The Avengers (2012)

It was summer of 2008. I was living in Imperial Beach, California, just south of San Diego when my brother, his friends, and I went to the nearby drive-in theater to go see Adam Sandler’s You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. On the screen next to ours, I saw a man in a goatee chatting with some army guy in a bar. I don’t remember if it was before or after this when someone at work told me how it was supposed to mean something really cool and awesome, but I do recall I didn’t think much of it at the time. Everyone has that one friend that gets super excited over some esoteric franchise that you kinda half-listen to (usually that’s me gushing over Disney minutiae.). But that, my friends, was first, if underwhelming, exposure to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I took superheroes in stride for most of my childhood. I liked Superman, Batman not nearly as much, and the Marvel staples like Spider-Man, Wolverine, Hulk, Iron Man, and the Fantastic Four never truly grabbed me. Heck, I think I’m wrong, but I’m under the impression the first major superhero movie I ever saw was X-Men: The Last Stand in 2006…when I was 19. And the very first MCU movie I went to go see was Captain America: the First Avenger, where a certain trailer was generating so much buzz that even I was catching wind of it. By this point I was invested. I had finally become a fan of Marvel.

Eleven years, twenty-one films, and billions of dollars later, Marvel is no longer a dirty word in polite conversation outside basements and comic shops. It’s front and center, a household name, under the care of the juggernaut we call Disney. Thanks to Kevin Fiege, these interconnected movies were planned, strategized, and mapped meticulously so that when 2012 arrived, we didn’t have to stress about knowing who Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk, Thor, Hawkeye, and Black Widow were. And even if we didn’t know, there was enough cultural osmosis that kept us informed on the basics, so that even a n00b like me could wander in with my ticket and totally get pretty much everything.

As I type this, we’ve come to the end of an era. There have been three phases of Marvel films, and most every one was a smash hit. Avengers: Infinity War was a sickening gut punch for all us fans, but it was a natural culmination of all that came before. Now, as Avengers: Endgame brings everything to a close, I want to take a moment to relive 2012, when the very notion of a massive crossover seemed like the zenith of fan culture. Oh, simpler times.

Arrange all academy-approved actors as awesome alliances act alert and assemble for The Avengers!

The plot: As S.H.I.E.L.D. is trying to study a Macguffin called the Tesseract, the item suddenly transports Loki, the devious Norse god of mischief, played by Tom Hiddleston, to Earth, intent on becoming a ruler and crushing all opposition in his way. Leader of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) realizes just how serious the threat is and reaches out to several key people who might be able to stop him, including smug playboy Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), reclusive scientist Bruce Banner, AKA the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), displaced super soldier Steve Rogers, AKA Captain America (Chris Evans), and hyper-skilled assassin Natasha Romanoff, AKA Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson). But when Loki’s plot to take over involves bringing a massive alien army to New York City, the team also brings in agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), expert archer Clint Barton, AKA Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Loki’s brother and god of thunder Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and they all have to unite, assemble if you will, because if they can’t save the world, you can be damn sure they’ll avenge it.

How’s the writing?: Easily the best aspect of the movie is the writing. Consider the challenge of assembling seven big personalities to confront one bigger, hammier personality, all without outshining each other. Joss Whedon already had two Iron Man movies, a Hulk movie, a Thor movie, and a Captain America movie all set up, and thanks to these, we didn’t have to fret about being left out. Basic details came together as the movie gradually unfolded.

Then there’s the character dialogue, and each one is gold. In the Marvel Universe, everyone has a sharp tongue and a quick wit, and the jokes land spectacularly. Part of it is the actors themselves, who all have indelible charm and dedication, and part of it is Whedon’s masterful crafting of the characters, understanding the meek Banner, the snarky Stark, the militant Romanoff, the sanctimonious Rogers, the gruff Fury, the proud Thor, the snide Barton, the cheeky Loki, and the affable Coulson. These are are robust, intense personalities that match up to their big screen heroics, and in true comic book fashion, they always have something to say, and it always sounds cool.

Does it give the feels?: Usually in screenwriting, the main character(s) reach their lowest point at the end of act two. This way, their return to form through the climax seems all the more impressive. Case in point: Hercules has his powers taken and he finds Meg had lied to him just before Hades releases the Titans. Scar torments Simba into hanging off a cliff before the battle begins. Ariel is almost turned into a seaweed creature and watching her dad get get stripped of all his power before Eric comes to save her. The Avengers does something similar, and it serves as a great pause between the Helicarrier battle and the main New York fight.

