Day 6 of 11 Days of Marvel is here! In this project, Bill and Erin go through every single extant film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and write their reactions to them! The project started here, with Iron Man, or you can click here to see all the articles in the project so far. Today is about:
The Avengers (2012)
Bill’s Response: A Thousand Whirring Gears
Here, then, is the movie which attempts to deliver on the promise made by Nick Fury at the very end of the first movie in the MCU. “I’m here to talk to you about the Avenger Initiative,” he said, and we all waited for four years to see if it would really happen. I remember going into The Avengers with no idea what to expect, the first time. I knew I generally liked Joss Whedon, and I knew that I liked at least most of the movies before it, but I had no idea if Whedon and company could really pull off a project this ridiculous.
In a lot of ways, The Avengers is a heist movie. The movie builds a team, makes a plan, blows that plan up, and then shows the team working together to pull something off anyway. It is the Ocean’s 11 of superhero movies. And like most heist movies, the movie isn’t about anything except the joy of the action itself. This isn’t a movie with Things to Say, nor is it a movie about one character’s growth as a person. It’s a movie about a team coming together and Saving the World. Its themes are broad: freedom is good, teamwork is good, tyranny is bad, nuclear strikes against Manhattan are bad. The Avengers does not pretend it’s an allegory for anything political. Whedon has also been fairly clear that he doesn’t think it’s a “great” movie. Instead, it’s a fun movie.
And it is that, though you don’t need me to tell you that. The Avengers is the third-highest grossing film of all time. Everyone reading this has seen it. But there’s a tremendous amount of craftsmanship in the writing of The Avengers that I think sometimes goes unnoticed. Just because a movie is primarily “fun” doesn’t mean it wasn’t a ton of hard work that’s worthy of praise. Whedon is faced with an impossible task: write a movie starring between four and six protagonists, all of whom were introduced in other movies, most of those in entirely different styles. Bring them together as a team, introduce some interesting character dynamics, deal with a (hopefully) interesting villain, and finally have them triumph in a way that feels earned and not perfunctory. Oh, also, set things up for future movies, some of which you don’t have any control over whatsoever. Given that set of restrictions, I dare most filmmakers to make a movie which is even watchable, never mind half as much fun as The Avengers.
This movie exists as proof of concept for the entire MCU. They’ve established that they can make pretty good individual movies, with three solid entries and two movies which aren’t great but, let’s be honest, are better than most superhero movies. Give me Iron Man 2 over Fantastic Four or X‑Men Origins: Wolverine any day of the week. But The Avengers manages to wrangle all the players into the same room and proves they can work together to make something fun. What The Avengers really has to say is, “Look, this is possible.” And it worked. It’s a good movie, and it made a bazillion dollars.
The movie is a whirring collection of a million little moving parts, and most of them seem to work just fine. The two main action sequences flit from one character to the next, first, in the helicarrier, showing them fighting amongst each other as cogs in Loki’s plan. Then, in New York, no sooner does one character walk offscreen than another catapults on. Every time you start to ask “Yeah, but what is X up to,” the camera pans directly to that character, showing that he or she was just a few blocks away the whole time. The final fight action sequence, rather than being a mindless punchfest, exists primarily to characterize all of the Avengers. The movie doesn’t pretend Hawkeye or Captain America can really go toe-to-toe with Thor, but they distribute everyone according to their strengths. Hawkeye up top, calling out targets for Iron Man. The Black Widow keeping her head and getting to the heart of the matter rather than trying to scrap with the badguys on the ground floor. Captain America spends most of the fight rescuing people. People mentioned that the last 45 minutes of Ultron seems to be partly a response to Man of Steel’s callous indifference to civilian casualties, but The Avengers understood it even before Superman wrecked Metropolis.
