Sunday, May 3, 2015

Peace In Our Time: The Avengers 2 & What We Didn't See Coming

PLEASE see the film before you read this post: this post contains spoilers and everything that happens in the film. Quite frankly, The Avengers 2: Age Of Ultron might just be the film of the decade and I would truly hate to ruin the joyous experience of you getting to see the film in full by talking about something that happens and then that dampening the film's delivery. Please, stop reading and go see the film, this post will still be here.
"Oppositions" are a great structure upon which to hang a discussion of a work of art: man and woman, black and white, right and wrong, war and peace, etc., are binary oppositions which reveal dramatic differences in narrative and morality. In the case of The Avengers 2: Age Of Ultron, one of the major differences is "flesh vs metal." Ultron moves beyond Stark's peace keeping mission to something greater, the extinction of humanity altogether, because that is the only thing that will actually insure peace: the rule of robots. The Avengers show us, however, that--in spite of their flaws and weaknesses--they have an incredible strength that comes from their humanity: a strength for love, friendship and loyalty, virtues that Ultron and robots can never know and therefore, can never bring into the world. In spite of all our faults, we have untold potential for good, and that potential that we are free to act upon and realize covers a multitude of sins.
This is film is loaded, and there is no possible way I will have time nor space to cover everything, but maybe I can hit something you missed. Let's start out with the very first words of the film. Tony Stark approaches Baron von Stucker's Castle (the mid-credits scene we saw in Captain America 2: the Winter Soldier) and Tony Stark, trying to get into the castle, says, "Shit," to which Steve Rogers/Captain America replies (on the walkie-talkie head-tech gear they have), "Language," in a reprimanding tone, and this becomes a kind of running joke throughout the film, at one point, Rogers calling Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) a "Son of a bitch," to which Fury replies, "I hope you don't kiss your mama with that mouth."
Why is this part of the film, and a continuous thread?
This is one of the first scenes of the film when the Avengers are attacking Stryker's castle to get Loki's staff which Skryker got after The Avengers and it was left on earth when Loki was transported back to Asgard to serve his sentence. Please note, each Avenger is an individual, each has their own path and mission, their own skill and talent, but they are working as a team, they have each other's best interest in mind and they are united in the same goal (retrieving Loki's staff). Right now, this is the Avengers at their very best, together, and Captain America recognizes it and wants to preserve and grow this as much as possible. 
For history buffs, you might have caught the reference to Alfred Jarry's surrealist/symbolist play Ubu Roi which also has "Shit" (or some variance on the word, depending upon the translation) which also has "Shit" has the first word of its opening scene; why do this? Ubu Roi is about a ruthless king who takes over Poland, killing all the royal family, then starts killing all the Polish people and stealing all their money; we could say it's something like Adolf Hitler's dress rehearsal for World War II, and the reference is part of a much larger structure of narrative within the film to specifically remind us of World War II; don't believe me?
Let's go to Tony Stark's party.
When the Avengers attack Stryker's castle, we meet the twins, Scarlet Witch (Wanda) and Quicksilver (Piotr); they are the only ones who have survived Stryker's tests, but they aren't ready yet to be set against the Avengers, but these two young people want to kill the Avengers, specifically Tony Stark. On a bit of a side note, throughout the film, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are referred to as "Enhancements," not "mutants, like what we would expect; why not? Technically, MGM (I think it's them) owns the word "mutant" so Marvel can't use it, so "mutant" (which is what they are, in fact) has been replaced with "enhancements." The twins' back story is really important. They lived in an apartment building that was bombed and, for two days, they were trapped with their parents; a bomb had dropped in their apartment, but it didn't go off, and it was a bomb from Stark Industries that had Stark written on it. Their parents die, and they want to kill the Avengers because they are murderers and bad guys all around, but, again, they especially want to kill Tony Stark. On still another note, let's discuss the way the twins look. It was mentioned in an interview that they are orphans and have been basically living off the streets, which is why their clothes are so mis-matched: they put on whatever they can find. Now, into some analysis: again, this is the first time that we see them, so what do we make of them? We'll start with Wanda. She's wearing all black, which, as we know, is the color of death: either a person is alive in their soul and dead to the things of the world, or a person is dead to their soul and alive to the things of the world. I actually don't think either interpretation fits the twins, rather, they are trying to personify death itself because that is what they have experienced in life and that is their only concern in life, to bring death to those (the Avengers/USA) they believe brought death to them. If you notice, Wanda has her nails painted black: our hands symbolize our strength, so that she has "death" on her hands (black painted fingernails) means she fully intends on using her powers to bring about the death of others, and this is part of the genius of the screenplay: the twins (and even Ultron himself) accuse the Avengers of being murderers, but the twins fully intend on murdering the Avengers; why? They are being led by their emotions, not their brains, which is why The Vision becomes so important in the film (more on him below). Now, Elizabeth Olsen, who portrays Wanda, naturally has blonde hair, so it was darkened for the film; why? She has "dark thoughts," and if you will notice, there are two distinct features of her hair: first, there is a part down the middle, which implies that she sees things as being parted by "good" or "bad" (her part acts as a line she has drawn in her mind); secondly, her hair gets frizzy towards the ends, being straight and smoother towards the top of her head, which implies that, initially, when she thinks about something (the ends of her hair, because that is the hair that grew first) she's more emotional about it, she responds with her wild, untameable emotions (the frizzy hair) but then, as she thinks about something, she becomes more logical and can see what needs to be done. We see this in the scene she has with Hawkeye when he has to try and calm her down and put things into perspective for her and she accepts that (we have a lot more to discuss on this scene, which we will do below). What about Quicksilver? The first thing we hear him say is, "You didn't see that coming?" after he has raced past the Avengers and "introduced" himself. Quicksilver's hair is two colors, blonde and (nearly) black, meaning, it's easy for him to be polarized in his thoughts, to go from being miserable one moment, to happy the next, or vice versa. Not only is "You didn't see that coming?" the first words we hear him say, but they are also the last words we hear him say after he has saved Hawkeye's life and sacrificed his own doing so (again, we'll discuss this below with Hawkeye). We can say of Quicksilver, "He can run, but he can't walk," and that is ultimately why he dies: he makes the switch over from serving Ultron to working with the Avengers, but his extremes suggests that he is going to be difficult to integrate into a team situation, and a team of new Avengers is what Captain America needs at the end of the show.
After the raid on Stryker's castle, and they have retrieved Loki's scepter, the Avengers enjoy revels at Avengers' Tower while Tony Stark gives a party to celebrate. The Avengers are there, including some other guests: World War II veterans. No reason is given as to why the veterans are there (such as a community benefit, an anniversary, a tax write-off, etc.) the party one Stark is giving and is full of veterans proudly wearing their baseball caps that identify them as veterans (we saw a similar event in Battleship with Taylor Kitsch). This would be more than enough to alert us about the overall thrust of the film, but the film makers don't stop there,...
In this scene, Stark has made his way into Styker's castle and is looking for Loki's staff, and trying to get an idea of what Stryker was wanting to use it for. Stark asks JARVIS, his Artificial Intelligent system (AIs here on out) what the walls are made of and Stark deduces there might be a secret door; "Please be a secret door," he says, pushing on the wall, and it is. "Yay," he says to himself, and goes in. Why does this happen? Because this is exactly what Scarlet Witch does to Tony's mind in this scene: in other words, if there wasn't a door all ready there in Tony's mind through which she could go through to access his fears and ego, then she would not have been able to do so, but--just like Tony going through the secret door--so she is able to go through Tony's mind. Tony suffers from the exact opposite that Hulk/Banner and Black Widow/Natasha suffer: guilt of not doing enough. Banner and Natasha will try to run off together at different parts of the film, feeling they have done enough and can't help the Avengers anymore, even though they both stay for the final battle. Stark, on the other hand, has financed and re-designed the whole Avengers team, and has tried to secure their futures with a robotic peace-keeping force. When Stark sees the vision Scarlet Witch has introduced into his brain, Steve Rogers saying, "Why didn't you do more to save us?" has all ready been floating around in Stark's mind, it just hadn't made its way up to the surface yet. 
This scene is where Stan Lee chooses to make his cameo. Wearing a WWII veterans' cap and aviator sunglasses, Lee stands by as Thor pours a few drops of a libation that has been aging for 1,000 years and "wasn't meant for mortal men," to which Lee replies, "The beaches of Omaha weren't meant for mortal men," a clear reference to the Normandy landings and Allied invasion of Normandy to fight the socialists Nazis. Why is this important? Lee himself is a World War II vet--having the title of war playwright that was given to only nine soldiers--but in this scene, it's clear that Lee is taking up the war against socialism once more; how else can we deduce this?
The nose, in spite of being a prominent feature upon the face, is actually difficult to pinpoint in terms of its symbolic significance. We can deduce, however that, "No nose, no character," since Ultron doesn't have a nose, he lacks character, he is only what he has stolen from Stark's file and is a (bad) copy of Stark himself. We could say that Ultron's "birth" reflects Stark's own childhood, with Stark's father being gone when Tony was growing up, just as Stark was gone when Ultron was born and "realizing himself." 
