Written by Zak Penn and Joss Whedon
Based on characters created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Directed by Joss Whedon
ATTENTION: THIS REVIEW HAS SPOILERS for everyone, so don’t read this if you haven’t seen it or care about being spoiled and all that jazz. Because there is really no way to get into the meat of the issue without discussing everything. And just to keep people from getting too upset, I’ll throw everything under the Roll Call so you have to click a button to read it….
Things go bad when the plots of the prior Marvel films collide and Loki pops out of the Tesseract to turn it into a portal to bring an army of aliens to invade the Earth and then the galaxy. After causing disasters and taking over minds, Nick Fury calls in everyone considered for the Avengers Initiative: Captain America, Iron Man, and Bruce Banner. Thor shows up, Black Widow is hanging around, and Hawkeye is mind-controlled by Loki. Everyone ends up arguing and mistrusting everyone as egos collide, but Loki’s attempts to drive them apart only end up making them work together to overcome his attacks. By the time the aliens do invade, the team has put their differences aside enough to save the world and give us a huge action sequence while limiting the damage to only hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of lives.
With an ensemble cast it is hard to focus too much on any one character. Everyone has to get some screen time, and with the various stars, their various styles, and the characters they play having their own egos and motives, there was great potential for this to become a huge mess. The balance seemed as good as you could get, especially since The Avengers was also saddled with the origin story baggage of dragging everyone together for the first time. We also learn more about the characters featured less in films: Hawkeye, Black Widow, and the Ruffalo version of Banner.
It was a massive pleasure to see Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk. As many have said, this feels like Hulk done right. Ruffalo does owe a debt to the prior incarnations, beyond Bana and Norton (who I liked very much) to the TV Banner, the influences from them all combined with Ruffalo being awesome and Whedon and Penn’s writing makes the perfect storm of Hulk awesomeness. Banner knows he dangerous, knows he could cause chaos at any time and kill everyone, but also dedicates himself to helping people. He has a sort of resignation and acceptance, his mentioned suicide attempt shows he thinks a lot about what he is. The later realization that the monster isn’t completely out of control gave him one of the few actual character arcs in the film, the rest of which was more of a Team going through a character arc.
Now we’ll deal more deeply with the core of the film. The Avengers continues the trend of Marvel films being bland and inclusive, not pushing any sort of message in an attempt to cast as wide a net as possible to maximize profits. But that doesn’t stop The Avengers from having messages, no matter how watered down or unintentional they are. And like it or not, things are there. There are a few hints of self-awareness (The Galaga joke is also a foreshadowing of the aliens invading with the same strategy!), but the scope of that was limited by the story outline demanded of the writers Joss Whedon and Zak Penn by Marvel. This does make The Avengers more self-aware than its predecessors, and also makes the mining of the film for meaning more fun.
SHIELD is every conspiracy theorist’s wet dream. Just think about it. We have a secret worldwide government organization with fantastic superweapons (including an invisible sky fortress, weapons powered by alien god technology, and super-powered humans) that answers only to a secret council (Majestic 12, anyone?) and can “hack the planet.” The secret council aspect was what made the actual US military decide to not help out on the film, because they didn’t know how the actual military fit in. But for every drunken idiot who screams about UN black helicopters, they were probably screaming from the rooftops about how “I knew it!”
Prior Marvel films seemed to be all over the map as to their stance on the military industrial complex. Tony Stark made his billions through selling weapons technologies, though when those weapons are turned on him he realizes the error of his ways and ends weapons production – except for his giant super war armor, which he uses to slaughter terrorists. By the second Iron Man, the armored suit as weapon technology had progressed to the point where multiple companies were working on suits and even the US military gets in on the action, physically taking one of Stark’s suits. The actions here seem more mixed between pro and anti-military industrial complex. The military seen getting their own suit is good, a major plot point is the US government trying to get their hands on Stark’s technology.
This is again contrasted as SHIELD’s Phase 2 plan to weaponize the Tesseract is played as a bad thing for the entirety of The Avengers. Not only are all the heroes Fury recruits opposed to it, it is the major factor attracting Earth to be attacked by the aliens. As Thor states, the use of the next generation weapons is a signal that the Earth is ready for a new type of war. It can only lead to escalation of all sides, directly causes an alien invasion, and directly attracts the attention of Thanos, whose assault on Earth can only be presumed to be more deadly than the Chitauri’s flying whales and jetskis attack.
The SHIELD Helicarrier is shown as a superweapon, but it is also attacked and is ineffective in countering the real threat of the alien invasion. If anything, it is a giant invisible bus with lots of guns and spy toys. In use, it is as worthless as the weapons the secret council wants to create, only the heroes, the real people, are effective. The secret council controlling SHIELD even attempts to nuke New York City, something every character does not support. Later, the same group who decided to nuke a major city are unhappy that things turned out okay but are beyond their direct control of every aspect. There is no oversight for this Illuminati secret council and their bad call, they are too top secret to fail. Whatever secret agenda they may have, we have to trust that Nick Fury is able to nudge that agenda into a better direction while still not getting fired by them.
