“But let’s do a head count here: your brother the demi-god; a super soldier, a living legend who kind of lives up to the legend; a man with breath-taking anger management issues; a couple of master assassins, and YOU, big fella, you’ve managed to piss off every single one of them.” – Tony Stark/ Iron Man
In the post credits scene of Iron Man (2008), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) arrives and says “’I am Iron Man’. You think you’re the only superhero in the world? Mr. Stark, you’ve become part of a bigger universe. You just don’t know it yet.” Of course, Fury is alluding to the “Avengers Initiative”. It is a key moment for the Marvel Cinematic Universe since it reveals Marvel’s plans for the first Avengers film. Naturally, comic book fans rejoiced everywhere at the news. I was one of them. Iron Man is also the first film in Marvel’s Phase 1 that culminates in Marvel’s The Avengers. Iron Man is followed by The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger. As each of the movies are released, my doubt grows in regards to whether an Avengers movie can be good. How will all these great characters and strong personalities come together in a film? Is it too many characters? Will it be a complete mess like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3? Ironically, my fear becomes the strength of the movie. The Avengers works because these heroes really do not gel well together. In respect to being a team, they are dysfunctional at best. In the words of Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner, “I mean, what are we, a team? No, no, no. We’re a chemical mixture that makes chaos. We’re… we’re a time-bomb.” However, the conflict among the group is the primary reason the film is entertaining to watch and compelling. The clash of egos is epic. It is great theater to watch these heroes bicker and quarrel before overcoming their differences to become a phenomenal team. Director Joss Whedon does a marvelous job with the film. He manages the superstar cast very well. The story is paced well and the flow of the movie is fluid. In addition, he has an excellent sense of humor. The dialogue is awesome and I really enjoy how jokes are set up with clever lines delivered earlier in the film. The Avengers is a very difficult film to direct and Whedon totally comes through.
Despite a large cast of commanding characters, the film does not become a mess because Tony Stark/Iron Man and Natasha Romanoff/ Black Widow are the dominant personalities that drive the plot. Of course, Iron Man is the natural center of attention. He is the most popular Avenger. His cocky, wise cracking personality keeps the tone of the film fun. Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Stark is perfect. In many ways, he and the first Iron Man film set the tone for the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Natasha Romanoff enters the universe in Iron Man 2. While she is a strong supporting character in that movie, I love her extended role in the Avengers. It is great seeing a strong, female badass as an equal to a group of alpha men and key driver of the story. Moreover, Scarlett Johansson is my favorite actress and does an excellent job as the character. Another plus aspect of this film is a great villain. Tom Hiddleston delivers an intriguing performance as the power hungry, psychopathic Loki. As the god of mischief, he is the perfect instigator to exploit the problems the Avengers struggle with as they try to come together as a team. In addition, he is a tremendous trash talker really knows how to rile up the heroes. Similar to Iron Man, he is an entertaining character who helps keep the movie fun.
The plot of the film is simple but entertaining. The movie begins in space. Loki receives a scepter, which we now know is powered by the Mind Gem. The gem is one of the six Infinity Gems that are some of the most powerful items in the universe. When they are combined together with an Infinity Gauntlet, it will grant the holder omnipotence. Of course, there are important plot points from the individual standalone films that affect and setup the Avengers movie. The following is a quick recap. The Tesseract is another one of the six gems. Our first encounter with the Tesseract is in Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). During World War II; the leader of the Nazi deep science division, the Red Skull, found it and used its immense power to fuel his advanced weaponry. As we know, Captain America (Chris Evans) eventually stops the Red Skull before crashing the plane carrying weapons of mass destruction in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Although Howard Stark is unable to find Captain America’s body, he does “fish” the Tesseract out from the bottom of the ocean. As we learn from the post credit scenes of Thor (2011), S.H.I.E.L.D. has begun experimenting with the Tesseract and its Director Nick Fury has enlisted Dr. Erik Selvig to lead the research. In addition to being a source of unlimited energy, the Tesseract can open portals from one point in space to another. Accordingly, it is better known as the Space Gem in the Marvel universe. During Thor, Loki briefly usurps the throne of Asgard before Thor stops him. During the climactic fight between Thor and Loki, the Bifrost [gateway connecting Asgard with the other nine realms (such as Earth)] is destroyed. Moreover, Loki falls off the bridge and seemingly to his doom into an abyss. Of course, fans know better than to believe that Loki dies. Since that time, he has ventured throughout realms and entered into an agreement with the mysterious leader of the Chatiuri. The Chatiuri are an alien, warring race. In exchange for an army that will help Loki conquer Earth for him to rule, he will deliver the Tesseract to the leader of the Chatiuri.
