As The Avengers: Endgame approaches, Team Midnight has committed to watch all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films released to date in chronological (story) order: 22 films in 8 weeks. Follow along with us.
In The Avengers, all the momentum of the character-and world-building origin stories comes together – we’ve got all our heroes, S.H.I.E.L.D., P.E.G.A.S.U.S., the Tesseract, even Loki – and in the steady, loving hands of Joss Whedon, everything is fireworks. The long-form narrative possibilities this film unleashed are still playing out through the 2-3 new MCU films that come out each year. In addition to the blockbuster revolution it began, The Avengers on its own is fast-paced, tightly knit, funny, and thrilling, setting a new standard in colorful, intergalactic large-scale action hero storytelling.
Hero: The Avengers
“We’re sort of like a team. ‘Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ type thing.”
In this, its first iteration, The Avengers is:
- Steve Rogers / Captain America
- Tony Stark / Iron Man
- Bruce Banner / Hulk
- Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow
- Clint Barton / Hawkeye
- Nick Fury
- Agent Coulson
- Maria Hill
“Kneel before me.”
Son of Odin, God of Magic and Mischief… since leaving Asgard, Loki has been associating with some unsavory space types. To get revenge against Thor, he intends to lead an army of aliens in a war to become supreme leader of planet earth.
Villain Complexity Rating: 5/5
Loki brings with him all the inner turmoil that began in Thor – plus, after vanishing into the void at the end of that movie, he apparently began a journey deep into the dark side. He looks terrible – all gaunt, pale and sweaty – is cutting deals with some really creepy monsters, and you get the sense that, whether or not his plot succeeds, he himself is doomed. His quest for power on earth is a campaign orchestrated by the mad Titan Thanos, not as a gesture of support – but as a means to obtain the space stone, which powers the tesseract.
Though he appears confident and does some really badass shit, Loki is, again, a tool – and his rule of earth at the end of all this is far from certain. His interactions with Thor are fraught with longing for the love of family, even as he antagonizes and ridicules the rest of the team at every turn. And yet, in their last fight – there is a moment when Thor asks Loki to join him in putting an end to this violence and craziness, and just for a glimmer of a second, Tom Hiddleston convinces you that he truly wants to and maybe he will… and then, he stabs Thor in the gut and runs away. Typical.
“What’s at Stake” Rating: 4/5
If Loki wins his alien-powered violence quest and becomes King of Earth, he intends to enslave the entire human race. Also, without The Avengers’ intervention, the World Security Council nukes New York City – so whether he wins or not, Loki’s attempt at world domination comes with enormous loss of civilian life.
What did our hero(es) learn?
Though each character grows on their own, as a group, our heroes learn to work together – to be a team – in order to save the world. That’s pretty much the one big, important lesson.
Heroism Rating: 4.25/5
- Tony gets a 5 – he not only does the most damage to the alien army, he also saves NYC from nuclear assault and sacrifices his own life while he destroys the alien mothership (which ends the war). Way to go, Tony – you made it.
- Bruce earns a 4.5; though he does Hulk out and destroy the Helicarrier’s innards, he could absolutely vanish into the wind after that to be left alone, but instead, he finds a way to get to NYC to help the team, does an enormous amount of damage to the alien invaders (more than anyone other than – maybe – Tony), completely debilitates Loki, then saves Tony’s life.
- Natasha and Clint each earn a 4.5 too. It’s easy to forget that they’re both just human beings without any special powers (other than being super-spies/assassins)… the way they throw themselves into incredibly dangerous and unfamiliar combat situations.
- Steve earns a 4. He breaks up the Tony/Thor ego-fight, has some truly death-defying moves during the Helicarrier attack, leads the team in the big alien war, and personally saves hundreds (thousands?) of civilians in the process.
- Thor is a 3. It’s tough because in many ways, this whole situation is unfolding because of him and he knows it. He takes on Hulk in the Helicarrier, though, does Thor damage in the alien fight, and ultimately removes Loki and the Tesseract from earth, taking them both back to Asgard for safekeeping.
Visual Aesthetic/CGI Rating: 4/5
For a movie with again – so much alien stuff – the CGI looks great. Loki’s darkside alien contact, The Other, is a great example… transformed into an otherworldly strange and scary monster with great practical visual effects, CGI is used to make him move in unexpected ways, augmenting the effect of the unfamiliar. The alien army, the Chitauri, are both intimidating and gross. Hulk is MUCH improved. I didn’t notice any gumbi-bodies. Our lead Avengers are in a very classic comic style here – Steve is in his red white and blue for most of the movie, Natasha’s red hair is so fiery it seems to glow, Bruce’s clothes are shabby and dust-covered… and he’s wearing a purple shirt, reminiscent of Hulk’s typical comic-attire. The action scenes – and there are many of them – are filmed and assembled to keep you grounded in the stakes and story, while highlighting each character’s unique contribution/role and accelerating their character development. And so, they’re incredibly engaging, some of the best in the MCU. This is – for the most part – a bright, shiny movie… and though it is well matched with the content, the visual style is a little samey and, at times, can feel a bit flat – my only complaint, really.
