Fun with Franchises: Final Thoughts on The Marvel Universe – The Avengers
All right… we’ve watched the film, talked about it, had fun with it, and then we went and listed our favorite images from the film yesterday. Now all that’s left is to finish up with what we actually thought about the film as a whole.
This is our space to go over what we liked and didn’t like about each film we watch for Fun with Franchises. We talk about specific things as we get to them during the articles, and we’ll mention our general thoughts during them, but we don’t really ever get to sit and do broad strokes during the articles. So this is why we do these Final Thoughts. We get to take a step back and talk about the films as a whole, rather than discussing specific scenes or images. We’ll talk about how we felt about the film, how we liked it as a film, how we liked it as a member of its franchise, and where we think it falls within that franchise.
Again, it’s not very complicated, but it is a place to find out what we actually thought about certain movies, since, while we’re having fun with them in the articles, it may get difficult to tell sometimes. Because we’ll just rip things to shreds for fun, even if we love them.
So here are our final thoughts on The Avengers:
Final Thoughts on The Avengers:
Get ready. This is going to take a while.
We have a dilemma here. One might say that in The Avengers, we have a very impressive film that dazzles with a star-studded cast, cutting-edge effects and a scale of action that dispatches even recent summer blockbuster competitors. One of our most consistent complaints about Marvel films is that things don’t really get to progress well during individual hero movies because everything needs to come together for the group flick that’s been scheduled years in advance. That whole thing like, “Hey, there’s a fella named ‘Thor’ who has to appear to be on the brink of death and risk losing everything in this movie! But he’ll be in this movie coming out in a year, so I’m sure it’ll all be okay.” The only way you solve that problem is to not universe it (I can just hear the idiots asking me, “So what are they supposed to do, just NOT have a universe or something?” And yes, that’s exactly the solution.) and consider killing some people every now and again. But now that we’re in this far, we should at least feel fortunate that the group movie is here to move the characters along. All the risk-averse movies with guaranteed safe endings are through, and we’re ready for our really dark movie where people die and things have consequences.
Okay, so that was the fantasy world that the optimists among us inhabited for a little while. We ended up getting a movie that took no risks and wasted a lot of our time in the process. Let’s examine the set-up, shall we?
First, we have a voiceover threat. I have no idea who this threat is or why we care about him. Someone’s talking to someone about destroying Earth, at which point you’re just aping the Transformers movies. Loki is the bad guy because we know who he is, and he knows about the Tesseract, which has to be our MacGuffin for reasons that will become relevant later. So instead of explaining our enemy, his motivations, or what happened between the events of Thor and now, we have a faceless space threat in the first shots of the movie. Already, I question the film. Why make Loki the bad guy when his character here shares little more than an appearance with his Thor character? In his initial appearance, he was the ambitious younger brother who was eager to please, misguided, self-loathing and dejected. His final act of [attempted] suicide was enough to show just how crestfallen he was to have failed in the eyes of those he loved. The only hatred present in that moment was directed inward. Fast-forward to this movie, and he’s a maniacal space general out to conquer Earth with a borrowed army because….power? They spend mere moments explaining this, and it has no basis in the character. What if he wanted to take over because humans kill each other and war has gotten too out of hand on Earth? It would be another misguided case study for Loki to undertake in hopes of proving his worth and redeeming himself in the eyes of his brother and father. Then when Thor tries to stop him, along with the rest of the Avengers, Loki might perceive it as the older brother trying to hog the spotlight. You know, something with a basis in the characters they spent a whole film and $150 million establishing. I’ve seen people online speculating about Loki’s intentions and his actions, and the point is this: no matter what reasoning you may have for explaining his behavior, the film doesn’t come close to making any of that explicit, nor does it try to expand on background of one of the franchise’s stronger villains in establishing a threat for the film. So if you think you have the answer about why Loki acted a certain way or why he did what he did in this movie, stop it right now and understand that you’re just rationalizing.