The Avengers trace Ulton's movements to Africa, where the strongest metal in the world is found (the same stuff in Captain America's shield) so they go there to confront him, and they do so on a ship named Churchill, clearly, after the famous British Prime Minister Winston Churchill whose leadership helped to keep England from falling to the Nazis (and whose honorary bust once sat in the White House until Obama moved in and had it shipped back to London).
Let's spend a moment discussing Steve Rogers. After the attack on the castle, Rogers visits with Maria Hill about Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, and he says, "What kind of person would let a German scientist experiment on them in hopes of saving their country?" because that is what has happened to the twins, and that is exactly what happened to himself (Captain America: the First Avenger).  In other words, he recognizes that, just because the twins are currently on the side of HYDRA, doesn't mean that they are irrevocably bad, and that's probably why it's with Captain America that the twins actively switch sides and begin helping the Avengers by helping Rogers. Now, there's a far bigger plot concern going on with Rogers, and it leads directly into the conflicts we are going to see in Captain America 3: when Maria Hill is getting orders from Stark, she calls Stark "Boss," and Stark deflects that and, pointing to Rogers, tells her, "He's the boss," in spite of Stark paying for everything and designing things to make everyone look cool.What does this mean? That, in spite of Stark having the financial position of the group to claim authority, Steve Rogers has the moral authority of the group and that puts him in charge. Even Stark himself rebels at this when they are at Barton's house and the two of them are chopping wood: "I don't trust anyone who doesn't have a dark side," he says regarding Steve not being effected by Scarlet Witch's power over of their minds. When Laura Barton comes out and asks Stark to take a look at their tractor, Stark walks off and tells Steve about his pile of wood, "Don't take any from my pile." Why would he do that? This goes back to Iron Man 2 and The Avengers when we learned that Stark didn't like to be handed things; why not? Because Stark had been "handed things" all his life: his fortune, Stark Industries, a fabulous MIT education, his Malibu mansion, but Iron Man Stark built with "his own hands," no one handed it to him, that his was individual accomplishment. Now, in The Avengers 2, Stark has chopped that wood with "his own hands" and doesn't want to be robbed of his accomplishment; why? Obviously, he's still immature and insecure. Rogers doesn't have a "dark side," as in, a side wherein the devil can find a home and manipulate that person to do his bidding, but he does have a private, intimate side, which is still that his dream with Peggy Carter didn't come true and it was lost for him. Rogers telling Stark at the end of the film that "I'm home now," is a resolution to those intimate and foggy feelings of his for Peggy and his life that he lost out on, and in that way, Scarlet Witch actually helped him so he could overcome that and belong to the present completely, which is what he is going to need in these next adventures.
If you will recall, in The Lone Ranger, a very pro-socialist film, the railway car which the stolen silver was being transported in was called the Constitution, as a sign for audience members that the film makers believed the Constitution was a "vehicle" allowing grand theft in the US. In The Avengers 2, the Churchill ship is where Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis, who will be back in future Marvel films) recognizes that something is wrong with Ultron when he hears Ultron quoting Tony Stark, without giving Tony Stark credit. Churchill, the veterans and the beaches at Omaha, all make for a compelling anti-socialist atmosphere within the film, however, there is also the vehicle of rescue.
Why was it in the barn that Nick Fury finally comes out? A barn is where the animals are kept, and Stark going in there is Stark entering into his own animal appetites and instincts (like not telling the group that he's going to invent a new robot using Loki's staff, or that he's going to give Jarvis a body). Fury reproaching Stark about bringing to life a mad robot is on the same level as Black Widow "singing a lullaby" to the Hulk: it's what both of them need to hear. The tractor that can't get started is SHIELD, and Fury is the "key" that will get it going so it can help in the fight that is still to come. The tractor being the vehicle for SHIELD to enter the fight is exemplified here, with the helicarrier that comes up and is ready to rescue the people stuck in the city. Why, symbolically, is Ultron going to use a city as a weapon to destroy the world? Well, we have been seeing it here in America: the bankruptcy of Detroit was used against the country to bail them out, and the riots in both Ferguson and Baltimore have been used to condemn the country of ills that didn't exist before Obama took office. Just as airplanes were used in the 9/11 attacks, so the socialists are using individual cities that Democratic policies have "crashed" (financially) to destroy the rest of the country.  