The Hulk went on a rampage and was blown out of the sky to somewhere far away. Hawkeye is going through mind control withdrawals. Iron Man and Captain America just went through the wringer trying to save the helicarrier. Natasha just fought off both the Hulk and Hawkeye. Thor got suckered and almost killed in Loki’s cage, who, might I add, escaped. Several S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents got injured in several explosions. And to top it all off, a startlingly poignant death. The movie goes (fairly) quiet and Fury finally comes clean about what the Avenger Initiative was about. And from there, it gets awesome. The climax slowly builds as our heroes take a step back, readjust, and gear up.

While it’s genuinely shocking to see someone get killed who was so sweet and kind of badass, we almost forget a minor exchange that reveals Fury still manipulated an aspect of it for a greater cause. And because that cause is six of Earth’s mightiest heroes getting ready to take down Loki, we kind of give it a pass.

Who makes it worth it?: Oh gosh, there are just so many. They all give something extra here. You are just so drawn to every character being enigmatic in some way, and it is absolutely amazing. But if I were hard-pressed to nominate one character, it’d have to be Clark Gregg’s Phil Coulson.

We saw him in Iron Man 2, where he came off as just kind of a quirky agent with zero patience for Stark’s shenanigans. But in The Avengers, he still is, but something incredible happens: his fanboy side comes out. This middle-aged man is standing in front of Captain America, a self-sacrificing World War II hero. Cap isn’t just a superhero, he’s one of the first, and like Superman, he is one the only truly idealistic superheroes. And here he stands, 70 years since he was last seen, a true American hero, and his giddy reactions are adorable.

Since The Avengers, Gregg continues to portray Coulson in The now-six-seasons-in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. series, where he’s less quirky and more stern, playing the straight man. He still has that quiet endearment factor, if a tad downplayed, mostly due to more dangerous scenarios he finds himself in than he did in the movie. Still, Gregg’s performance has charisma and is very undervalued in the MCU.

Best quality provided: Make no mistake: this is a comic book movie. There are colorful costumes, witty one-liners, hammy bad guys, pseudo-fictional technology, and lots of awesome fight scenes.

From that perspective the movie is almost perfection. But what really gets it going is when the characters work off each other. See, one thing worth noting about Marvel compared to DC was their ability to have relatable heroes, as opposed to ones you looked up to. These heroes have their own issues that are very human, despite their superpowers. As a result, they’re not perfect. They bicker, argue, disagree, and spar. What stops this from being trite or obnoxious is that their perspectives are understandable and realistic, but when the chips are down, they put all that aside until the main threat is gone. Steve and Tony at one point are at each others’ throats, but the nanosecond the helicarrier gets attacked, they drop all their personal beef to do the greater good.

Because that’s what heroes do.

What could have been improved: So much about this movie feels so very, very smart. From the snark of the one-liners to their personal motivations. This was all executed brilliantly. But the only downside is when things are made too clever, some things just don’t quite hold up.

So we know Loki’s plan was, in the long run, to invade Earth with the Chitauri army. He had to brainwash a few agents and steal the Tesseract to do so. But why did he feel the need to be held captive by S.H.I.E.L.D.? It’s obvious he intended to be caught, as Natasha points out, so he can unleash the Hulk and break up the team…a team that wasn’t really much of one until Loki started making trouble in the neighborhood. Not to mention: unite them all, just to break them up and/or destroy each other? Perhaps if your views on human nature are that dismal, maybe, but Loki seems too clever for that. It’s a plan that doesn’t make much sense in the long run, but in the other hand…do you care? Probably not. Why? Because the action is that fun, the jokes are that funny, and Loki is that engaging. So what if his plot is a little flimsy?

I’ve always said just because something’s a plot hole doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. What matters is how well can the movie distract you from it.

Verdict: Looking back on all that we’ve seen these guys go up against: Ultron, Thanos, even each other, the first Avengers film ought to feel quaint by comparison. Yet it doesn’t. It still feels huge and powerful. And that’s more than a little impressive.

The music is still awesome. The characters are still awesome. The effects are still awesome. It’s just that much fun, even if you’re scratching your head as to how Loki’s plan is supposed to work. I give this explosion of Marvel-ous excelsior a whopping ten Tesseracts out of ten.

Suck it, Justice League.

Author: TAP-G

Writer, former podcaster, entertainment enthusiast. Movies and media have the power to shape our world and vice versa. Let’s take a deeper look at them.

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