11 Days of Marvel: The Avengers


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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

Bill’s Rankings:

1Captain America: The First Avenger

2The Avengers

3Iron Man

4Thor

5The Incredible Hulk

6Iron Man 2

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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.

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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.

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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.

Erin’s Rankings:

1Captain America: The First Avenger

2Iron Man

3The Avengers

4Thor

5The Incredible Hulk

6Iron Man 2
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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!


Bill Coberly

About Bill Coberly

Bill Coberly is the founder and now Editor Emeritus (that means he doesn't really do anything any more) of the Ontological Geek. He currently studies law at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, where he lives with his wonderful wife and a pair of small and snuggly terriers.