When Ultron has lifted up the city and threatens to smash it back down to earth to cause cataclysmic destruction, SHIELD comes to save the people still stuck in the city on a helicarrier, which is an aircraft carrier that has been modified. Why is this important? Because it's the aircraft carriers that helped the US win the war against Japan. Japan bombed Pearl Harbor primarily to destroy our aircraft carriers, Japan seeing that the carriers would be the weapon of choice in the sea war; fortunately, the aircraft carriers were not in Pearl Harbor that day it was bombed. The helicarrier in The Avengers 2 not only reminds us of how enemies have tried to take us out, but also how we have risen to the occasion to modify and adapt. Don't forget, as well, that when the Avengers enter Baron Stryker's castle and HYDRA holdout, Stryker has been accused of "illegal human experimentation," which was part of what the Nazi socialists did in the concentration camps to those they were going to kill. All of this, then, is what cements the structure of the film, not only as being anti-socialist, but also as being a warning about the war that is approaching the whole world: when Tony Stark says, "Peace in our time," many members of the audience hear those doomed words and know exactly what is being referenced.
In this scene, Ultron has met the twins in Baron Stryker's castle and persuades them to join him in defeating the Avengers. As they talk, Ultron tells the twins that they are missing "the big picture," to which Quicksilver replies, "I only have a little picture, and I take it out and look at it everyday." What does Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver symbolize? The Millennials who supposedly voted Obama into the White House, because the Millennials only have little pictures, the little pictures their little teachers have passed onto them of what the US is and does. Just like Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver believing that the Avengers are a horrible group of ruthless people, Millennials believe the US is a horrible, cruel and unjust country that has ruthlessly killed millions of innocent people all over the world just because, and why (strategists claim) they voted for Obama, because of their First World White Guilt which is a socialist invention. Now, the twins realize that Ultron is a far greater evil than the Avengers; they don't believe that the Avengers are good, but they believe they will stop the world from being destroyed. When Quicksilver sees the helicarrier arriving to save the civilians still in the floating city, he looks at it and says, "So, that is SHIELD? That is good." Captain America, proudly responds, "That is SHIELD at its best." This is far more important than we can know, because this is the act in which the twins can invest their new-found faith and hope that they can contribute to making the world a better place. 
"Peace for our time," which we hear Tony Stark first say in the film, and which is repeated several times, and if this was THE ONLY reference to World War II, it would be more than sufficient in and of itself. These were the failed words of Prime Minister Chamberlain, after he got Hitler to sign a (meaningless) piece of paper, saying that there would not be war between England and Germany again (if you saw The King's Speech with Colin Firth, you might recall the speech King George delivers to the English people when war has been declared). This, inevitably, breaks up the audience into two divisions: those who know what these words mean, and those who do not. It's not necessarily a matter of age, even of education, rather, of understanding and caring. There are people who do not want to revisit the past, because of the horrors contained in it, while there are others who can't put enough energy and force into dragging us right back there, which is why there is a second tier to this film, an even greater structure than the World War II and anti-socialist message,...
As we know, Barton has a much larger role in The Avengers 2 than the first film, and it comes off at an incredibly important time. Towards the end, when the city is floating upwards, and Barton and Scarlet Witch are in a building together, she starts to lose it and Barton shakes her out of it: I'm just a guy with a bow, but I'm going back out there because it's my job, he tells her, and it doesn't matter what you've done in the past, if you step out that door, you're an Avenger. If you don't want that, stay in here and I'll send your brother to come and get you, but I don't have time to babysit. What does this scene mean? Well, we could reasonably say that Barton's wife Laura being pregnant is a foreshadowing of Scarlet Witch being "birthed" by Barton, that this is Wanda Maxinoff being "reborn," and Scarlet Witch is Barton's "creation" the way Ultron is Stark's creation and The Vision is Thor's creation. Barton has taught Wanda/Scarlet Witch the importance of responsibility, duty and how important a second chance is (which is what America is all about). Before the twins have joined the Avengers, Scarlet Witch sneaks up on him and is going to enter his head, but Barton quickly turns around and sticks one of his high-tech arrows on her forehead and says that he's had enough of mind games (a reference to The Avengers when Loki had him under the spell of the Tesseract) and that stops her from being able to use her powers on him. Upset at what Barton has done to his sister, Quicksilver vows to kill Barton, but the exact opposite ends up happening: Quicksilver saves Barton's life. We didn't see that coming, as Barton didn't see it coming either. In order for Wanda to grow up and become the person she is destined to become, she has to take responsibility for herself, and her (older) twin brother hasn't really made her do much of that as they have grown up, he's been there for her and protected her; that's nice, and that's what we all kind of want, but that's not what any of us need, and Barton realizes that, which is why Quicksilver takes Barton's place in death, so that Barton can take Quicksilver's place with his sister and be to her the one that will give her what she really needs. (Piotr and Wanda grew up under communism so they are used to the state taking care of them and not being personally responsible; as a symbol of what communism did to Eastern Europe, that has to be cleared away before Wanda can grow and adapt her individuality to fulfilling her unique destiny. 
