A DC Fan’s Spoiler-Packed Dissection of ‘The Avengers’
WARNING: There will be spoilers. All of them.
In many ways The Avengers is both every action movie you’ve ever seen, and in many ways its the first of its kind. Like many action movies, it’s a bit thin on plot–and this film once again was just a stall for the next (the villain is revealed to be Darkseid Thanos)–but there’s never been a truly superhero team-up movie like this. In animation, sure, but live action, with the kind of budget and a six year slow burn of anticipation and presumed mapped out story that would cover about nine features altogether. A lot has been built up into this, and it largely lived up to the hype. But what really sells it is the character work. In between massive action scenes is Joss Whedon’s great eye for poppy dialogue and character beats. We’ll take each character starting with Captain America/Steve Rogers.
Cap is still in a pretty bad way, transplanted decades and having lost all of his friends and his true love to time, and, hell, I’d be mad too if I was a virgin in my seventies, but that’s neither here nor there. The world he’s in now is vaguely familiar at best, and it’s played well here. He’s not only lost on pop culture and technology, but almost everyone seems to revere him as some kind of deity. His simplicity is almost quaint in this world of complexity; even his patois and black-and-white way of thinking (he couldn’t even fathom the idea of Nick Fury and SHIELD having ulterior interests) is just out of date. However, there are some things that just never go out of style. His Loki/Hitler comparison rang true, as did his dialogue with Nick Fury. I can’t quote it word for word (it’s 4:54AM as I write this), but it’s to the effect of:
Nick Fury: “That’s kind of old fashioned.”
Steve Rogers: “Considering how complicated things are these days, don’t you think a little old fashioned would be good?”
Now, if only my beloved GOP would use that as a slogan, give God a rest, and stay out of other people’s bedrooms we just might be able to get our stuff together. Or better yet, go the Libertarian route and let’s put Gary Johnson and James Gray in the White House.
Sorry about the tangent.
Moving on to Iron Man, we finally get some serious character beats, along with the usual spastic behavior. (In a perfect world, DC would be able to draft him and Bucky Barnes over. It would be worth it for his interactions with Batman, Superman, Guy Gardner and Hal Jordan alone.) Cap really takes Stark to task for his narcissism and combined with the sudden death of Phil Coulson, Stark really takes it on the chin and we get to see if he’s capable of making the “big sacrifice” as Cap put it.
Black Widow, introduced in the bloated and meandering Iron Man 2, gets a great deal of development among moments of violence and tasteful shots of her ass. Her mind is structured and organized, she’s cold (which is good for Scarlett Johansson’s range) but has deep seated regrets and a desire for some kind of redemption. On top of that we get to understand just what a great spy she is from her out-flanking Bruce Banner and her deceiving of Loki (a real nifty trick considering, you know, he’s Loki).
Thor, meanwhile, has grown up in some way. He’s not nearly as brash or indignant; he’s fighting for humanity, while being genuinely hurt that his brother has repeatedly betrayed him and still hoping against hope for some kind of happy family reunion.
Plot wise, something I really appreciated was the idea of a council that oversees SHIELD, and when you think of someone that could give Samuel L. Jackson shit and seem like a legitimate threat, it’s Powers Boothe. It’s also a great idea to have some oversight on, you know, a guy who has a giant invisible flying aircraft carrier and was in possession of an incredibly powerful weapon that even demi-gods frown at. I also appreciated that even though human beings were considered low-threat, our weapons—bullets, nukes—proved to be effective. Unfortunately, that’s at the expense of the Chitauri army. More on the negatives later.
