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Hollywood Blows up Imaginary Eastern European Nation, Blames Imaginary Russia

"Avengers: Age of Ultron" is based on unpublished NATO erotica written by Anne Applebaum, according to anonymous sources

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

One thing that I feel I'm entitled to enjoy as an American is to sit in an overcrowded theater and shovel Junior Mints into my mouth while I watch things explode, which is why I went to see Avengers: Age of Ultron on opening day. Having seen and liked a fair portion of the explosions in previous Marvel films, I was expecting great things from Ultron.

Five minutes in, I realized I had been had. You thought this movie was about a crazy Stark Industries robot run amok and a critique of the Avengers' hubris? You thought wrong, friend! It's really about how Eastern Europe is a nightmarish hellscape where everyone speaks with cartoonish accents, as if they all hailed from whatever imaginary Muppet nation the Count on Sesame Street is from.

<figcaption>Come for the explosions, stay for the Russophobia!</figcaption>
Come for the explosions, stay for the Russophobia!

Look, I'm not naive. I don't ask for sensitivity or nuance from Hollywood. After all, this is the town that thinks Kevin Costner can solve racism. But if I'm going to shell out $10, I'd prefer to be entertained rather than harangued.

Are you ready for some stupid plot details?

Scarlet Witch is a native of “Sokovia”, a nebulous war-torn area in an equally nebulous region of Eastern Europe (Ukraine? Kosovo? What's the difference?). Played by Elizabeth Olsen, Scarlet is clad in goth garb and speaks in what has got to be one of the most God-awful Russian accents caught on film since Boris and Natasha. In fact, it is so bad that I couldn't tell if it was intentional Russophobia or just crappy acting. Probably a delightful mixture of the two.

I have been exposed to Russian, Ukrainian, and Hungarian accents, and there is nothing realistic in Olsen's performance. There is even something of the “savage” in her boilerplate vernacular. Scarlet Witch speaks otherwise flawless English but is somehow unable to wrap her head around usage of the past tense. Her speech pattern has such a “Me Tonto” quality to it that it vacillates between distasteful and comical. Or maybe I'm overreacting. After all, Sokovia isn't a real place, and nobody really knows what their accents might sound like — it's just a coincidence that she sounds like the Evil Russian stock character. Olsen is supposed to be the lone legitimate actress in her otherwise untalented family, so perhaps she was told by director Joss Whedon to ham it up so even the stupid Americans in the audience would understand she was supposed to be from fake Russia.

There could, of course, be an innocent explanation for the trite representation of Eastern Europeans in Ultron. Unfortunately, having seen the Netflix companion series, Daredevil, and its featured clichéd Bad Guy Russian characters, I am forced to assume that Marvel wants to cash in on the current anti-Russia hysteria. After all, it makes things much easier for the Hollywood suits to have the bad guys be Russkies instead of Middle Easterners for the obvious reason that they won't get accused of racism. We can still blow up Muslim-types with flying death robots though, amirite?

If they had simply portrayed Scarlet Witch as the victim of science experiments that left her with superpowers (win!) but a tragic speech impediment (fail!), I guess I could have dismissed it as bad acting. However, I found the movie's portrayal of Eastern Europe to be outdated and offensive. It is summer in the scenes that take place in Anywhere, USA, but Sokovia is forever trapped in a bleak midwinter. The landscape is rife with decrepit buildings featuring scary Cyrillic writing; the populace is poverty-stricken and terrorized by abusive ushanka-sporting police officers. Finally, after the Avengers have succeeded in destroying Sokovia, the fleeing citizens, in their horrific fake accents, thank the Avengers for saving them.

Equally thankful is Scarlet Witch, who realizes her error in joining Ultron's crusade against the Avengers. A Stark Industries bomb killed her parents and destroyed her home. Another Stark bomb landed in the rubble where she and her brother were hiding. Ultimately, she realizes that the Avengers had good intentions after all, and her suffering was all for the greater good. And so, after her life is ruined by the Avengers, she decides to join the Avengers team. Sounds reasonable. 

This brings me to Ultron himself. He is a giant robot bent on destroying the Avengers. Created by Stark with the intention to protect humanity, Ultron gets it into his silly little head that the Avengers are actually the main threat to humanity. His argument? The Avengers go on the offensive to prevent later disasters. They destroy entire cities trying to defeat a single bad guy. They start wars in order to avoid wars. Sound like anyone you know? The Maximoff twins decide to partner up with Ultron after the death of their creator, a mad (wait for it) German scientist (who was of course wearing a monocle).Yes, the Avengers are very destructive, but, as Scarlet Witch comes to realize, they are 'morally good'.

The irony of creating a made-up Eastern European country so they can civilize one of its natives is that this production actually took the time to film on location in Seoul, South Korea. However, the movie is only in Seoul for a hot minute, and they spend the last thirty minutes in a place that doesn't even exist. Admittedly, I haven't read the comics and I'm certain this all fits in with some nerdy comic book canon, but they're honestly telling me they couldn't have filmed in Europe, and they couldn't have found a Russian actress to play Scarlet Witch? They could cast a Korean actress as the Korean scientist, but they couldn't put away the Cold War-era stereotypes? But it's possible that authenticity isn't really their goal. While they were in Seoul, I noticed that the street cops were packing pistols. Street and traffic cops in South Korea don't carry guns, unless this production wants us to believe that it's totally normal for police in “civilized” “US ally” countries to be armed to the teeth.

I have always been a big Joss Whedon fan, so it's not like I went into this as a hater. Whedon used to bill himself as a kind of Hollywood outlaw, but this movie is pure establishment propaganda. I'm disappointed that his latest Avengers movie has taken on Russophobic overtones in order to be trendy. If these blockbuster movies want to hang on to the Russian market, they must do better than portraying Russians and Eastern Europeans as villains or eternal victims.

Man, I sure hope there isn't a Putin-headed velociraptor in Jurassic World.

Lisa Marie White is an American living outside the Matrix. Like many Millenials, her interests include: disliking Baby Boomers, wasting time on social media, and trying out and then abandoning fitness and diet trends. She also secretly hopes there is a Putin-headed velociraptor in Jurassic World. To tell her she is a Kremlin troll, Tweet at her: @lisa_white

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