Loki makes a grand entrance at the beginning of the film. He utilizes the Tesseract to open a portal. Before he arrives, the S.H.I.E.L.D. research team is perplexed by the activation of the cube without their tampering. As a result, this issue warrants the attention of the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury, who immediately flies to the base. While Fury heads to check on the Tesseract; his most trusted agents, Maria Hill and Phil Coulson, are tasked with evacuating personnel and important research since the Tesseract is unlimited energy that could cause a catastrophic blast when it is unstable. Fury is updated on the situation by Dr. Selvig and Agent Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Soon after, Loki comes through the portal. Despite Fury’s commands to “put down the spear”, Loki uses his scepter to easily kill S.H.I.E.LD. agents that try to shoot him. Moreover, he uses it to mind control the surviving agents, which include Barton and Selvig, to help his scheme. After entering in style, he boasts that “I am Loki, of Asgard and I am burdened with glorious purpose.” When Fury ties appeal to Loki’s reason by stating “We have no quarrel with your people”, Loki mocks “An ant has no quarrel with a boot” and that he intends to conquer and rule the Earth. The exchange between Loki and Fury is a great example of why Loki is a great villain for this movie. He has a knack for instigating fights and inciting anger from the Avengers with his sharp tongue. However, he does it in a playful and entertaining manner that is fun to watch. Despite Fury and Hill’s efforts and pursuit to stop Loki, he escapes with the Tesseract. Obviously, Loki is a threat that S.H.I.E.L.D. cannot handle on its own. They need an extraordinary response team. They need to form the Avengers.
Hill and Coulson are very competent and great agents for Fury to have at his side. I really like the choice and introduction of Cobie Smulders as Hill. She is assertive and reliable. Fury definitely cannot run S.H.I.E.L.D. without her. In regards to Coulson, he is a fan favorite in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Clark Gregg does a wonderful job with the character. Coulson is introduced in the first film, Iron Man. He is a key cog in tying together the Phase 1 films and characters. During the first two Iron Man movies, he earns the respect and friendship of Tony Stark and Pepper Potts. Since Barton and Natasha Romanoff are also agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Coulson has a work relationship and friendship with them. In Thor, he leads the S.H.I.E.L.D. team that quarantines Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, when it is thrown to Earth by Odin. Eventually, Coulson and Thor come to an understanding and gain each other’s trust. Accordingly, Coulson has more direct relationships with the potential roster of Avengers than even Fury. Moreover, Fury is seen as the ultimate spy. As a result, it is difficult to trust that he does not have important secrets that he is withholding and ulterior motives. Although Coulson is an agent, he is genuine and a person the Avengers can trust. For this reason, he is critical in the formation of the team and takes point in approaching most of the individual heroes to join the team.
In addition, Coulson has a man crush for Captain America/ Steve Rogers. During a conversation between Natasha Romanoff and Rogers, she notes “There was quite the buzz around here, finding you in the ice. I thought Coulson was gonna swoon. Did he ask you to sign his Captain America trading cards yet?” While Coulson’s over the top love for Captain America is a source of comic relief during the film, the reason for his affection is important. Captain America is the perfect example of an “old fashioned” hero. Captain America is an inspiring character who rises above politics and bureaucracy to always do the right thing. Of course, he also has exceptional, superhuman abilities that enable him to handle extraordinary situations. As his first standalone film suggest, he is the “First Avenger”. He is the model Avenger. Nick Fury’s goal is to assemble a group of such heroes: “The idea was to bring together a group of remarkable people to see if they could become something more. To see if they could work together when we needed them to, to fight the battles that we never could.” While Captain America is the perfect hero who is selfless and courageous, not every one of his prospective teammates can easily put aside his ego or issues to work well within a team for the greater good. As a result, tensions surface and doubts arise on whether the idea of the Avengers can work. However, Coulson is definitely the truest believer in the Avengers. Consequently, his faith and dedication to the idea is a critical reason why the Avengers ultimately come together.
The first Avenger Coulson calls is S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, Natasha Romanoff, who is portrayed by the great Scarlett Johansson. The character makes her first appearance in Iron Man 2. She is a mesmerizingly beautiful, brilliant agent who easily infiltrates Tony Stark’s inner circles as soon as she catches his eye. Moreover, she gets a great moment in the film when she showcases her incredible fighting skills by neutralizing a group of henchman. Although she has a decent introduction in Iron Man 2, it is a limited one. I love that she gets a much more expanded and critical role in the Avengers. When we first see her in the Avengers, she is chained to a chair and being interrogated by Russian weapons dealer, Georgi Luchkov, and his two henchmen. While it appears that she is at their mercy, she is actually pretending and discloses bad information so Luchkov feels comfortable and inadvertently names his co-conspirators in order to taunt Romanoff about how outdated her information is. Eventually, Coulson interrupts by calling Luchkov and threatening an F-22 air strike unless he puts her on the phone. It is hilarious when Romanoff is furious and scolds Coulson for interrupting her interrogation since “this moron is giving me everything.” Although she initially refuses to return to base, her tune quickly changes when she learns her best friend Barton has been “compromised”. Luchkov’s illusion of control quickly dissipates as Romanoff easily defeats them with an array of acrobatic moves and breaks out of her chains. At the same time, it is very funny as Coulson calmly waits on the phone for her with a smirk on his face that Luchkov and his goons had no idea what they got themselves into. This scene highlights Romanoff’s skills as a brilliant interrogator and combatant.