From the threat introduction, we have Samuel call the team. This was the first mistake they made in sequencing, because this movie is pretty clearly a character film. Nobody gives a single shit about WHAT the threat is (5 extra points if you remembered the name “Chitauri” even a day after you first saw this movie), we only care about the lead bad guy and how the team manages the threat through their own specific modes of action. There are two simple ways of doing this. The first involves isolating the characters and giving them some time on their own before we even find out what the threat is. You’d have Stark on his own, then Banner, and then Rogers. There would be character moments, and then when the threat arises, we meet Barton and Natasha with the rest of SHIELD, who’s there to see Barton get mind-controlled. The team assembles and even though Thor shows up later, he peppers in his own character stuff while explaining what the hell is up with Loki. So to repeat, character time for a little while, then threat, then they come together. The other option is to do the Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven intro, which is where a team is being assembled and each character joins for their own reasons, demonstrating what they care most about and determining how they will likely act throughout the film. I particularly like this, and it’s closer to what actually happens. The issue is that everyone just comes on because there’s a problem. There’s no reason for any of them to be there, other than that they were all asked. Remember that of the six team members, only three need to be convinced to join; while it’s kind of sad that the character development only really applies to Stark, Banner and Rogers (Barton and Romanoff will just work for SHIELD and Thor is showing up cause of Loki, no questions asked), it would have given them the luxury of time to spend on their recruitment. Basing it on the characters’ backstories, you’d have to have reasons for each of those three to first decline but then want to join after all. Stark would decline on the grounds that they didn’t want him, but that same ego would bring him back looking for action. It would also lead him toward arrogance, making his sacrifice all the more touching. Banner would want to stay away from danger, but be brought on because SHIELD was able to convince him that the coming war involving the Tesseract would unleash gamma radiation that could adversely affect millions. That’d be enough to get him on board, albeit struggling to manage his alter ego. Rogers had to be the one who doesn’t think he’s relevant anymore but answers the call to effectively lead the group when he recognizes the areas in which modern heroes are lacking. Now, they did all of this stuff up to like….80 percent, throughout the whole movie. You piece together everything, and you’ve got most of what I just said, except for Banner. What they did instead, was start by just asking everyone to help out (to which they all said yes, cause…okay?) and then giving them all a series of awkward scenes over the following 30 minutes, during which almost all of the characters size up almost all of the other characters before the action even starts. The perfect example is Steve Rogers on the plane heading for the carrier. He sees the dossier on Banner, and gets the backstory about the serum and what happened afterwards. Steve says that he guesses things didn’t work out too well for Banner. It’s awkward, pointless, third-party dialogue about a character whose movie we’re supposed to have seen and who we’ve already met a few minutes into this movie, and that special effects budget in the tens of millions of dollars — that’s all going toward rendering the interior of a very impressive, very fake aircraft that stands in for a briefing room instead of showing us what’s wrong with Banner firsthand with others present. At the very least, you pull a Hunger Games and give characters time to get to know one another on the train, in isolation before the fun begins. This isn’t groundbreaking stuff, people. But the best they can do is a few seconds at a time, like when Rogers tells Banner he doesn’t care about Hulk and shakes his hand.
What about how the characters interact throughout the film? We have three main phases of character interaction, each focusing on different relationships and different stages in each character’s “arc.”
The first phase is recruitment and briefing, when everyone sizes each other up. Banner’s suspicious of everyone, Stark’s an arrogant ass, Rogers is a suck-up, Thor is impatient and direct, and Romanoff is cool, but manipulative. Barton’s mind-controlled, so we don’t care. Again, they tried to do a lot of this, but didn’t pull it off. Banner was way too chill during this part of the movie, so more antagonism from him would have been appreciated. Thor shows up and cracks a bunch of jokes in the briefing room despite having used dark energy to come here and secure his presumed-dead brother. If we’re getting really out there, you could even try to go the Nolan route and make Rogers’ character some sort of commentary about what America’s lost and what’s wrong with the way we wage war today. Some of that may come through with him later, but in this movie, he mostly follows orders until he figures out the right thing to do and does it.