Heroic Cinema Saturation Index
Betsy Rating: 5/5
Shortly after I saw this in the theater, I read somewhere that this whole movie is for that one shot – you know that shot – the one where the camera circles The Avengers as they fight together in New York: each different from each other, unified, a team. The effect of that one moment is the point of this movie. I still do think that’s true – but each time I’ve watched it since, I appreciate even more how intricately sculpted this story is in order to make that moment so powerful. The Avengers starts with the pedal floored and doesn’t let up – clipping through the development of its characters, laying out their conflicts with one another and within themselves, raising the emotional stakes with such tense and constant acceleration… that by the time you land there, in that moment, circling around a team that is so powerfully TOGETHER… it feels like finally getting to drink a glass of water on a hot day after staring at it longingly for 2 hours – except for the water is hope and heroism and fortitude and power. AND it’s so funny! How does it get to be so funny too!?
I think it all works because Joss Whedon is a master at building narrative suspense and humor from deep exploration of characters who act from the truth of their own story. And, he gets long-form serial storytelling – he practically invented the idea (see: Buffy). He lets characters be themselves, and the things they do and say from that truthful place really do have impact. It helps, of course, that the casting is already so perfect and the actors are all so great – but the real marrow of this movie is its astoundingly good writing. The Avengers will always be one of my favorite films in the MCU – it just got all the magic that matters most so profoundly, satisfyingly right – all the way down to the post-credits shawarma. A+!
Justin’s Rating: 5/5
The Avengers was such a successful crossover film that it perhaps forever altered the way we watch movies. At the very least, it opened the gates for true serial storytelling in big budget films by proving that audiences want heroes and villains who feel real and inhabit worlds with consequences directly tied to their actions. Fans of Buffy and Firefly were hoping that writer/director Joss Whedon could do with these characters what he’d been doing with his own creations for decades, but few dreamt it would go over this well.
In hindsight, it makes perfect sense because Whedon loves a ragtag bunch of misfits. Nobody watched Buffy to see her kill vampires week after week. The show looked like garbage, many of the performances were laughable, but people continued to watch it because there was something special happening with the characters, and not just the lead. Watching the “Scooby Gang” form up is everything in Buffy – and if you still haven’t, you need to. Whedon’s characters were flawed, funny, and heroic in real ways that felt inspiring and often surprising, especially to themselves. His treatment of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes is no different here, save for a much larger budget and wider audience.
Watching the Avengers assemble is an exercise in gratification that far exceeded my expectations at the time, and it still holds up in sequential story order. Watching Captain butt heads with Tony Stark over the ethical implications of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s intensely secretive nature is every bit as thrilling as watching them team up to waste Chitauri warriors later on in the film. The mutual disrespect is so palpable because it feels correct that these men, each possessed of strong convictions and differing approaches, would get under each other’s skin. Banner’s reticence to join the team feels genuine because he fears Hulk’s capacity for destruction, but his friendship with Stark convinces him to face his fear and embrace his power. Ruffalo’s simmering rage and melancholy are in perfect harmony in this character, even when he’s Hulk! Romanoff’s and Barton’s bond is delicately depicted as something that goes deeper than friendship, though not in a romantic sense. And Fury’s talent for manipulation is enough to get them all in the same room, but it’s the death of Agent Phil Coulson that provides them with the sense of purpose they need to drop all their bullshit and work together. It’s clockwork, and it’s been playing out in the MCU ever since this moment.
The other thing fans of Joss Whedon knew is that the guy can really do antiheroes. Mal from Firefly and Spike from Buffy are incredible examples of the magic he’s able to work with characters who often lead with a desirous ego and never apologize. In Loki, he was handed an already expertly crafted villain with whom we can sympathize despite his being a complete bastard. It’s agonizing to watch him be so obviously manipulated by Thanos, with whom he’s made a dark pact, because it’s SO obvious he wants to go back to Asgard. Whedon’s script reveals more of Loki’s capacity for cruelty and ruse as the gambit he’s carefully constructed is revealed and eventually undone. Tom Hiddleston’s performance needs to be singled out again here for the complexity and nuance he brings to Loki, who is so easy to hate on paper, but with whom we can’t help but sympathize.
All this, and it’s funny too! The Avengers has more fun with the interplay of egos and wit than previous films in the the series and it pays off huge. Stark’s snarky sense of humor is a perfect foil for Banner’s self-effacing demeanor and Steve Rogers’ inability to grasp pop culture references is always funny if a little obvious. Even Black Widow has moments of surprising levity that expose more of her humanity than we’ve been allowed thus far. Sadly, Thor’s budding potential for humor is given little attention in The Avengers, but this is certainly something later films came to take full advantage of. Anyway, this film is fun, funny, and heroic as hell in a way that makes me want to watch Buffy again, which is about as big of a compliment as I can think of for an action flick.
If you’re trying to get caught up on the Marvel stuff before Endgame, The Avengers is required reading. Available to rent online for a few dollars through Vudu or the Google Play/iTunes app stores. It’s so great!