Another one of her talents is her charm. Before she returns back to base, Coulson asks her to go get the “big guy”. While she initially smiles and notes that “Coulson, you know that Stark trusts me as far as he can throw me”, her demeanor becomes worrisome when she realizes he meant Dr. Bruce Banner and his alter ego the Hulk. After the events of The Incredible Hulk, Banner goes into hiding since he cannot control the insanely powerful Hulk and will harm anyone around him if he turns into the “other guy”. In addition, I like the change of actors from Edward Norton to Mark Ruffalo. Both men are very good actors. However, I like Ruffalo’s presence more. He is also able to appear very intelligent while having the big build that is more consistent with someone who turns into a behemoth. Moreover, I believe he has better chemistry with the rest of the cast than Norton would have. Even for someone as skilled as Romanoff, approaching Banner is a dangerous task if he changes. She finds him in Calcutta, India. He has been working off the grid helping people as a doctor. His first impression of her is a deception. She instructs a little girl to trick him into a house in an isolated area of the city. Nonetheless, she is able to turn up her charm to gain his trust. She calmly discloses that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been keeping an eye on him but “kept our distance, even helped keep some other interested parties off your scent.” In addition, she explains the current situation about the Tesseract and why they need his help to locate it: “It omits a gamma signature that’s too weak for us to trace. There’s no one that knows gamma radiation like you do. If there was, that’s where I’d be.” As such, she assures him that they only want his intellect and not the Hulk. Obviously, he is still skeptical and suddenly lunges at her while screaming “Stop lying to me!” Romanoff responds swiftly and pulls out a gun. However, he only wants to see how she would react and amuses himself by startling her. He quickly settles down and agrees to go with her. Romanoff’s first two scenes establishes her as a strong character. She remains poised and alert in all situations. True to her background as a master spy and assassin, she can make others feel safe while being totally deadly at the same time. She is also trusted to handle the most difficult situations as evidenced by her recruitment of Banner, who is the most dangerous of all the Avengers because he can transform into the violent Hulk at any time. It is also interesting watching the scene again after seeing Avengers: Age of Ultron where they will develop romantic feelings towards each other. The subtle chemistry between Romanoff and Banner starts here.
The next two heroes brought in the fold are Steve Rogers/ Captain America and Tony Stark/ Iron Man. Obviously, they are very different people. It shows immediately in how differently their recruitment goes. At the beginning of the film, Rogers has just been thrusted into the modern world after being frozen for the past seventy years. The film does a great job with subtle reminders, throughout its dialogue, of the difficulty of his transition with modern day references that go way over Rogers’s head (e.g. Coulson comparing Banner to Stephen Hawking, who became synonymous with “genius” in modern times). Moreover, most of the people he loves have died and some are at the end of their lives such as his love Agent Peggy Carter. Of course, he is having a difficult time accepting it. He constantly dwells on his memories of the moments before he crashed his plane at the end of Captain America: The First Avenger and sacrificed himself to save the United States from the Red Skull’s weapon of mass destruction. At the same time, he releases his frustration on punching bags. When Fury visits and presents him with a mission, he is ready to accept because he is a soldier so following orders is natural. Moreover, it will help him keep his mind off the past. Rogers has also seen the horrors of the Tesseract. Fury informs him about Loki and warns that “the world has gotten even stranger than you already know”. In response, Rogers thinks “At this point, I doubt anything would surprise me.” They wager $10 on it. It does not take long for Fury to collect as Rogers hands him the money when he is a aboard the bridge of the helicarrier, an aircraft carrier that flies. The stunned look on Rogers’s face is priceless. Naturally, it only gets stranger from that point on. The scene is also a great example of how well the film sets up its humor and jokes.
On the other hand, Tony Stark is the antithesis of Rogers. Agent Coulson is assigned to bring him aboard. When Coulson arrives, Stark has just completed the construction of the new Stark Tower in midtown Manhattan with the help of his aide and girlfriend, Pepper Potts. Moreover, he is powering the tower with a clean energy source based on his arc reactor technology that powers his Iron Man suit. Robert Downey Jr. is in full Tony Stark form from the start of this film. He is cocky and immature but fun. He tries hard to be humble about the completion of the Stark tower. He fails when he tries to compliment Pepper for her role in building the tower but only gives her “twelve percent of the credit”. When Coulson attempts to call Stark to talk, Stark instructs his artificially intelligent J.A.R.V.I.S. to ignore him so he can continue his date with Pepper. Even as Coulson persists, Stark finds new ways to ignore him which includes pretending to be a “life model decoy” of himself. Nevertheless, Coulson overrides Stark’s security and presents him with the mission. Throughout the conversation, Stark continually drops jokes and refuses to take Coulson’s request seriously. Eventually, Pepper gets him to focus and persuades him to help Coulson. In addition to her roles as his girlfriend and helping him run Stark industries, she serves as a mother figure. She reigns him in when he gets out of control and has a positive impact in inspiring him to be a better person and hero. Gwyneth Paltrow makes a solid cameo in the Avengers.
While Rogers accepts the mission professionally and seriously, Stark is much more difficult to deal with even though he eventually cooperates. Both men are heroes but they get there very differently. The conflicting styles of Captain America and Iron Man are the center of dysfunction in the Avengers. Captain America is the ideal hero. He is entirely selfless, incorruptible, and an extraordinary leader. As he has proven, he is willing to give his life to save others. Tony Stark is the opposite of that model superhero. During his conversation with Coulson earlier in the film, he reminds him that S.H.I.E.L.D. had failed him as a viable Avenger because “apparently I’m volatile, self-obsessed, don’t play well with others.” Captain America is the perfect soldier who can lead and be led. Tony Stark is a one man show and cannot help but go rogue in a team environment. Next, Rogers has old fashioned values. He has never been on a date. He had one set up with Peggy Carter before he was suspended in animation for seventy years. He is still in love with her and cannot get pass her. Of course, Stark is a renowned womanizer and playboy although he has recently committed to a serious relationship with Pepper. Finally, Stark’s issues with his father also plays an important factor. Tony did not have a great relationship with his father, Howard Stark. Howard never told Tony that he loved him while he was still alive. As such, Tony has a tendency to yearn for his father’s affection and approval. On the other hand, Howard was friends with Captain America and held him in the highest regard. For this reason, there is an element of brotherly rivalry between Rogers and Tony. At one point in the film, Stark gives a hint of his jealousy when he says “That’s the guy my dad never shut up about? Wondering if they shouldn’t have kept him on ice.” For all this reasons, the two heroes butt heads. It is very entertaining to see them go at it.
