Evaluating the Summer Blockbuster: The Avengers

avengers

Read the introduction to this series here.

The Avengers (2012)

Summary

1) S.H.I.E.L.D. Facility
2) Helicarrier
3) New York
4) Can you overcome differences to work together?

1) A Killer Opening

This is perhaps the weakest sequence in what is otherwise a solid superhero extravaganza. And the reason is simple: no one knows what is going on. Remember at this point Agent Coulson is not quite so beloved. Nick Fury remains a mysterious cameo. Maria Hill is yet to be introduced. Barton is guy who shoots arrows. Selvig is scientist you may or may not remember from Thor. Loki is supposedly dead. And the Tesseract is a Tessewhat. Mix that all together with an imploding facility and insane chase scene and you are going to create a little confusion.

2) Two Major Set Pieces

I wouldn’t count Loki’s encounter with Captain America at Stuttgart or Thor and Captain’s brawl as major set pieces. That would have to wait for the gigantic helicarrier battle. Really everything is mere set up for this massive action sequence where so much happens in a beautiful way that personally affects every main character AND side character. Whedon’s skill with characterization elevates the action from mere spectacle to an essential character journey for the heroes.

3) A Killer Climax

If the helicarrier attack proved that the Avengers aren’t ready to be a team, the alien invasion of New York proves precisely the opposite. It’s not my favorite action piece and perhaps a little underwhelming for what is supposedly the best hero team up ever put to film, but it’s highly functional and gets the entire group working together like a synchronized swim team at the Olympics. The point is not that the battle is cool, but that the flawed characters you love are finally getting their act together.

4) A Concise Statement of Theme

Can we overcome our differences to work together?

Conclusion

Like Man of Steel, The Avengers contents itself with only three major set pieces. But unlike Man of Steel they aren’t that amazing. The first one at the S.H.I.E.L.D. facility is neither memorable or intelligible. The second two are middling in terms of sheer scale and action. Yet those elements are not really essential to making the story work. This is a movie about disparate egos and disparate personalities forced to work together to accomplish something great. It’s a great film without having the best set pieces ever, enough to become third highest grossing movie of all time.

The Story Punch

It’s no coincidence that the story punch of this film is the same event that catalyzes the Avengers into action: the death of Agent Coulson. Loki stabs Coulson through the chest and gloats. But even in death Coulson’s spirit is not defeated. He knows that Loki won’t win. Earth has a team of heroes to protect it. They will overcome their differences. They will band together. They will combine their unique talents and abilities to turn back the tide. Loki lacks the one thing that the Avengers will use against him: conviction.

Loki isn’t fighting for his home, he fights for greed. And that is the reason he will lose, Coulson says. This scene underscores the entire thematic thrust of the movie and becomes the true turning point for the main heroes.

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4 thoughts on “Evaluating the Summer Blockbuster: The Avengers

  1. Think this is a great way to look at a movie. I agree that the set-pieces may not be amazing but the idea that you are finally seeing Iron Man fighting alongside Hulk is worth the slight mediocrity of it. I would count the battle between Iron Man and Thor too, because it’s a culmination of every geek, like me, ever dreamt of. Great “review.”

  2. I actually had a pretty positive response to both the Helicarrier and the New York scenes, and I’m not the biggest fan of ‘Man of Steel’s excessive action extravaganza, but I totally agree with the underwhelming feeling of the introductory scene. Nobody really knows or cares about any of those minor characters at that point and no one seems to know what’s going on. After that first scene I was kinda concerned that maybe Whedon was in over his head, but he managed to come storming back with a vengeance.

    Furthermore, you hit the nail on the head that this movie works because the humanity of its superhero characters function well together. The whole “setting aside our differences and coming together as a team for the greater good” theme was well done and satisfying, despite that plot arc being done to death the world over.

    • Thanks for the comment! Maybe in retrospect the scenes are better than I am giving them credit. I think I am probably just biased toward the Justice League 🙂

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