God.
And this is what "we didn't see coming."
There are several symbols spread throughout the plot which point to God, including the newest Avenger, The Vision. To begin with, after the Avengers have retrieved Loki's staff, we see Stark in the plane they are flying and Stark has a sticker that says, "JARVIS is my co-pilot." This is funny because we know that this is a take off the common sticker, "God is my co-pilot," so Stark has replaced God with Jarvis; okay. Next, when the twins meet Ultron at a church, Ultron tells them "This church was built at the center of the city so everyone would have equal access to God." Okay, why do that?
Originally, The Vision was red, and--back in the day--Stan Lee complained and said, "Red is a horrible color!" They have changed The Vision's color to purple, why? Purple is traditionally the color associated with royalty because, in ancient times, it was so expensive, only royalty could afford to wear it. After the coming of Christ and His Passion, purple became associated with suffering, which is what The Vision appears to embody, literally. Lee would have said that red was an awful color because red was so associated with socialism in those days (the late 1960s) and that is the last thing Lee would have wanted. 
Because it's the reverse of socialism.
Socialism wants to insure that everyone has equal access to material goods, not spiritual goods. When Thor delivers the bolt of lightening into "the cradle" that will bring The Vision to life (like a vision of Dr. Frankenstein), Thor describes the gem on Loki's head as one of the "soul gems," which are the Infinity Stones, the sources of all power in the universe. Ultron, when he meets Ulysses (Serkis), tells him, "Upon this rock, I will build my church," which is a direct quoting of the book of Matthew 16:18, when Jesus says that to Peter. Ultron is attempting to build an alternate church to the one established by God, and we get the details of what that church would be like in the flashbacks Natasha has when she lived in the Soviet Union. There are, however, a couple of more details supporting this structuring of the narrative.
Black Widow, Natasha Romanoff, exposes her feelings for Dr. Bruce Banner in this installment, and in their attempts to decide if they can be together or not, as well as Scarlet Witch's mind tricks being at work, we get some of Nat's back story (discussed below). When Banner walks up to Natasha at the bar, he says, "What's a nice girl like you working in a place like this for?" and Natasha assumes a persona of having been wronged by a man who isn't so bad, a man who ends up being Banner himself. This is a skillful scene of how two incredibly skilled and talented individuals are so emotionally underdeveloped and vulnerable, that in order to reveal their emotions and feelings for the other, they have to hide behind a mask to do it.  
First of all, Stark's back-up AIs (after he believes Jarvis has been killed by Ultron) is named "Veronica." The name Veronica means, "true image," and comes from the moment in the Passion of Jesus when a woman gave Him a cloth to wipe the blood and sweat from His face and His image was left upon that cloth, so she was called "Veronica" thereafter, because of this blessing she had received. This is Tony's back-up AIs; his second back-up AIs, is named Friday. It's possible that this is a reference to the film His Girl Friday, which is a classic comedy and superb film; but there's nothing that really fits in with using this reference as an interpretative basis for the film. There is, however, if we remember Good Friday, the day God sacrificed Himself for us and our sins, and Ultron's reference to Noah (not just the biblical character, but Darren Aronofsky's pro-socialist film Noah as well). Is this pushing the interpretative envelope too far? No, and watch me produce a "Catholic rabbit" out of my hat to prove it,...
This scene is incredibly rich, including when Fury comes out in the barn to surprise Stark trying to work on the tractor and Stark says, "It's been a Eugene O'Neill long day," which is a reference to the Pulitzer Prize winning play Long Day's Journey Into Night, about a dysfunctional family who loves each other nevertheless, and try to work out their differences, with their last resort being that to a state of Grace and the vows they have taken to stay together. This reflects the Avengers family, too. At one point, Ultron says that he and his droids have what the Avengers don't: harmony, and that's how he will defeat them. It's true, they fight, they have issues with one another and they don't always get along, but when they come together, as they do in the image at the top, when they are all attacking the castle together, they are unstoppable, and that's because of their hearts, their courage and their love. In the scene above, the Avengers are crashing at Hawkeye's place with his family. As the plane lands, Tony repeats what Barton told him, "It's a safe house," and when Laura comes out and kisses Barton, Tony says, "That's an agent," thinking that this is a SHIELD spot that has been provided as a protection Laura is there as a cover-up, and then the kids come out and, at a loss, Stark says, "And those are little agents,..." Why doesn't Stark understand that this is Barton's home? Because why, when a man has the "American Dream" of a home, some land and a family, would he risk life and limb everyday to fight with the Avengers? We know it's because he has the American Dream that he is willing to fight for it, that he wants a safe world for his family, and all families, and for all to have the dream that he has (even Banner would like to have what Barton has). On a slightly different note, this house and land is nearly identical to what we saw in The Conjuring, with the mother Carolyn becoming possessed. In The Avengers 2, having a home is what gives Barton the strength and courage to do what needs to be done and even inspire others to do the same (like Scarlet Witch); in The Conjuring, having a home is punished by "possession" because Carolyn wanted to "posses" the house and that endangers her whole family and others. The difference between the two films aptly describes the differences between the capitalist and socialist systems: capitalism seeks to inspire people to be better, whereas socialism intimidates people away from undesirable behaviors to a socialist system (for more, please see The Devil's Hour: The Conjuring & Demonic 'Possessions'). 