Of course, the first time we see all the Avengers together is magic. It took years for Marvel to build up to this film. As each hero enters the fray, the anticipation of seeing all of them on screen at the same time only grows. Romanoff, Banner, and Rogers meet on the helicarrier. The reappearance of Loki provides the situation that brings in the rest of the Avengers. Again, Loki proves why he is the perfect villain for them with his flair for the dramatic. He surfaces at a gala in Germany to act as a distraction for Barton to steal a rare element, iridium, which will stabilize the portals opened by the Tesseract. Loki makes another grand entrance by attacking the main speaker and using a device to scan his eyeball since Barton needs it to unlock the safe holding the iridium. The startled attendees flee the gala to the delight of Loki. Furthermore, he meets them outside to force them to kneel and taunts them by declaring “Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It’s the unspoken truth of humanity, that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power, for identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.” These lines announces Loki’s ambitions for world conquest. However, he also sounds a little crazy so his words show his delusions of grandeur. Again, Tom Hiddleston does an excellent job embodying the charisma and craziness of Loki. When Loki moves to kill a brave, elderly man who rises to challenge him, Captain America appears to deflect the blast from Loki’s scepter back at him. Moreover, he notes “You know, the last time I was in Germany and saw a man standing above everybody else, we ended up disagreeing.” They get into an entertaining one on one fight. It is tipped in Captain America’s favor when Romanoff backs him up in a fighter jet and Iron Man arrives to overwhelm Loki.
While the team flies back towards the helicarrier with Loki as its prisoner, lightning starts to flash out of nowhere. Of course, Loki knows who is coming because “I’m not overly fond of what follows.” Shortly, Thor lands on top of the jet, knocks down Iron Man when they open the back, and snatches Loki. When Thor and Loki is alone on top of the cliff, he hopelessly tries to reason with his brother: “You give up the Tesseract! You give up this poisonous dream! You come home.” It is a very funny conversation. While Thor is completely serious in his preaching, Loki is obviously joking and playing with Thor to incite his anger. When Thor gets frustrated and calls for his hammer Mjolnir to demand Loki to “listen”, Iron Man flies in and torpedoes into Thor. As such, Loki hysterically smirks and simply says “I’m listening!” He also has a great seat overseeing the brawl that is about to ensue between the two heroes in the forest below. It does not take long for the situation between Iron Man and Thor to escalate. Both men are alpha males that do not back down. Consequently, Thor suggests that Iron Man not touch him again because he does not know who he is dealing with. In return, Iron Man tells Thor to not take his stuff. Moreover, he mocks Thor: “Uh…Shakespeare in the park? Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?” The battle between the two is awesome. It showcases their powers on the ground and the air. One of the more interesting moments is when Thor uses his lightning. Instead of hurting Iron Man, it actually supercharges the suit and results in a massive repulsor blast coming back at him. Eventually, Captain America arrives and interjects. He asks Thor to put down his hammer and work with them if they are on the same side. Of course, Mjolnir is Thor’s most precious possession. In Iron Man’s words, “Uh…yep! No! Bad call! He loves his hammer!” Consequently, Thor swings to knock away Iron Man then lunges and hammers down at Captain America who raises his shield. As we know, Captain America’s shield is vibranium thus made with the stronger metal on Earth. It is like an unstoppable force hitting and unmovable object. The resulting blast knocks down the heroes and destroys a significant portion of the forest. On a positive note, it knocks some sense into them. They calm down and agree to cooperate at last.
When they return to the helicarrier, they join Banner, Fury, Coulson, and Hill. Thor informs them of the Chaituri army in outer space. Banner realizes Loki is using Dr. Selvig to open a portal for an invasion. Stark realizes Barton stole the iridium so it can be used as a stabilizing agent for the portal. The dialogue and on screen chemistry between the characters works very well to make the movie fun. For example, Banner makes an unflattering observation about Loki: “That guy’s brain is a bag full of cats. You could smell crazy on him.” Thor is offended and defends Loki ““I don’t care how you speak. Loki is beyond reason, but he is of Asgard, and he’s my brother.” When Natasha notes Loki has killed eighty people in two days, Thor hysterically changes course and points out Loki is adopted. Two Avengers who immediately hit it off are Banner and Stark. They share a love and vast knowledge of science. During the team briefing, they geek out over the science of the situation. They converse in very technical terms [which of course is really just scientific sounding gibberish for film purposes]. No one else on the team understands what they are talking about. However for them, they finally have and appreciate someone who is their intellectual equal and “speaks English”. Stark expresses his fondness for Banner by saying “You’re work on anti-electron collisions is unparalleled. And I’m a huge fan of the way you lose control and turn into an enormous green rage monster.” He also extends an offer to “come by Stark Towers sometime. Top ten floors, all R and D. You’d love it. It’s candy land.” Despite Stark’s propensity to goof around and make wise cracks, he does develop a serious and genuine component to his relationship with Banner. He explains that their abilities are a “terrible privilege”. Stark has shrapnel inside his body that is constantly trying to get to his heart. However, the magnetic pull in his arc reactor prevents it and thus saves his life. Accordingly, he has learned to control the situation and use it to help others. Similarly, he suggests that the Hulk is not the uncontrollable monster Banner dreads: “I’ve read all about your accident. That much gamma exposure should have killed you.” Instead, Stark believes that the Hulk saved Banner’s life and is something Banner can harness and use for a greater purpose. The differences in their personalities is intriguing. Stark is a person that seemingly has no inhibitions at times. On the other hand, Banner is a character who is forced to be in control and serious at all times for fear of unleashing a rampaging monster. Ironically, these opposites attract.
