bush in the wilderness, and the bush speaks to Moses, telling him to free the Hebrews from the Egyptians. Moses is dubious that the Hebrews will listen to him, so he asks the voice in the fiery bush what his name is. The voice in the bush replies, “I am who I am.”
Watching the movie, I experienced some cognitive dissonance when the Vision announced that he was “I am.” How could this allusion make sense? I expected Ultron to claim divinity, asserting that his ubiquitous digital consciousness gave him godlike status, but it didn’t sound right coming out of the mouth of the Vision. The Vision’s moment didn’t seem to fit with the burning-bush narrative.
Call me a little slow, but weeks later it dawned on me what was going on here. The voice in the burning bush isn’t the only time in which someone claims to be “I am.” Numerous times in the Gospel of John, Jesus makes “I am” statements. Some of these are a bit ambiguous in English because our translations tend to add a “he” after each one, but a Greek reader familiar with the Old Testament would have picked up on the allusion. John has Jesus claim to be divine, a claim which would have unsettled his reader, just as I was unsettled by the Vision’s pronouncement. Wasn’t Jesus a good guy? Why would he claim to be the same God who spoke in the burning bush?
Back to the Vision. Interpreting the Vision’s moment as an allusion to Jesus rather than an allusion to the burning bush makes much more sense. First, the Vision’s birth is miraculous, and so was Jesus’. The android’s activation doesn’t go according to Stark’s plan, and the godlike power of Thor had to quicken the Vision as he lay in the womb. It’s an unnatural, divine birth. After his birth, the Avengers ask him whose side he’s on. He responds that he is on the side of life. This somewhat mysterious answer sounds an awful lot like the ambiguous answers Jesus gave when questioned. At the end of the movie, the Vision talks about grace. He sees his mission to save and protect people.
If the Vision is meant to be the new Christ-figure of the Avengers franchise, this opens up some interesting possibilities for the next installment. The big bad guy of Avengers: Infinity War will be Thanos, who’s already made a couple of cameos. Thanos is the personification of death, and he is one of the most powerful beings in the Marvel universe. He’ll be wanting to get his hands on all six infinity stones, one of which is stuck in the Vision’s forehead.
My prognostication is that the Vision will die in his battle with Thanos but that somehow that death will prove to be Thanos’s undoing. The death of the Christ-like Vision will conquer death personified by Thanos. Life will win in the end, and the Vision will be resurrected. Of course we’ve still got six Marvel films before we get to the Infinity War, so who knows what twists and turns a dozen writers and directors might take us down.
It seems to me that Hollywood just might be retelling the greatest story ever told again.