Fans long theorized that Ultron somehow survived the events Avengers: Age of Ultron, practically from the moment the credits rolled. Four years and 12 films later, the homicidal artificial intelligence has yet to reemerge. However, the story trailer for the Avengers: Damage Control virtual reality experience suggests that Ultron might, finally, be making a return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
While Lucasfilm has confirmed its similar VR experience, Star Wars: Vader Immortal, is canon, Marvel has yet to make such a concession regarding Damage Control. But, come on, it’s fairly obviously set in the MCU. Aside from simply using their likenesses, several MCU actors, including Benedict Cumberbatch, Letitia Wright, Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly, reprise their roles for the project. Several other characters are shown but not heard, leaving open the possibility of more actors will appear.
Now, Marvel went out of its way to point out that the upcoming Marvel’s Avengers video game is a standalone title that sets up its own universe – which, notably, doesn’t include any MCU actor likenesses, voices or even costumes. Couple that with reports that Marvel Studios is taking over live-action series from Marvel Television, and the possibility that Hulu’s planned Ghost Rider series was abandoned because the film studio wants the character, and, again, it feels safe to assume that Damage Control is set firmly in the MCU.
So, with that settled, how is Ultron’s return even possible? Let’s start with the Damage Control reveal.
The crux of the Damage Control experience is that Shuri has recruited the player to test her Emergency Response Suits, a new prototype armor that combines Wakandan and Stark technologies. But, as Doctor Strange intones in a voiceover, “A powerful threat has resurfaced” to steal the tech. “This force has been waiting, rebuilding its strength in secret, until now.”
The camera then pans along a series of glowing red cables, leading to a strange, glowing mainframe-like structure, in what appears to be the ruins of Sokovia. Then, sure enough, there’s a building-sized Ultron, surrounded by hordes of drones.
So, OK, Ultron is alive. For sure. But how? Didn’t he die pretty definitively at the end of Age of Ultron?
Yes and no. Ultron was never, technically, given an on-screen death. There was a fairly final-sounding conversation between Vision and the last Ultron drone, a flash of light at a distance, and .. that was it. The audience simply trusted that Vision did the deed.
And, honestly, given Vision’s character, he probably did. However, that still leaves a couple of possibilities for Ultron’s resurrection.
The first – and, at this point, least likely – option is that Ultron was somehow absorbed into the Mind Stone by Vision. The problem, of course, is that the Mind Stone into which he would have been absorbed was summarily destroyed by Thanos in the opening moments of Avengers: Endgame. If Ultron was in there, he was most assuredly turned to atoms and scattered throughout the cosmos. (The stone retrieved later, during that movie’s Time Heist, and actually used during the Reverse Snap, was from well before the creation of Ultron. So, even if, as the theory suggests, there were some kind of Mind Stone shenanigans during that second Snap, releasing any minds trapped inside, it still wouldn’t have been the right stone for Ultron to have been released.)
Next up is the possibility that Vision somehow didn’t find the last Ultron drone. Maybe one other than the copy Viz confronted escaped, or was kept offline and in hiding. Or, perhaps, as was obliquely suggested during Vision’s “final” conversation with Ultron, he felt some kind of kinship and simply let the A.I. live.
That, in and of itself, could be enough: Ultron is an artificial intelligence, after all, and not merely a single robot. His army was, essentially, a bunch of little Ultrons; he could jump among them at will, and wouldn’t be “killed” until every last digital and physical copy of himself was destroyed. So if one did escape, or was spared, it’s not inconceivable that, with Vision and Tony Stark gone, a remaining Ultron might feel the need to go all evil and eradicate humans again.
However, the running cables and the strange, glowing structure in the trailer suggest something else: that Ultron had to rebuild himself. Which, conveniently, brings us to our third and final theory, the Squirrel Girl Protocol.
In Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 2 #23, it was revealed that, after being dragged into space and exploded by Thor, a fragment of Ultron’s finger entered Earth’s atmosphere and landed in the Savage Land. That fragment, small though it was, contained enough programming for Ultron to rebuild himself from scraps of technology stolen from the Savage Land’s Core, the artificial environment that kept said land savage.
Over the course of years, Ultron was able to create a new body for himself – an enormous, awesome robotic T-rex body.
Ultron rebuilding himself from scraps is, generally, an ongoing concern in the comics, and, even in the MCU, that’s basically how he first appeared, cobbling himself together from vibranium and Tony Stark’s junk pile. So that part of this theory certainly feels like a lock.
Factor in the Ultron dragon-frogs that appear at the end of the Damage Control trailer, though, and, well, Squirrel Girl showing up to fight a robot dinosaur really feels like the only possible conclusion to be drawn.
Avengers: Damage Control, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch, Letitia Wright, Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly, will be available at various The VOID virtual reality destinations for a limited run, including locations in New York City, Atlanta, Santa Monica, and Downtown Disney District in Anaheim, California. Tickets are on sale now.