Although Banner and Stark’s contrasting personalities mesh, Rogers and Stark’s temperaments continue to be the conflicting dynamic at the center of the tension in the team. When Banner is working in the lab of the helicarrier to locate the Tesseract, Stark arrives and playfully pokes Banner to trigger his transformation into the Hulk: “You really have got a lid on it, haven’t you? What’s your secret? Mellow jazz? Bongo drums? Huge bag of weed?” Obviously, the Hulk is extremely powerful and poses a danger to everyone on the helicarrier if he is unleashed. Nevertheless, Stark cannot take the threat seriously and is compelled to tempt fate. Rightfully so, Rogers scolds Stark and asks “Is everything a joke to you?” As we have seen, Stark is narcissistic and can be selfish. He beats to his own drum and does not take responsibility for his reckless actions. These character flaws is completely contradictory to Rogers’ persona. In addition, Stark takes a lot of blunt wisecracks at Rogers throughout the film. For these reasons, he really gets on Rogers’ nerves. On the other hand, Stark dislikes Rogers because he really is flawless. It is something he falls well short off. Again, Rogers has something he does not have and really wants that Stark cannot buy with all his wealth: Howard Stark’s admiration and affection. In a way, Rogers is a reminder of Stark’s greatest feelings of inadequacies and it is a defense mechanism to sarcastically insult him to diminish the perfect image. Their issues explode in spectacular fashion as soon as the team gets into a fight. When Rogers tells Stark “Yeah, big man in a suit of armor. Take that off, what are you?” Stark cleverly answers “Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.” The response only irks Rogers more and he asserts that “I know guys with none of that worth ten of you. I’ve seen the footage. The only thing you really fight for is yourself. You’re not the guy to make the sacrifice play, to lay down on a wire and let the other guy crawl over you.” Never short on words, Stark notes he would just the “cut the wire”. In the end, Rogers says “You know, you may not be a threat, but you better stop pretending to be a hero.” Likewise, Stark responds “A hero, like you? You’re a laboratory experiment, Rogers. Everything special about you came out of a bottle.” The exchange features great dialogue and brilliantly demonstrates all the issues the two heroes have with each other.
The tipping point that tears the team apart is Fury’s hidden agenda with the Tesseract. As Stark puts it, “He’s a spy. Captain, he’s the spy. His secrets have secrets.” It is wise to question what his true intentions are and what critical information he is withholding. Stark and Banner are extremely intelligent. They immediately wonder why Fury is only bringing in the Avengers now. S.H.I.E.L.D. has been working with the Tesseract for a while and claims to be using it for the peaceful purpose of creating a clean, unlimited power source. However, Stark is the world leader in clean energy research. It begs to question why S.H.I.E.L.D. did not contact him until the Tesseract was stolen. Their concern arouse Rogers’s suspicions too. Starks uses J.A.R.V.I.S. to infiltrate S.H.I.E.L.D.’s system to find its secrets while Rogers physically searches the helicarrier. They both discover the plans for Phase 2, making weapons of mass destruction with the Tesseract just like the Red Skull and Hydra did at the end of World War II. The weapons will serve as a nuclear deterrent. The idea of mutual assured destruction originated during the Cold War when the United States and the Soviet Union stared each other down with enough nuclear weapons to destroy the entire world multiple times over. As a result, it is a belief that the two nations never engaged in a direct hot war because it could have led to a nuclear war where everyone loses. Fury uses the same justification for Phase 2: “Last year earth had a visitor from another planet who had a grudge match that levelled a small town [reference to Thor arriving and battling the Destroyer sent by Loki to kill him]. We learned that not only are we not alone, but we are hopelessly, hilariously, out gunned.” There are also unknown aliens (e.g. Chatiuri) out there and the “world’s filling up with people who can’t be matched, they can’t be controlled.” They all present threats to the safety and security of the planet. Consequently, there is plenty of merit in his argument.