In The Lone Ranger, there is a scene where Tonto (Johnny Depp) is grilling a rabbit and other rabbits gather around, and Tonto throws them a bite of the grilled rabbit and they turn into blood-thirsty cannibals to eat it; this is a socialist representation of capitalism. I mention it because, in The Avengers 2, one of the Avengers makes the comments that all the drones have to be destroyed because they are reproducing faster than "Catholic rabbits," and that might seem like a put-down at first, however, there are two distinct scenes supporting a positive interpretation of this. First, we know Ultron wants to destroy all human life, and each of the Avengers, including Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, are fighting to preserve humanity, so that displays that life is an absolute good. Then there is Laura Barton, Hawkeye's wife, who is pregnant, and everyone is very happy for her, so pregnancy is a positive, especially when we consider what Natasha tells Banner,....
Now, let's talk about a little detail that is really important. As the Avengers are trying to evacuate people off the rising city, There are a couple of people that Tony tells to "get into the bathtub" and they get into the tub. This probably doesn't mean much to most people, but we have been on the lookout for such signs, and here it is. In Beasts Of the Southern Wild, a decidedly anti-socialist film, the place where Hushpuppie lives is called "The Bath Tub" and in trailers for George Clooney's next film Tomorrowland, which will be decidedly pro-socialist, he and the girl get into a bathtub to escape the capitalists. Beasts Of the Southern Wild was nominated for several Academy Awards, and we shouldn't put it pass Clooney to try and re-write the film pro-individual film in favor of a pro-government film by replacing the symbol and altering its meaning; we should not put it past Marvel Studios, however, to head off Clooney at the pass, and remind us of the real meaning of the Bath Tub in Beasts Of the Southern Wild and how it's up to us to save ourselves and help each other out, as Iron Man does for these people who can't escape the floating city (Iron Man 3 did this with the massacre that was depicted in The Lone Ranger; please see A Bad Trade: The Lone Ranger & Re-Writing History for more).
When Natasha was being trained in the Soviet Union by Madame B to become an assassin, she relates, the graduation ceremony in The Red Room ("red" because that's the international color of socialism) was her sterilization so she would never be faced with having to chose her child over a mission, then she asks Banner, "Did you think you were the only monster?" What happens, or what is revealed when Scarlet Witch has entered into Natasha's mind and she starts having her flashbacks to when she was being trained?
What do the ballerinas mean?
What's the meaning of this scene? Why does it work here, but it doesn't work at the end? Here we have the Hulk being conflicted between his animal instincts that have been let loose when he turned into the Hulk, and his higher, civilized instincts of Dr. Banner, and the gentleness Black Widow demonstrates is meant to tease out the civilized Dr. Banner, just as, later, when Banner wants her to run off with him, she kisses him, that was meant to bring out the animal in him because she needed the Hulk. At the end, it's undecidable which of the Hulk's instincts are controlling him as he turns off the camera screen and flies off towards Fuji: is it his animal instinct that realizes he can't have what he ultimately wants (his animal appetites) or is it that Dr. Banner is learning to have greater control over his "green side" and his highest level of discipline and self-control unite in self-sacrifice to preserve Natasha, the Avengers and, even, himself? He turns off the screen as he is still the Hulk, because he doesn't want to (basically) be converted back to his human self that will be even more under Natasha's control and the desire to run off together. Contrasting the settings, in the image above, they are in a forest, which usually symbolizes the uncontrollable forces within us that we have not disciplined and faced (the forest is the opposite of a garden, which is planted, tended and harvested, whereas a forest is wild and left to its own determination). In the scene towards the end, the Hulk is in one of the most technologically advanced settings in the world, Stark's stealth mode plane, but he chooses to leave Natasha and the Avengers. We could say that the "natural setting" of the forest above, while not ideal for personal advancement, does at least show the Hulk himself in a natural way: the desire to not be alone, regardless of anything and everything, whereas the scene that takes place in the plane is an artificial setting, constructed and advanced, and shows the Hulk himself in a setting that isn't natural to him, that is, that it's better to be alone than undertake the burdens of love and be transformed by it.