The second phase is the team’s disintegration. Banner doesn’t jive with SHIELD’s gamma-related weapons program, and splits. Romanoff peels off to save Barton, hopefully. Stark attempts to cut a corner somewhere and either gets someone killed or doesn’t succeed in stopping an enemy (so that he has a reason to make the sacrifice later, other than Coulson). Thor, tired of these human squabbles, decides they’re wasting time and goes it on his own before being brought down by some new Loki power, which teaches him prudence in addition to the humility he gained in his own movie. Rogers has the potential to be the most interesting of him all because he’s the opportunity for a Western-style character who poses a thought experiment pitting the old modes of action against the new. They almost scratched the surface of a really basic version of this idea when he breaks into the weapons room instead of waiting for Stark to hack the system. What would have been more effective is if he’d rallied the SHIELD troops (maybe giving Cobie Smulders something to do in the meantime) and led them in battle to retake the bridge or rescue someone where technology and surveillance had failed thus far — you shoot it with lots of imagery reminiscent of WWII battles and show everyone that sometimes bravery and ingenuity can deliver results just as well as superheroes.
The third and final phase is everyone returning to the fight as a team and finally bringing what they’ve got to the fight. Banner is back because after leaving, something prompts him to transform suddenly and he realizes he can’t outrun his problem; in embracing the fight and resolving to deal with SHIELD later on, he finally loses that fear and takes control. Stark is shaken by his earlier failure and has accepted that sometimes it’s not about him. He’s a team player now and still makes his sacrifice. Thor is back but he doesn’t rush into the fight, instead electing to devise a more comprehensive plan of attack with the team as an equal member, and perhaps even acting as a mediator in the event of any residual hard feelings between characters. Rogers is tricky, because his only flaw thus far has been his eagerness to obey orders. Perhaps the council’s first attempt to wipe out New York with a “Phase Two” weapon is unsuccessful because Rogers preemptively sabotaged it out of suspicion. Romanoff and Barton are the two who really don’t matter, so I guess they can be the way they were in the movie, only with a little more emotion. Maybe she shows some real emotion for a change. The team pulls through and Stark saves the day. Only…
Someone needed to die. I’m really sorry, but there’s no way that we can accept these movies if they’re entirely without consequences. It’s not like there’s a goal in this movie other than to stop the bad guy and not die in the process, and it’s not like they’re going to lose to the bad guy, so the only way to not completely cop out is to kill someone. Romanoff is the only woman, so it can’t be her. Barton would be easy, but he never really had a character to begin with. Thor needs to be around because he’s our space connection, and Stark isn’t going anywhere because while these filmmakers can be lazy at times, they’re not stupid. It needs to be Banner or Captain America because they’re both tragic characters and really the two most innocent and good. Hulk is the only one without a series — why didn’t Banner die after finally conquering his other half? It’d be bittersweet because he’d have sacrificed himself for the fight but he’d also be at peace, finally. And then you replace him with a woman character, who gets her own series and evens out the gender balance a little bit. Think about how much more tension we’d have going into Age of Ultron knowing that they had the balls to kill someone off like that. Most good popcorn movies are predicated on perseverance in the face of adversity and the ability of protagonists to shrug off personal losses. Think about Jaws, Top Gun, Star Wars, The Dark Knight, or even something like The Lion King. These are all great summer popcorn movies that deal with loss as a major theme and as a driver of action. How does Maverick come back after Goose dies? How does Luke pull his training together after witnessing the puzzling death of his only mentor? Sadly, everyone in this movie is a potential future money-maker, so they’re simply wheeled out for bad guys to shoot Nerf darts at them. Even Transformers killed characters, guys.
The disjointed script, lack of character development, failure to build real chemistry between characters and the formulaic threat point to a depression in audience film IQ that should concern you. The logic bar for summer blockbusters has been — and should be — set low, because we should be generally more concerned with enjoyment than with plot holes. What happens when any semblance of logic is thrown out the window in favor of crowd-pleasing moments? The example I took issue with was Thor making his entrance on top of the aircraft carrying Loki, presumably after he arrived on Earth from another planet or dimension or whatever. He’s got no way of knowing where Loki is, where this plane is in the thunderstorm he’s created, or even any concept of what’s going on here. But you know, we need a badass entrance that sets up the fight between him and Iron Man, so whatever. Nobody in the theater questioned how he got there, and if they did, I guarantee that it went something like, “Hey where the hell did he just come from?” “Uh, space.” “No, I know, I mean how did he kno– nice wordplay, Stark! This fight’s gonna be epic!” Same with Banner arriving for the final fight. He’s angry because his worst suspicions have been confirmed and more, then he turns, then he wakes up. So from the there, the obvious course of action is to try to figure out where they were all headed and go right there to join the fight that he’s stated on numerous occasions that he’d be staying out of. How’d he know New York, and how’d he know that spot? Why does Barton leave Fury alive if Loki’s not going to mind control him too? For that matter, why NOT mind control Fury? Why make a distraction and get the eyeball if Loki could probably get into that vault no problem on his own? Why are the supposedly all-powerful Chitauri stymied by arrows and pistols, and worse yet, why are they basically Trade Federation battle droids who all die when something blows up on the other side of a magic portal? Ultimately, it comes down to whether they’re providing enough consistent action and new match-ups to keep us occupied and otherwise sated. So yes, Thor has a five minute fight with Iron Man, but I’m struggling to remember if he exchanges even a single line with Romanoff. We’re meant to care about Coulson’s death, but they force feed us the tragedy of it like a child had died or something, when in reality, only two or three members of the team really had lines with him.
That’s what’s going to bug me about this forever. It’s perfectly acceptable for a movie to skip a really complex or complicated plot in favor of a really great character movie. When done right, a movie like The Magnificent Seven (usually my yardstick for American ensemble action movies) can take a bare bones story and infuse it with character moments and themes with which the audience is asked to identify. Even the more recent Fast and Furious movies succeed on a basic level when we see Dwayne Johnson weighing duty and justice, or Vin Diesel risking it all for family. At the top is a movie like The Fellowship of the Ring, which has great characters and a great story to boot. The Avengers skipped the story, but never delivered on the characters, either. We got anywhere between ‘some’ and ‘still not quite enough’ of the kind of development I suggested above; while you might still say that the Avengers are their own worst enemies for most of the movie, they still all show up at the end because what the hell else are they going to do? Thor is literally standing in a meadow for what appears to be hours while Tony fixes his suit and everyone else gears up for the final fight. Instead of trying to draw us in emotionally, this movie is trying to physically envelope the audience with IMAX, 3D and surround sound — everything that occurs between explosions is just waiting, really.
I still have paragraphs and paragraphs to write about SHIELD, the helicarrier, the other space bad guy, the council, the same bullshit post-9/11 ending we’ve seen a jillion times that features the destruction of an American city, the fact that however dire the threat, we experience almost zero civilian deaths or friendly fire, the questions that arise about SHIELD conduct when you find out later that they’re being partially run by HYDRA, why Cobie Smulders was in this movie and featured so prominently in the publicity, and particularly about why Loki didn’t take a drink when he was first offered one.
For those of you who stuck it out and read this, congratulations. To Marvel, I say: I’m sure you guys put in a lot of effort, and it’s not that it doesn’t show through all the CGI work you did. But am I impressed? I’d say I’m twelve percent impressed.
My Final Thoughts:
I wasn’t sure what I’d write here, since I’ve contended from the minute this film came out that it’s just not all that great. It has moments that are fun, but you can say that about just about every big budget studio movie. Even fucking Hercules did some things right. But from the start, all the collective “ermahgerd” from people about this movie — critics and audience — was baffling.
This movie doesn’t reinvent the wheel. This movie doesn’t even tell a particular good or coherent story. My thoughts as to why this is thought of as a good movie is because people put in five hours watching these other ones, so they feel “invested” in all of this. This is basically what X-Men was, just taking the long way and giving everyone movies first. And now, the way the culture is, people are so conditioned to accept mediocrity and not only are okay with mindless entertainment, but they even prefer it. There’s this weird mass reaction to movies where, when we’re given the same thing — stuff blows up, the scale is large, the plot doesn’t really make sense, but they give you just enough laughs and moments of entertainment — and people come out going, “Man, that was really great.” But you don’t remember half the movie. And the movie wasn’t really that good. But everyone just sort of agrees that a C movie should be an A-. No. You’re only allowed to overrate a movie if you’re giving a gut reaction outside the theater. People should not be treating this movie like an A or A- movie three years later. This is a B movie at best, maybe curved up to B+ because it has moments of pure entertainment.