Nevertheless, only Romanoff defends Fury. She is a loyal agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. who believes in its mission so she will follow orders. On the other hand, Stark was a weapons maker until he saw the horrors his work caused. He can no longer justify profiting off war so he shifted his company completely away from the defense industry. Banner is a doctor who saves people and lives a life of seclusion in order to prevent the Hulk from harming other people. Their objections to Phase 2 are obvious. As a soldier conditioned to follow orders, Captain America theoretically should support Fury. However, he has seen the horrors that Hydra unleashed with weapons powered by the Tesseract. He also sacrificed himself to stop their weapons of mass destruction. He has proven he is willing to fight and die for his country. Even if it is his country building weapons of mass destruction for defense, it crosses the line for him. Offense is not defense. Moreover, Thor warns Fury that the experimentation with the Tesseract signaled “the Earth is ready for a higher form of war”. Instead of deterring an alien attack, it has incited one. In addition, the Avengers are a group of volatile people who are far from being a team. Again, as Banner describes it, “We’re a chemical mixture that makes chaos. We’re…we’re a time-bomb.” Fury’s total violation of trust causes the mixture to explode. In my opinion, this discussion of the morality of having a nuclear deterrent adds a lot of depth to the story. Moreover, it highlights how Fury is a compelling character. As the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., he walks a fine line between hero and villain. He is aware of it but also knows it is necessary.
Of course, Loki is the god of mischief. The dysfunction of the Avengers is prime for him to exploit. When he arrives at the helicarrier, Fury imprisons him in a glass cage that drops through the bottom of the helicarrier if the release button is hit. In addition, there is an auto-release that will drop the cage if the glass is scratched. The prison was originally designed as a last resort precaution for the Hulk. Fury takes pleasure in telling Loki he is the ant and the cage is a boot, which is the same taunt that Loki gave him at the beginning of the film. Nevertheless, the prison does not deter Loki from running his mouth. He asks Fury “How desperate are you? You call on these lost creatures to defend you.” He also mocks Fury for having real power, the Tesseract, and losing it. Again, Loki reminds us he is the perfect villain because he has a gift for antagonizing any hero in any situation. In response, Fury plays the tough guy persona very well. Without hesitation, he strongly notes “How desperate am I? You threaten my world with war. You steal a force you can’t hope to control. You talk about peace and you kill cause it’s fun. You have made me very desperate. You might not be glad that you did.” It is an excellent exchange between two great characters. Although Loki is imprisoned, the heroes realize that he intended to be captured. It is too good to be true that he was defeated so easily. He is manipulating the situation and his arrival on the helicarrier is in accordance with his grand plan.
Agent Romanoff is entrusted to unravel Loki’s plan. It is a testament to Romanoff as a strong female lead that she is given the confidence to match wits with a god known for deception. While Fury plays the role of “bad cop”, Romanoff knocks it out of the park as the “good cop”. She immediately impresses Loki when she appears in front of his cage without him noticing she entered the room because “There’s not many people that can sneak up on me.” She talks to Loki to bargain for Barton’s life. She explains that she was a Russian operative that committed unfathomable crimes. As a result, Barton was sent to kill her. However, he spared her and helped transform her into a hero. It amuses Loki that she is willing to doom her world to save one man’s life. He asks her if it is love. She answers “Love is for children. I owe him a debt.” Moreover, she notes that “Regime’s fall every day. I tend not to weep over that. I’m Russian, or I was.” From her perspective, she has “red” in her “ledger” because of her past crimes and she is trying to wipe it out. Upon hearing the story, Loki brutally mocks Natasha without compassion. He tells her that he will have Barton kill her “Slowly, intimately, in every way he knows you fear.” Afterwards, he will kill Barton. She pretends to be heartbroken and aghast by his statements while she begins to cry and calls him a monster. In his exuberance, he tips his plans: “Oh, no. You brought the monster.” Accordingly, she deduces Loki’s plan is to unleash the Hulk. As she alerts the team to the scheme, she politely and calmly thanks him for his cooperation. The look on Loki’s face when he realizes he has been tricked is priceless. This scene is one of my favorite in the film. I enjoy the anecdotes about Romanoff’s past because it provides more background about the character. The scene also showcases Romanoff as a lead character who really drives the plot. She gets real responsibilities and is equal to her male counterparts despite the fact they have an advantage with enhanced abilities. Instead of being an actual damsel in distress, she pretends to be one to manipulate her targets into unwittingly disclosing critical information. The ploy even works on a god who is renowned as a master trickster.
Nevertheless, Loki’s plan to divide the Avengers is an initial success. His scepter acts as a homing beacon for a task force, led by Barton, to find and attack the helicarrier. As they fly towards the helicarrier, Barton fires an arrow that explodes and disables one of the engines. As a result, the helicarrier begins to plummet from the sky. He eventually infiltrates the bridge and shoots another arrow that has an electronic device that hacks into S.H.I.E.L.D.’s system and turns off another engine. Consequently, Captain America and Iron are assigned to go outside and team up to repair the broken engine. They eventually defeat a handful of henchmen who try to stop them and dislodge the wreckage to fix the engine. It leaves them unable to assist with the other problems that arise. The initial explosion also knocks Romanoff and Banner into a lower level of the facility. It triggers Banner’s transformation into the Hulk. By this point, Banner does not trust Romanoff because he believes she has deceived him into aiding Phase 2. Consequently, the Hulk unleashes his rage and chases her. It is an exhilarating scene that captures the total fear Romanoff obviously has as the Hulk tries to pulverize her. However, she utilizes her competence as an acrobat and guile to avoid him long enough for Thor to intervene. The fight between Thor and Hulk is one of the better ones in the film. Thor is the only Avenger who can match Hulk in brute strength and hand to hand combat. Of course, Thor also has his hammer Mjolnir. During their brawl, the Hulk attempts to lift Mjolnir off the ground with all his strength and rage. It is a nice touch to show that even the Hulk cannot lift it if he is not worthy. In the end, a jet fighter fires on the Hulk to get his attention. In his anger, he lunges at the plane and gets blown towards the ground after he causes it to explode. Next, Thor hurries to the detention block to stop Loki from escaping. Unfortunately, he falls for another one of Loki’s illusions and gets trapped in the cage. When Loki presses the button to release the cage, Thor narrowly escapes with his life last minute after he breaks out of the cage. On a positive note, Romanoff engages Barton in a one on one fist fight. It is an acrobatic fight between the two best friends. In the end, she is able to knock him out and remove the effects of Loki’s scepter. Nevertheless, Loki delivers a big punch to the gut to the team. Banner and Thor are scattered on the surface. The rest of the Avengers are left shaken by the attack.
Naturally, the team needs a rallying call to unite and defeat Loki. Before Loki drops Thor in the cage, Coulson attempts to stop him. Sadly, Loki also tricks him with an illusion before impaling him through his heart with his scepter. Coulson does get one more memorable moment in the Marvel movies. Before he dies, he promises Loki that he will fail because “You lack conviction”. Before Loki can finish his response, Coulson blasts him with a prototype weapon based on the technology of the Destroyer in Thor. Coulson’s death is not only necessary to unite the Avengers. It is logical. For storytelling purposes, it is too early to kill an Avenger in the first film. Consequently, the choice to kill Coulson makes perfect sense. He has an affectionate relationship with most of the Avengers. While they strongly distrust Fury, Coulson is trustworthy. He is also the truest believer in the old fashioned idea of heroes. Even in his dying moment, he tells Fury that he understands his death is needed. It incites anger and inspires the Avengers to put away their differences to unite against Loki. Moreover, Coulson is a beloved fan favorite. His death also brings seriousness and gravity to the film to bring life to the notion that even important and favorite characters can be killed off. When Fury is alone with Rogers and Stark, he makes a brilliant speech that embodies the emotion of the moment as well as explain his belief in the Avengers: “Yes, we were going to build an arsenal with the Tesseract. I never put all my chips on that number though, because I was playing something even riskier. There was an idea, Stark knows this, called The Avengers Initiative. The idea was to bring together a group of remarkable people, see if they could become something more. See if they could work together when we needed them to, to fight the battles that we never could. Phil Coulson died still believing in that idea, in heroes.” To emphasize his point, he even dips Coulson’s Captain America trading cards in Coulson’s blood, even though they were in his locker at the time of Coulson’s death, and throws them on the table in front of Rogers and Stark. Naturally, it works.
The end of the film, the Battle of New York, completely delivers on the promise and anticipation of seeing the Avengers assemble on the big screen. At the helicarrier, the Avengers try to guess Loki’s next move. Stark notes that “And Loki, he’s a full-tail diva. He wants flowers. He wants parades. He wants a monument built to the skies with his name plastered!” Hilariously, he realizes that he and Loki have similarly gigantic egos. For this reason, he knows Loki will open the portal above Stark tower in midtown Manhattan. Before the battle, we get a brilliant scene between Loki and Stark. Once Stark arrive at the tower, he gets a drink and threatens Loki to stall for time so his new Iron Man suit can be prepped for use since his current armor is damaged. Both characters are amazing wise crackers so it is great watching them verbally spar with each other. Stark promises that “There’s no throne. There is no version of this, where you come out on top. Maybe your army comes and maybe it’s too much for us, but it’s all on you. Because if we can’t protect the Earth, you can be damned well sure we’ll avenge it.” In response, Loki tries to use his scepter to mind control Stark so he fights the Avengers. However, the trick does not work this time. In my opinion, the scepter fails because the arc reactor in Stark’s chest provides a shield. Another thought is Stark has an exceptionally intelligent mind that the scepter does not work on. Naturally, Stark cannot stop himself from taunting Loki for the failure “Well, performance issues. You know?” It provokes Loki into throwing Stark through the window but his new armor deploys in time to save him. The Loki and Stark confrontation is the perfect appetizer for the main course.
Loki opens a portal with the Tesseract and the Chatiuri army comes through it. Troops arrive in flying chariots and are supported by giant Leviathans in armor. The battle delivers in epic fashion. We get another one on one fight between Thor and Loki. More importantly, we finally see the Avengers fight effectively as a team. Captain America is the natural leader since he has led troops in the past. He commands the NYPD and the Avengers. At first, police officers question Captain America’s authority because they have no idea who he is but he is immediately giving orders to create a perimeter. However, two Chatiuri fighters drop down and he quickly knocks them out. As such, the police decide it is wise to listen. Of course, the most exciting part of the action is watching the Avengers use their powers and abilities together. For example, Iron Man shoots repulsor blasts off Captain America’s shield so that are deflected into enemy troops. The Hulk and Thor fight together despite sparring earlier. Barton is stationed on a rooftop to coordinate the defense of the city and shoots arrows at the Chatiuri like Legolas. The star of the battle is the Hulk. When Banner arrives at the scene, Iron Man brings a Leviathan towards the team. At this moment, Banner reveals that the secret behind him containing the Hulk is he is “always angry”. Accordingly, he is able to immediately transform into the Hulk and punches out the Leviathan before Iron Man blows it up with a missile. Afterwards, Captain America gives out his orders to the Avengers. He saves the best for last: “And Hulk. Smash!” The Hulk simply smiles before he goes off to crush the alien invaders. As Stark earlier prophesized, Banner has a control of the beast and is able to direct it towards the bad guys. During the battle, there are a couple of hilarious moments for the Hulk. First, he punches Thor in the face after they take down a Leviathan. It is a reminder of their rivalry as brutes that started during their fight on the helicarrier. Next, he gets to face Loki alone. As Hulk begins to charge at him, Loki declares “Enough! You are all of you beneath me! I am God, you dull creature, and I will not be bullied by…” Before Loki can finish his statement, the Hulk picks him up and slams him a few times, takes a quick intermission to look at his face, then slams him on the ground again to finish him off. As the Hulk walks away from a whimpering Loki who has been pulverized into the floor, he notes “Puny God”. It is one of the most memorable and satisfying moments in the film.
There is also a very thought provoking moment among all the flair in the Battle of New York. While the Avengers struggle to fend off the Chatiuri, the S.H.I.E.L.D. world council calls Fury and orders him to launch a nuclear strike on Manhattan to stall the invasion. Of course, Fury refuses because it is “a stupid assed decision”. However, the idea does have some merit. A portal has opened up over the island of Manhattan and an alien invasion is coming through it. If the battle is not going well and a defeat could mean losing the entire world to the Chatiuri, a single strike to stop the invasion in its tracks does not sound so crazy. I am glad the film had the vision to present this decision. It is a thought that came to me when I was watching Transformers: Dark of the Moon. In the film, the majority of the alien Decepticon forces gather at and attack the city of Chicago. They make it their center of operations where they use control rods to open a space bridge to transport their planet, Cybertron, to Earth which will eventually lead to the Decepticons taking over the planet. In this situation, they also killed most of the population to secure the city. For this reason, they did not even keep their human shields. Unlike the Avengers, the human casualties from a nuclear strike is minimal. Again, most of the Decepticons and all of their leadership rallied into Chicago. For all these reasons, I always thought the Decepticons were inviting a nuclear strike. It would have stopped the invasion and ended the Decepticon threat with minimal human collateral damage. As a result, the battle of Chicago is pointless because a realistic choice is to destroy the city to save the world. Consequently, I think it is brilliant that the Avengers brought up the idea as an option.
Eventually, the world council overrides Fury and a plane successfully flies off the helicarrier deck and fires off a nuke at Manhattan. Fortunately, Iron Man is able to intercept the missile and carries it through the portal where it destroys the Chatiuri mothership. Once the ship is destroyed, all the Chatiuri forces die since they are controlled by it. As the events unfold, Captain America tells Iron Man that the move is a “one way trip”. Nevertheless, Stark does not hesitate to sacrifice himself to save the team and the world. It dispels all the criticism that Captain America had for Stark earlier in the film that he would not “lay down on a wire and let the other guy crawl over you”. It also shows that a hero need not be the perfect image that Captain America exudes. Despite the many flaws of each Avenger, they all bring a unique quality to the team and are willing to fight and die for each other. As a result, they are able to come together as a team and win despite all the dysfunction and egos. Obviously, it is also too early to kill the most beloved Avenger, Iron Man, in the first movie. As such, he is able to fall back through the portal just in time before Romanoff utilizes Loki’s scepter to close it. Nevertheless, he falls freely because he lost consciousness. The Hulk catches him and takes the brunt of the impact to save him. It shows the affection he develops for Stark. In the final scene of the movie, Fury speaks to the council one last time. It is displeased that Thor was allowed to take the Tesseract [for safeguarding] and Loki back to Asgard. Moreover, they question the wisdom of unleashing the Avengers because they are dangerous. Fury responds with the perfect answer that “They surely are, and the whole world knows it. Every world knows it.” Instead of weapons of mass destruction, any challenger who threaten the Earth will have to deal with the Avengers.
In addition to a great story during the film, there is also a fantastic post credit scene. In it, a Chatiuri known as the “Other” reports to his master “The humans are stronger than we thought. To attack them is to court death.” As the throne turns, we see a big purple faced giant with a grin on his face. In this moment, all Marvel fans are jumping out of their seat in enthusiasm. The villain is Thanos, the Mad Titan. He is one of the biggest bad guys in the Marvel universe. He is the ultimate harbinger of death. In fact, he has schoolboy crush on the physical embodiment of Death. For every other character in the Marvel universe, Death’s appearance is a haunting skeleton figure. His warped mind sees her as the most beautiful woman in the universe. For this reason, he has a psychopathic urge to kill as many people in the universe as he can to impress her and win her love. It is also why he smiles when the Other tells him attacking the Avengers is to “court death”. Thanos is being set up to be the main villain in the Avengers: Infinity War. In the comics, he assembles all the Infinity Gems and Infinity Gauntlet to become omnipotent. Josh Brolin is the perfect choice to play the villain. I cannot wait to see him in action.
In every way, Joss Whedon delivers with a brilliant Avengers film. Age of Ultron does not top it. It will be difficult for the Infinity War films to top it.