Spoilers for "Avengers: Age of Ultron" lie ahead!
This weekend American audiences were finally reunited with the Avengers as a team, after a painful three-year absence that was only satiated by a gaggle of awesome solo movies. However, for the titular band of heroes in "Avengers: Age of Ultron," the time-span between battles of good versus evil was significantly less, and for Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johnansson) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth), that time was peppered with additional body-count-heavy confrontations with Dark Elves, Hydra and some evil science bros.
So the question is fair -- are the Avengers really capable of marching back into battle right now, after already dealing with a ton of life-altering tragedy in a short amount of time? According to licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Andrea Bonior, the answer to that question -- in the real world, anyway -- would be a definite "no," for more than one reason.
"This whole experience of saving the world itself is probably very anxiety provoking," she explained. "That is a lot of adrenaline, and we need a breather from that. Our bodies and our minds need to come off that intense experience... to regroup. We need time to heal -- to recalibrate ourselves, get some rest, and not jump into immediately another adrenaline-pumping situation, because it is a chronic stressor when we jump from one to the next... that often seems to make the most difference in terms of negative effects on our health."
Additionally, Dr. Bonior pointed out that outside of the physical toll that stress can take on the body, the emotional fallout and PTSD from the sudden fame that most of them found after the Battle of New York could be staggering.
"There is a pretty big risk of emotional fallout because you are on top of the world, everybody is looking at you as being the star of the show, and you're almost viewed as infallible," she explained. "That can mean you have a long way to fall, and that you are bound to disappoint people or disappoint yourself, and then you may induce a lot of pressure in terms of having to live up to this larger than life hero... that can be an emotionally vulnerable time, because there is nowhere to go but down."
Sounds rough, and because Marvel's biggest heroes have all had to deal with a world of unfathomably high-stakes trauma, it gets worse. Here's what else our various heroes might have in store down the road psychologically:
According to Bonior, the fact that Tony has already been to therapy is a positive sign. And as for the effect his various traumas have had on his personal life, the main thing is staying honest and open with his friends and family -- especially Pepper Potts.
"He definitely has got to make sure that he is showing parts of himself that are real and true, and that [Pepper] is definitely getting to know the emotionally vulnerable person rather than just the image of him as a superhero," she said. "In that case, [it's important] to work out that emotional intimacy, and to make sure that you are actually revealing parts of yourself that feel true to who you are -- that it is not just hero worship; it is not just a façade. You are actually letting yourself feel comfortable, to show your true colors and try to live in the day to day rather than the just high intensity part of the relationship.
"I don’t think they're necessarily at home watching movies, but trying to connect on that day to day comfort level without always having the adrenaline rushes all the time [is important]."
While Cap doesn't necessarily have to deal with the "muscle exhaustion and fatigue" that comes with constant, suit-less fighting in the way that Black Widow or Hawkeye might, he does really need to come out of that 1940's shell and confront the sh-tty, life-altering "man out of time" situation that stripped away everything he knew.
"Sense of community is so important to our well-being -- sense of friendship; sense of being part of something that is not just you," Dr. Bonior said. "His biggest risk is going to be isolation, both metaphorically and literally in terms of his social life. He may feel very isolated and alienated from modern society, and quite frankly, he is going to be missing and mourning the friends and relationships that have gone on and that have ended without him... the biggest risk would be severe loneliness, feeling out of place, feeling very isolated. And of course, that would lead to severe depression. Because for him, he will be feeling disconnected from everything."
So... maybe it's time to ask out Agent 13 after all?
Thor seems to be pretty great at laughing things off with a wink and some of that signature wit, which might have something to do with the fact that he's god and not man. However, for a mere mortal, dealing with Loki's betrayal would be "We Need to Talk About Kevin" levels of disastrous.
"You’ve got a couple of different risks," Dr. Bonior explained. "One of them, of course, is he could have been vicariously traumatized through what happened. If he hasn’t really worked through that and understood that, that could be bad news. The other risk is that association that other people have [with Loki]. For him, to be living a life known as the brother of this person is going to be something that could be risky, because it gets to a point where it becomes part of his life and his identity... it becomes part of his persona to become associated with this; it clearly casts a shadow over him."
Black Widow (And Hulk)
Bonior agreed with MTV News that Bruce Banner's (Mark Ruffalo) devotion to therapy and controlling his anger is invaluable for his psyche, but if he wants to have a successful relationship with Natasha, she's going to have to break her usual habits and embrace complete openness and honesty... because if she doesn't, he just might Hulk Out.
"As long as communication is good, then these relationships do have a chance, because people might find that they connect on... these unusual experiences they have that help them understand each other more than they would be able to with 'normal' people," Dr. Bonior explained. "The key is communication. If they don’t communicate honestly with each other, and if they don’t allow themselves to open up and be vulnerable with each other, then they are just hiding feelings and traumas If you are not being honest with yourself... with Hulk, he does run the risk of everything just coming out and exploding."
Here's where the spoilers come in, folks -- towards the middle of "Ultron," we learn that Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) has a double life as Clint Barton, devoted husband and father to multiple children. This seems to help the character blow off steam and maintain his chill, but Dr. Bonior feels that compartmentalizing life to such an extreme level could have negative side effects.
"[Hawkeye] runs the risk of... sort of flickering off and becoming detached from [his] own emotional reality, because the more that you actually live a lie, the less honest you are with yourself as well," she explained. "So it’s hard for us to say he is completely healthy... there are altruistic motives [behind hiding his family], but it still makes you used to deception, and used to compartmentalizing things. Having this secret is going to have an impact later on your personal health, even though his heart is in the right place, and he did what he needed to do."
... In other words, the Avengers need to take that astronomical opening weekend money and apply it to more time in therapy.