I don’t even care about what this movie does right (though I will say, Whedon does sneak some interesting shots in there occasionally, even though he doesn’t linger on them at all and mostly the film is a bland piece of garbage, visually). I’m just gonna ramble off a bunch of things this movie does wrong, as I continue to wonder why people still think this is great.
Again — Marvel formula. And Marvel weak villain. Loki is a good character, but as a villain, he does nothing, and when you really think about what’s going on — he’s doing nothing while working for THANOS, who does nothing. And then the army is a bunch of faceless aliens who are easily killed and pose no real threat whatsoever. I don’t ever feel like the world is in danger.
Also, poor characters. Stark is reduced to one-liners. Thor is barely in the movie. Hawkeye has nothing to do until the end, whereupon he basically just shoots arrows really well. Banner is attempted to be made interesting, but really all he does is lament his situation and then get angry when he needs to. (Also, “I’m always angry?” That’s one of those things that makes me hate Marvel. Because everyone likes that line. Even I like that line. To an extent. But it makes no fucking sense and 90% of the audience won’t even bother dissecting that line and realize how ridiculous it really is.) Captain America doesn’t have much to do here at all. Black Widow is really the only one who gets interesting stuff to do. And most people don’t even remember her when you think about the stuff that happens here.
There really is no plot here. Loki comes down. He’s mad at the world and wants to take it over. And he’s working for Thanos, but whatever. And ignoring all the logic flaws behind him getting the cube, Fury just kind of decides, “Well, let’s just get all these heroes together.” Meanwhile Thor is really the only one you need. So maybe just get Jane Foster, since Thor watches her and jerks off all the time. Even without that weird dark magic workaround — he could have gotten there. But even so — you realize that if they don’t involve Stark, he’s right there when the shit goes down, right? And then it’s just an Iron Man movie with another underdeveloped villain showing up at the end. And then these people get together, argue, and then come together over nothing, and then defeat the enemy. Okay. You’re basically doing the plot of every team movie of all time. This is basically the Dirty Dozen except they’re all good guys and not prisoners. (FYI, Suicide Squad is essentially stealing the idea of the Dirty Dozen for their movie.) They don’t bother to set up the motivations for anyone, because they just want shit to come together. The whole thing is held by the barest form of thread, and nobody gives a shit.
So much of this movie is built around the main characters fighting each other. Which they barely do. The big fight scene between Iron Man, Captain America and Thor takes place in the fucking dark where you can’t see anything. Why even bother?
And don’t even get me started with the Coulson stuff. I mean… no.
It’s not that I hate everything about this movie, it’s the idea that people are so willing to accept a movie that doesn’t really make sense, sacrifices too much logic (since you have to sacrifice some for a movie of this size) for the sake of… something. It’s not totally entertainment. Some of it is nerd-stroking. Characters meeting each other, and having dialogue with each other, and setting up future conflicts and things. A lot of that is for the comics people.
The real problem is that, as Colin said, they did too much here. Too much involved. The helicarrier sequence is a great idea, but it really didn’t help tell the story of this movie. It just added action to it. Though, Colin said it would have been better to have a scaled back story. I feel like this was them feeling they didn’t have to do that, because we know all the characters, so we can just crank everything to 11 and do world annihilation because they’re all gonna go back to their “smaller” (he said, sarcastically) stories. There’s really no way they could have done any less than they did. (In more than one sense of the word. Because, seriously, this is Thor’s arc in this movie: comes to Earth, gets his brother. Fights with the other guys. “You humans are petty and tiny and this is an Asgard issue.” Then fighting. Then he stands in a field and stares at his hammer for four hours and conjures lightning. Then more fighting. That’s it.)
The real problem here is that, despite having so many problems with this movie, I have so many more problems with the rest of Marvel that I will actually end up ranking this relatively high on my list. Relativity is a terrible thing in this franchise, because the third best Marvel movie is honestly no better than like, the fifteenth best James Bond movie. I do ultimately prefer this movie to half of Marvel. But it’s still, like most of Marvel, a giant mess as far as film construction goes, and my biggest problem with it is how nobody seems to know or care how much of a mess it is, and how accepting they are of all the bullshit Marvel throws out.
If you had this movie in your top ten movies of the year for 2012, you are part of the problem.
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Tomorrow we’re back to single-hero movies.