There isn't like a "set symbol" of what a ballerina means, however, we can deduce what the scene wants us to understand by contrasting the regular, normal girls in the dance glass, with Natasha's unusual, deadly training she's receiving in secret. Whereas most girls go through some sort of dance class when growing up to help them with their poise, grace and form, Natasha's childhood was filled with violence and obedience to the state, with no thoughts towards her own desires and individuality; being able to reproduce and have children, i.e., having the kind of life that Clint and Laura Barton have, is desirable and good, but it's an impossibility for Bruce Banner and Natasha Romanoff, which leads us to the conclusion of how very blessed we are to be able to reproduce like "Catholic rabbits" in our normal, mundane lives where there are no hostile drones trying to kill us,... at least, not yet.
Thor and Stark share at least two things in this film: first, they both believe that, rather than Scarlet Witch "tricking" them into seeing their fears, they have been shown something which they have to do; secondly, they both create new beings in this film (more on Thor "creating" The Vision below). What does it mean when Thor goes into the pool, and why does he have to have Dr. Erick Selvig with him? The pool symbolizes cleansing, and by cleansing himself of all that is keeping him from advancing in virtue, Thor will not only be able to better reflect upon himself, but also, be able to better carry out what needs to be done that he realizes needs to be done as the fruits of his reflection. In his vision, the women look highly sexualized, but Thor isn't interested in them, he isn't tempted to engage any of them in relations, but he is confused; what we might say is that, since Heimdall (Idris Elba) speaks to Thor, Heimdall has "hijacked" Scarlet Witch's telepathic wavelength and ridden it himself to communicate to Thor the changes and chaos taking over Asgard in Thor's absence (since Loki is on the throne disguised as Odin). Part of the reason why the pool's water symbolizes cleansing is because it is also reflective, as in, personal meditation: Thor can be cleansed because he can reflect upon what is keeping him from doing what he needs to do, in this case, it appears, that his relationship with Jane (Natalie Portman) has kept him on earth while Asgard--like the United States--goes to hell with a usurper on the throne, and Thor is needed to put things back in order, so we can say that Thor has been shown something, but it (probably) wasn't what Scarlet Witch had in mind. Because Thor doesn't quite know what is going to happen when he enters the pool, and because he will be vulnerable when he is in this state of "soul searching," that is why Selvig is with him, to protect Thor if something should go wrong. Tony, on the other hand, also claims that he was shown something, not tricked, when he sees Nick Fury in the barn. Is this the same thing? No, it's not. You know a tree by the fruit it bears, and because Thor bore the good fruit of The Vision, and Tony basically bore the bad fruit of Ultron (and because we know Tony is the one who will start the Civil War in Captain America 3) we can say that Tony was tricked by Scarlet Witch, just as Black Widow and the Hulk were tricked. 
Getting back to the religious framework of the film, please don't forget that when Tony arrives at the church for the final showdown, Ultron asks him, 'Have you come to confess your sins?" Thrown off by the suggestion, Tony replies, "I don't think there's enough time." That in and of itself is Tony's confession, that he is sinful, so much so, that confessing all his sins would take an awful lot of time. It also adds another dimension to the Iron Man-Ultron relationship: Ultron is Tony's sin, but in highlighting all the bad things that Tony has done (remember, Scarlet Witch telling Captain America that Ultron is the way he is because he "takes after" Tony) the fight against Ultron demonstrates all the good that is in Tony's heart and his love for his friends and humanity in general. But Tony being Ultron's "old man," i.e., father, leads us to now consider Thor and The Vision.
Please note that Thor, above at Stark's party, and The Vision, share the same color palette, in these scenes, a deep, deep red bordering on purple and gray bordering on blue. When Stark and Banner are uploading Jarvis to the body that was being created in the Cradle, they weren't able to complete it, so Thor comes in and with his hammer, the god of thunder harnesses lightning to complete the necessary power requirement to bring The Vision to life. Yes, this is very Dr. Frankenstein. When The Vision has come to life, he looks at Thor and sees Thor's cape, so he generates a cape for himself; why? The shoulders symbolize our burdens, what has been placed upon us to shoulder, or what we choose to shoulder and, in the case of The Vision, he chooses to shoulder the same burdens as his "father," Thor. So what does The Vision symbolize? The Soul Gem is on his head, so we can say that The Vision is the perfect embodiment of emotion and thought, action and contemplation; he is "The Vision" of what a perfect humanity would be, loving, with the ability to suffer, but not be brought down by it, rather, to be made better and more compassionate through it. 