Finally, we come to Nick Fury. What makes him really come to life as a war general is his constant ability to adapt. If we can’t arm ourselves accordingly, let’s do something loud and blast a shot across the universe’s bow. That’ll learn ‘em. He’s a master manipulator and strategist, and incredibly resilient, navigating a moral gray zone that’s full of drunken billionaires, armchair warriors, unstable doctors, demi-gods, and an ice cold spy with an ass that won’t quit and tits that’ll leave you begging for buttermilk. In the middle of all of this, he’s calm, he’s self-assured, he’s unwavering. He’s the Nick Fury we’ve seen hinted at since 2008 in full view. He lived up to the Sam Jackson legend.While the free-for-all of Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, and Thor fighting each other seems to pad out the story and provide a necessary fan-wank, these two confrontations manage to still show us a great deal about these characters—how they react to situations and how they react to each other—and is all part of feeding you action and a little bit of character work as well.
The high point of the film is the scene in the lab where Loki’s pimp cane starts to effect the Avengers and they not only start arguing and talking over each other, but they start to chronically tell the truth. What follows is some sad truths and human weakness; something Whedon is a master at capturing and expressing.
Now, this isn’t a perfect movie. As I said, the plot is thin and its villain is awful, which is a shame because Tom Hiddleston plays Loki with such zeal and hidden layers of complexity that almost came out a few times here and in Thor.
For some reason, Loki has an army and they can be taken down by some asshole with a bow and arrow. We learn almost immediately that Loki now works for some higher beings (the Other, played by Alexis Denisof), and Loki himself is repeatedly outsmarted or beaten up by Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Cap, Hawkeye, Phil Coulson, and Black Widow. Hell, some old German guy doesn’t even worry much about him. So if he’s getting his butt kicked constantly, how are we supposed to take him as a serious threat? If Thor was about to beat him in his movie, would Loki really have much more luck against a team of people who won’t go easy on him because they grew up together?
Since Loki doesn’t work as a villain, The Avengers falls into the same trap as all of Marvel’s other movies (minus The Incredible Hulk, X-Men First Class and the first half of Iron Man): a total lack of suspense. At no point do you ever really feel that the world is coming to an end. The pieces and exposition and the odds are all laid out for you but it just doesn’t add up to anything. At no point do you feel a sense of foreboding, of something impending. It’s the Iron Man 2 syndrome, where there’s a lot going on, but it’s nothing of substance. No sense of danger. The Dark Knight Rises trailer is a good example. As much as I dislike the movies as well as Nolan’s pomposity, the trailer looks like some shit is about to go down. Between the music and the voice overs and the pale sky of Gotham, it makes you really wonder if Batman might actually die this time around. And that’s the problem with Marvel’s movies. There’s a little too much camp, a little too much fun and not enough of the heavy stuff to ground it.
Now that I mentioned him, the floodgate is open. Hawkeye. No, not my nickname for Stevie Wonder, but Clint Barton. He runs around shooting at people with a bow and arrow. The world is coming to an end and he’s running around with a bow and arrow. He’s a ripoff of Green Arrow who is a ripoff of Batman and Robin Hood. Fuck him and his Chris Jericho haircut.
While we’re on the topic of shit characters that add nothing to the movie—the Hulk makes an appearance. Good god, what a waste this guy is. He’s a brute who hits things indiscriminately. The only thing incredible about him is the fact he has a fanbase and has had longevity in the industry. It’s a real shame because Bruce Banner—and the germ of the idea—is pretty interesting. Banner repeatedly refers to the Hulk as “the other guy” who has messed up his life; this seemingly malignant entity that’s ruined his life and keeps him from banging Jennifer Connelly/Liv Tyler. Instead of a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde thing, the character is a one-note barbarian. The Incredible Hulk managed—thanks in large part to Edward Norton—to make the Bruce Banner character more at the forefront; make it more about the tragedy of one man’s life who must live with and eventually use this monster. Whedon and Penn do their best and Ruffalo is admirable as Banner—the revelation about his suicide attempt was a strong, sad, understated moment that the film has plenty of—but it doesn’t change the fact that whenever he goes full retard and becomes imbued with his requisite retard strength, the tragedy of Bruce Banner ends and the slapstick awfulness of Hulk begins.
So, as an audience experience the death of Agent Coulson was a bit of a wake up call and gave the proceedings a much needed sense of urgency. Coulson, thankfully, managed to go out on a note that was both snarky and prescient. It was his unfinished thought that gave Fury the idea and means to manipulate the team to work together.I understand that killing Phil Coulson would resonate with the audience. He’s a fun character that we’ve gotten used to seeing, we’ve gotten used to his snark. However, Zak Penn and Joss Whedon wanted to use his death as a way for the Avengers to come together. The problem is, Coulson never really had a relationship with these people. Stark always treated him like a case of the clap, when he met Thor briefly in, well, Thor, they weren’t friendly, and he only met Cap a few hours before he died. Cap even seemed a little creeped out by his fanboyism. I’m willing to let the Cap thing go because Fury wisely pulled at his heartstrings a bit, and Cap’s really a nice guy so there’s that. Meanwhile, I still don’t think he ever shared much screentime with Jericho or Widow, so it’s not like this is really going to resonate so much with the characters as it would with the audience.
Here’s a list of smaller complaints. Some of them are nit-picks.
1) Considering the speed of the glider, Black Widow’s arm should have been torn off when she grabbed on.
2) Coulson is wearing a Rolex watch with a President bracelet. That bracelet is used only on their gold or Platinum pieces, which in mens size start at about $30,000. A scene later, it’s now an Oyster bracelet, used on their stainless steel or steel and gold pieces. It certainly is never used on their white-gold or platinum pieces. It’s a moot point, I guess; he went back to the President bracelet in the next scene anyway.
3) Good thing Banner fell within driving distance of New York. He must have taken Plot Convenience Road on the way to I-90.
4) When Widow manages to get the info out of Loki, she talks into her earpiece, presumably to Fury. However, when we next see Fury he has no idea that Widow got him to talk. Who was she talking to if not Fury?
5) You can undo brainwashing by getting hit in the head.
6) Widow really beat Hawkeye pretty savagely. He doesn’t have a bump, bruise or scrape.
7) Gwyneth Paltrow.
8) The air-base is taking off, eventually in the air. Considering the altitude, it’s sensible that the outside workers are wearing oxygen masks. However, their jackets are windbreakers despite the fact it’d be incredible cold and windy, nor are they wearing protective footwear that would help them walk on the surface to keep them from blowing away. You know. Because of the wind.
Son of a bitch, it’s raining again.
I said before that you’ll notice a film’s soundtrack either when it’s really good or really bad. In this case, It’s exceptionally good. From the classical interludes to the AC/DC (I personally don’t care for them but I appreciate the nod to continuity), to shutting off the ambient noise and letting the music play over the battles, to those sad near-tragedies and close-up character moments, the soundtrack is perfect for every moment.I know that this sounds like chest pounding of a DC Comics fanboy, but it’s not like I’m actually finished praising what the film got right. From small things like Tony’s drinking to his thinking three moves ahead, to Cap actually using a gun, to Thor’s reluctance to torture/question his brother even after everything that’s transpired between the two, to Banner’s immediate fear about hurting innocent people after he’s calmed down, it’s those minor character beats that turn these characters into people; flawed and good.
Finally, we come to the directed action. A pretty important factor in an action movie. Again, like the soundtrack, it’s perfect. Kinetic and speedy yet easily discernible. It’s up close and smash-mouth but at no point are you every questioning what it is that you’re seeing. It’s really no surprise. Whedon cut his teeth on these vast battles on Buffy and the under-appreciated Angel, but it was nice to see him really cut loose here with an ample budget. Whedon has had experiences in dealing with ensemble casts of divergent and antithetical personalities. For a job like this, he’s the perfect man for the job; if it was almost anybody else, this very well could have been a disappointment.
The question this comes down to is: Was it worth the wait? Honestly, I can’t answer that exactly. As a casual viewer, I greatly enjoyed it. I imagine that the invested viewer/Marvel reader will either treat it as the word of God or as something to nit-pick to death until Avengers 2… like every other comic book fan over every comic book movie.
Just like me and Batman.
It’s stopped raining. Again.
The Avengers: 4 out of 5.