I’ve often said that the best part of reading A Song of Ice and Fire is watching Martin build some horrible, bloody clockwork machine right before your eyes. The Avengers feels like that, too, though of course on a smaller and PG-13er scale. It’s a masterpiece of moving parts, all mostly working together to create a delightful whole. Do I want all my superhero movies to feel like this? No. I want some of them to explore more complicated areas or showcase more difficult choices. But sometimes I want to laugh and clap along as all of my favorite superheroes get together to fight the Big Bad.
Favorite Moment: It is very difficult to pick. Probably the long tracking shot in New York, showing the team working in various configurations: Iron Man and Captain America, Thor and the Hulk, etc. It brings home that everyone is involved in this battle, and shows how they are slowly becoming a team.
Least Favorite Moment: The old man in Stuttgart who says “there are always men like you” is nice and heartwarming, but the moment that precedes it is pretty weak. Loki’s whole “freedom is bad, submit to my rule” spiel is pretty trite, plagiarized straight from the textbooks of Supervillainy 101. There isn’t really room for a nuanced villain in The Avengers, packed as it is with character beats for the Avengers themselves, but I still wish Loki’s motivations were something stronger than “I want to Rule the World.” Ultron is a much more interesting villain for the Avengers, with his shifting motivations and complex characterization. Loki here is just a one-note megalomaniac. At the end of the day, that’s fine: as with Captain America: The First Avenger, this movie is not really about the villain.
1. Captain America: The First Avenger
2. The Avengers
3. Iron Man
5. The Incredible Hulk
6. Iron Man 2
Erin’s Response: Hulk Rolled a 20
The Avengers feels like a D&D game where no one in your party knows what should happen next, but everyone is 100% committed to their ridiculous character traits. To say this movie is overstuffed is generous – it is the fried chicken Domino’s pizza of movies. The names are too big, the characters too broad, and the plot is oddly juvenile. Loki, having now officially given up on winning Anthony Hopkins’ approval, instead decides to mind control a bunch of scientists and invade the world. Ok. Thor, who really doesn’t seem to understand how bad things have gotten until the end of the movie, keeps thinking that a few smacks from older brother will restore their Brady Bunch-esque closeness. If you are looking for plot, there doesn’t seem to be much here.
If, instead, you want scene after scene of awesome, then this is your movie. This movie is beautifully shot. I think I realized this the first time I saw it, but this time I was really struck by it. Incorporating all of the characters’ different fighting styles and figuring out how to show it in seamless sweeping shots is very difficult, particularly when this came out: chopping, excessively cut micro-shots were all the rage then.
It is excellent to see the tenuous bonds of friendship solidify not only around the group (Avengers, assemble!) but more codified allegiances within the Avengers. Banner and Stark become fast friends, while Hawkeye and the Black Widow seem to know that they are the weak (but fierce) links. Captain is on the outs, which is where he actually likes to be, and Thor is still not entirely sure he needs any of them. The Avengers is longer than most superhero movies, but still shorter than most other movies with this much going on, and here, it really packs a punch.
Best Moment: When Iron Man’s suit assembles on him in midair. This was so cool—the CG works beautifully, and I loved the fact that it has to scan him to make sure it was fitting properly. I also really liked when Natasha beat a whole gaggle of Russians up while she was tied to a chair. She has so much more vitality in this movie that it makes me even angrier about the way they handled her character in Age of Ultron.
Worst Moment: A lot of Banner’s secrets and reveals are redundant and anticlimactic. I think this movie would have been stronger if there was an actual reason for him to be on board, or perhaps if only a few knew members of the team knew what he really was. I find Ruffalo’s Banner kind of weak and simpering, so most of what they did with him this movie was subpar compared to the rest of the film.
Best Creature Design: I still love the flying hive space whale things. The way they move and the kind of destruction they wreak is fascinating, and I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it.
1. Captain America: The First Avenger
2. Iron Man
3. The Avengers
5. The Incredible Hulk
Finally, a divergence in the rankings! That’s it for The Avengers and Phase 1 of the MCU! Join us tomorrow for Iron Man 3!