When The Vision first comes out of the Cradle, he says "I Am." This is clearly a reference to Jesus saying, "Before Abraham was, I Am," (John 8:58). Is that making The Vision into an idol? Absolutely not, it's making The Vision into a metaphor for the true religion that we, and the Avengers, should all be following, in everything we do, especially in the fight against evil and socialism (please, recall that, in The Avengers, Captain America is going to Berlin to fight Loki and Black Widow warns him, "Be careful, he's a god," to which Captain replies, "There's only one God and he doesn't dress like that,").
What about the mid-credits scene?
This is the party scene, when each of the Avengers attempts to pick up Thor's hammer, and none are able to do so--Captain America budges it--and Thor deduces, "None of you are worthy." Doesn't that sound like arrogance? Well, it's not, it's actually genuine humility. Remember the events from Thor that made it possible for Thor to pick up the hammer, because Odin had made sure that Thor would not pick it up until he was worthy and that meant Thor offering himself as a sacrifice so the Destroyer wouldn't kill everyone on earth. There is a great price and heavy burden of responsibility to carrying the hammer, and Thor takes that upon himself (remember how the events of Thor 2: the Dark World nearly killed him). But it doesn't just work with the hammer: could Thor, a god, use Hawkeye's bow as well as Hawkeye does? Could Black Widow operate an Iron Man suit like Stark? Could Stark fight as well as Black Widow, or use Captain America's strength and shield as well as Rogers does? Could anyone control the strength and rage of the Hulk like Banner? Each member has their talents and skills which is the source of their individuality, and none of the others can replace any of the others; it's an important lesson, not only for the Avengers, but also for us, in our daily lives: we couldn't lift Thor's hammer either, but could Thor manage the type of day, with all its duties and responsibilities, that you have to go through? No, he couldn't, and that's okay, because that is the source of your uniqueness that you and only you can fulfill. 
Last but not least, what does it mean when we see the mid-credits scene and the glove, and the big guy, and his, "Fine, I'll do it myself?" Well, if The Vision is a metaphor for God, we can confidently say that Thanos is a metaphor of the devil, and he's been having his servants, such as Ultron, gather the Infinity Stones for him, or, rather, he tried having them collect them for him, but they have been failing.
At the top is Thanos and below is an Infinity Gauntlet which was on display at Comic Con. It has been pointed out that the original Gauntlet was first seen in Thor, as it was kept in Odin's treasure room, but Marvel Studios has clarified the situation by saying that Thanos has a second Gauntlet, there is one for each hand, and Odin has one, Thanos the other.
The best explanation of how Marvel Studios is going to use the Infinity Stones, and how they want us to understand them, is in Guardians Of the Galaxy, when Gamora presents one of the stones to The Collector:
If you will recall from the film, even though the Elders weren't able to hold the Stones together without being destroyed, towards the end of the film, "Star Lord" and his gang do successfully hold the stone and channel the power to save the universe, so this is an important plot thread for us to keep track of as it's setting up The Avengers 3: Infinity Wars Parts 1 & 2. Outside the plots of the films, what does Thanos going after the Infinity Stones himself mean? That someone like Thanos is trying to collect and accumulate all power in the world in themselves for complete and total control for the ultimate extinction of humanity, just like what Ultron himself is aiming for in the film (please recall the new film Aurora which is coming out and has the exact same premise, (you can watch the trailer here).
Tony has made his wardrobe almost as famous as his Iron Man suits, and the Bruce Lee tee he wears in this film is no exception. Why this one? Lee learned fighting because he was getting seriously bullied, and the good that came out of that bad situation produced one of the greatest and most legendary Kung Fu artists of all time, which is probably the reason  Robert Downey was attracted to the tee, because this is his own. He was approached by Shannon Lee, related to Bruce, who sells merchandise, and Downey quickly became a fan of the shirts and wanted to wear one in The Avengers, which means the shirts are now selling out world-wide. This is a perfect example of the free market and healthy capitalist functioning. 
The Avengers 2: Age Of Ultron is so rich and complex, there is no possible way I can possibly comment upon everything, but I hope that I have brought out some things for your own edification which will deepen your engagement with the film even more. This film has set the stage for both Captain America 3: Civil War, and Thor 3: Ragnarok; don't be surprised that Ant-Man, opening this summer, will also have some tie in with these other Marvel films.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner