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Here it is: the big one. The Avengers is probably when most fans really started following the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I know that for me The Avengers was the first time I figured out that all these superhero movies were connected. Now, in my defense, I can’t have been the only one who saw the original Iron Man in theaters, left at the credits, didn’t see Nick Fury show up and namedrop the Avengers, and then didn’t bother to come back a couple months later to see the second Hulk movie in 5 years! Needless to say, when I saw that The Avengers was coming, bought up the first 5 MCU movies, watched them all, and then went to see The Avengers 3 times, I was really kicking myself for not getting in on this thing sooner!
There’s a reason that The Avengers holds such a special place in the hearts of Marvel fans, comic book fans, Joss Whedon fans, and geekdom in general. This was the first movie to prove that the standard comic book thing—taking a bunch of disparate characters from wildly different comic book genres and styles and putting them together—could actually work on the big screen. This was the first movie to prove that you can build a coherent “cinematic universe” which encompasses a bunch of solo movies leading up to one big event team-up movie. This was the one the movie that put Hollywood on notice: comic books and universes are “in.”
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Now, it would not be accurate to say that the MCU is the first “cinematic universe” or the first attempt at building TV shows and movies into a cohesive universe. Star Treck did that decades ago when they released Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and then expanded this when Star Trek: Generations put Kirk and Picard on the big screen together. Star Trek even had 2 series airing simultaneously with The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager (TNG ended shortly before Voyager began), and released a couple movies during that time, as well. Janeway’s appearance in Star Trek: Nemesis adds an interesting layer of connection between all of these. However, the degree of connection between all of these series is very low. Only a handful of characters cross over between TNG and DS9, and less between DS9 and Voyager. Only a couple alien races and plots connect. The movies all are released after the originating series goes off the air. Considering the size of the Star Trek Universe, there is very little connection, and very little need for it.
The thing that sets the MCU apart from something like Star Trek is the level of connection between the movies (and now between the TV shows and movies). There are five movies that lead up to The Avengers, and all the main characters (and a lot of the secondary characters) are introduced in one of the five before appearing in The Avengers; Maria Hill is the only exception. The Avengers answers a lot of unanswered questions from the previous movies, such as where Bruce was after his movie (and how S.H.I.E.L.D. found him), what Tony is doing with his ARC reactor technology, what happened to Loki, and the like. Following The Avengers, everyone is talking about the events of that movie; it’s not until Captain America: The Winter Soldier that something happens to take people’s minds off the alien invasion!
That is a lot of pressure to put on a single movie. We’ve seen plenty of movies with these kinds of expectations and requirements buckle under the pressure. So why did it work so well for The Avengers?
When you think about it, a lot of the reason it succeeds is because it simplifies the plot down a lot. You can really sum it up as follows: Bad thing happens, heroes come together, heroes fight, bad gets worse, heroes team up to beat the bad guy. The characters themselves don’t need a ton of development beyond their introduction, and all the development occurs within the context of their interactions with the other characters. Bruce and Tony bond over their shared love of science and technology. Steve and Tony butt heads over their different personalities but at the end of the day it is because they are such different people that they can work together to stop the invasion. Almost all of Clint’s development comes in two scenes: showing up Fury and all the scientists by pointing out that if the Tesseract is a door, then it can open at both sides; and then in the isolation room with Natasha. All of the heroes (except Hawkeye) get their moments to fight each other and it all works together to solidify their relationships.
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Loki is already a developed character before this movie, which helps him out greatly. We know why he feels like he should be a king but was “cast out.” We know why he despises Thor so much. This makes it important to have seen Thor before this movie, but it frees Loki up to put his plan in motion without needing a ton of extra development first.
Not everything in this movie works perfectly, but you would have to look really hard to find a movie with less flaws than this one. As a testament to how good it is, when I was watching it before writing this review, the only flaw I could really come up with is that I’m not a fan of Captain America’s new uniform because it’s just way too bright blue! I know, I know: Coulson designed it and he’s a huge fan and it’s a callback to a simpler time, but it’s just way too blue! I really prefer the suits from all the other movies, which much the blue a lot more.
Since then I’ve thought some more about it and realized there are a couple more flaws, but that’s really all there is. One I already touched on a bit is with Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye. He was the least-developed character coming into this movie, having only appeared in a single scene of Thor and had about 3 lines in that scene. Unfortunately, he did not get a ton of development in this movie because he spent most of it as Loki’s “personal flying monkey.” I wish we had gotten more development from him, but it’s understandable that they couldn’t focus on all the Avengers, plus S.H.I.E.L.D., plus Loki, and give them all equal screen time. Someone had to get stiffed, and Clint drew the short straw.
The other flaw is actually a pretty big plot hole in that Thor managed to get to Earth without the Bifrost and without the Tesseract. It is explained in a tie-in comic that Odin has the ability to summon “Dark Energy” to transport someone between the Realms, but that they do not do it often because it is a very dangerous and costly attempt (and there’s no guarantee of success or survival). However, the movie passes over it with a single passing comment that Loki invading Earth was actually a good thing for Thor because it gave Odin a reason to send him! It’s certainly not the end of the world, but it is something that could have stood a little more comment, perhaps with Thor telling Fury that he needs to be allowed to keep the Tesseract because Asgard needs it to move between the Realms because the only other alternative is dangerous and risky.
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Of course the best scene of the movie has got to be the final battle when the six Avengers team up against Loki and the Chitauri army. All the heroes get their moment to shine, both against the aliens and against Loki. It is awesome seeing them work together as a team. What made this so special is that it was really the first time you saw these heroes on the screen at the same time. And Joss Whedon does an amazing job of cutting and transitioning in this battle scene.
I remember there were a ton of jabs that Hawkeye didn’t belong because he’s just a guy with a bow and arrow, but I never got that. He’s their pilot and he’s their sniper. And if you don’t think a sniper (or the equivalent) is necessary for a super team, you clearly haven’t been paying attention to the MCU! Skye shooting Blizzard to save the team at the beginning of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 2, Punisher helping Daredevil at the end of Daredevil season 2, Bucky as a counter-sniper in Captain America: The First Avenger, Hawkeye in The Avengers … all of them play an important role, and without them the mission would fail. In this movie, Hawkeye’s job is to let the rest of the team know what the Chitauri are doing and their weaknesses (“they can’t bank worth a damn”) and to help out with specific well-placed shots when necessary (getting a couple off Iron Man’s tail, shooting Loki to keep him from stopping Black Widow). So even Hawkeye is an important member of the Avengers.
This isn’t the most exciting of reviews because there aren’t any major flaws, but this is one of the top 3 movies in the MCU to-date, and the best movie of Phase 1. To be honest, the only reason it isn’t the best movie in the MCU is because Marvel somehow managed to top it!
What did you think of The Avengers? Do you see a sniper as being as important as I do? Let me know in the comments!