Avengers: Age of Ultron reflects certain aspects of our society to us, the most interesting of which are the politics of security and protection. The subject is fraught in the American political system, but Avengers manages to simplify and distill the topic to an almost caricature-like comparison of two ideals. These are the attitudes of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers about how best to protect the world and each other against the threat of foreign invasion.
Tony Stark's type shouldn't be all that unfamiliar to us. He's a bombastic, super-wealthy white guy who's really, really scared of aliens invading his country (or planet) and doing horrible things to everyone he holds dear. He ought to run for president. Recall the sequence in which Scarlet Witch makes him hallucinate all of the Avengers slaughtered at the hands of the Chitauri. Steve Rogers, with his final breath, blames Tony for letting it happen. Since one of Scarlet Witch's powers appears to be peeling back the layers of the heroes' psyches and exposing their deepest fears and regrets, we find that one of Tony's underlying problems is his inflated sense of self-importance. He believes that in spite of his team, it is ultimately up to him to safeguard them and the world from the terrors beyond.
So he creates a weapon to protect not just the world but the Avengers themselves from evil aliens. He uses technology that he doesn't fully understand, so the weapon turns on the Avengers and threatens to do everything Tony was afraid of in the first place. The irony is that the threat doesn't come from aliens; it comes from him and his need to control everything. This isn't lost on Tony; we see it come to the surface when he defends his actions to Nick Fury. While admitting that Ultron was a mistake, Tony holds fast to his conviction that he is the only one who can safeguard the Avengers and the world from a greater threat.
The one guy who isn't buying it is Steve Rogers. Steve knows that the evil aliens were certainly a threat, and he never makes light of how dangerous the Chitauri were. The difference here is that Steve isn't afraid of the aliens like Tony is. Steve recognizes that there are threats out there, and he remains vigilant for them at all times. Steve has faith in the power of his team, working together as one, to be able to overcome invading threats. This reflects Steve's belief in American cooperation as the ultimate answer against anything that threatens our country.
Tony puts his faith in himself, his money, and his weapons. In other words, Tony reflects the wealthy elite's faith in the military industrial complex, letting fear dictate all of their actions and setting up systems that ultimately harm the people they were meant to protect. They call it "preparation" and "investment." Recall Tony's "Iron Legion." There are shades of international military police in his automated sentinels. People hurl rocks and bottles at the robots because they reject Tony's arrogance. He believes he knows what's best for others, and he doesn't care if they don't like it. The automation that repairs and maintains the Legion also suggest Tony's impersonal approach to protection. He relies on tin soldiers, or toy soldiers, who are expendable and impersonal. If one dies, he just builds a new one. It's not unlike the way some U.S. Presidents have used American troops.
Steve reflects the concept of American exceptionalism, the true meaning of which has been forgotten and replaced by jingoism. Steve believes in a unified America who will pull together in times of crisis, set aside their disagreements with each other, and do what has to be done. He also believes that this process strengthens the bond of Americans, so that no extremism creeps into their worldview. It keeps us from becoming so polarized that we demonize each other. He demonstrated this by telling Tony that the Avengers would face any crisis together, whether they survived or not. An honorable and courageous death in the face of evil is better, in Steve's view, than to sell his soul to the wealthy in exchange for protection.
So whom does the movie side with? Whom does Whedon side with? Steve's method of handling threats proved to be effective against Ultron. The Avengers pulled together in the end and did what had to be done to stop Tony's renegade robot. That's not to say there still wasn't conflict amongst the team as they did so. A reminder, perhaps, that our problems and disagreements as Americans don't just go away when we need to come together, but it does demonstrate that we can triumph in spite of them.
One could argue that Tony's obsessive need to control was a good thing because it gave the team Vision, who was indispensable in turning the tide against Ultron. If Steve had had his way, they would have destroyed the Vision. A double-edged sword, perhaps? It's worth noting that reprogramming Vision was a big gamble, the sort of thing that only works out in comic books and movies with applied phlebotinum. If the Vision had agreed with Ultron, the story would have taken a much darker turn. But this is a PG-13 comic book movie, so it can't end with the Avengers getting slaughtered by Tony's rogue creations. How would they make Avengers 3 (parts 1 and 2. Grr.)?
With a presidential election looming in the near future, it's worth pausing to look at how our favorite characters and superheroes reflect concepts that will help us decide how we will live our own lives. The ancient Greeks did it with the stories of great heroes and gods. We do the same thing. Myth is a valuable tool for determining societal values. Avengers: Age of Ultron offers two versions of American security: Tony's fear-driven, elite version, and Steve's faith-based, cooperative version. A good question might be, if both of these men were running for president, which would you vote for?