Beyond having a secret invisible fortress and being run by a secret cabal that answers to no one and builds weapons of mass destruction that endanger the entire planet, SHIELD proves they are trustworthy by regularly committing civil rights violations. Wait, did I say proves? Oddly enough, the major thing they do is hack into everyone’s cell phone cameras to search for one person, a less Daredevil radar sense version of what Batman does in The Dark Knight. I do think Whedon knew what he was doing when he used the same basic principal, the question is, is the lack of a Lucious Fox character to object overtly a problem? Or is Stark, Banner, and Roger’s distrust of Fury’s motivations enough of a pushback against everything they are doing? Because this pushback does not happen immediately, no one seems non-plussed at all until the WMDs are found. The film is partially unclear on if the worldwide cell phone and security camera bugging was it a system developed specifically for Loki, or is it a system they can activate at any time and only do so when Asgard gods declare war on the Earth. Even with this massive civil rights violation of 7 billion people, it all proves useless because Loki is only spotted when he wants to be, and the detection of the Tesseract gamma radiation is done due to techniques told to them by Bruce Banner.
Now let’s move from there to the treatment of the Black Widow character. Beyond the fact that Scarlett Johansson has been constantly shown on posters making ridiculous poses emphasizing her butt while all the male characters look tough, Black Widow herself is often shown seducing and/or lying and manipulating male characters. We first see her busting out of a black dress at the mercy of three Russian goons, though we are aware she has the whole thing under control (and proves it seconds later), she’s sent to bring in Banner with a little black dress. Just imagine if Agent Coulson was wearing that number when he went to go see Iron Man, or yanking vintage Captain America cards out of his cleavage. In fact, her behavior is so girly, it becomes an ironic plot point when it’s used to find out that Loki is targeting the Hulk. And even in that instance, it’s all lies and deceptions, just as the statements she said to Banner when she was recruiting him.
Black Widow’s marketing is similar in tone, on the posters she’s the only character doing a pose to show off her leather-suit clad butt, while the male characters are all posed for a fight. The first clip from the film was the dress-busting scene of her taking out the Russian dudes. This is a symptom of comics in general and how they treat their female characters. While I don’t think Whedon has problems with female leads (look at his track record), in general females in comic books are hypersexualized to an alarming degree. The recent DC reboot of female characters such as Harley Quinn, Catwoman, Starfire, and Amanda Waller helped ignite a firestorm of controversy, especially when a female fan in a Batgirl costume (and others) confronted DC bigwigs at a panel and their questions on the lack of female creators were basically dismissed. Even the resulting backlash did little actual change, and you definitely don’t want to read the comments on the articles about this subject at many blogs. In some ways, it’s sad that the Avengers porn parody has a larger number of female characters.
The only other female characters of any importance are Pepper Potts (who is barely in the film) and Agent Maria Hill – who looks like she’ll be the Agent Coulson replacement. She spends almost the entire film in the form-fitting jumpsuit, though at least hers is one of the official SHIELD uniforms and there are male versions (though they aren’t as form-fitting…)
You might think with all these problems and the film failing to address any of them, that I didn’t like the film. I’m going to state once again that I did like The Avengers, and it’s currently my second-favorite Marvel film (Captain America is first, so take that as you will…) And though the massive success means we’ll have an awful Justice League film in a few years and probably a few other giant stunt films, I applaud Marvel for pulling this off and making it not horrible. What a time to not be eight years old.
Now, beyond all that, my favorite parts of The Avengers is what happened in the parking lot after the film. Now, I was at a mid-morning matinee (actually a few showings into mid-morning due to early shows beings old out) so the fights in the parking garage were really out of place because they happened in the middle of a Sunday afternoon. The first argument was a car trying to back out of a parking spot and exiting cars kept cutting her off, the driver getting more mad and more loud. Finally, a woman in a sports car cut off the exiting car, almost hitting it, and causing the driver to half-get out of her car yelling at the sports car “That’s a woman in a sports car cutting me off, oh hell no!” while her passenger gets out of the car and runs up to the sports car and starts beating on the driver’s side window and screaming at the driver (the sports car had gotten a whole six feet closer to the exit for it’s daring maneuver!) The driver of the backing out car then alternated between yelling at the other driver and telling the other passenger to get back in the car so she could pull out. Eventually, she just backed out and the passenger got back in the car. I was on the stairs during this and everyone on the stairs stopped and crowded up watching the fun.
On the way out, traffic was blocked in both directions on one of the ramps due to another issue. First was a van that was heading up into the parking garage that had decided to just stop where they were. They weren’t waiting for someone to pull out of a spot, they just stopped and began looking around confused. This caused a huge backup behind them. While in the other direction, a car was attempting to back out of their spot to leave, and the car’s passenger was guiding him out. Except he was a moron and guided the car into backing up into a van! Then the signal guy yelled at the van (which parked at another open spot once a metric ton of honking convinced the non-moving van to slowly inch forward) and the signal guy then got into the backing up car, and they drove off, all while giving the finger.
Oh, Avengers, why do you make the real world go crazy? I can’t wait to see The Dark Knight Rises, because there will probably be dead people everywhere. Okay, maybe I can wait to see The Dark Knight Rises…
Rated 9/10 (They killed Optimus Prime!, Optimus could lift this hammer, that’s what you want to see when you own the top floor, Hulk Smash Fly, Agent Not Dead, Flying Man, The Heart of the Avengers, This cafe will protect me from alien invaders!, Rocket man!)
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