Popular Culture

The Avengers

Gods and monsters


More than anything else, The Avengers is a triumph for Joss Whedon, who wrote the script and directed the movie and is now, after years of smaller-scale wizardry in the fantasy genre, firmly installed in the top echelon of the Hollywood big time. Without his expert ministrations, the picture might have been just another comic-book superhero exercise. True, several of the characters he was handed here—Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and the Hulk—were already well-established among fan folk by nearly 50 years of Marvel comics and in more recent blockbuster franchise films of their own. But herding them together into one big super-pileup—and under the closely controlling hand of Marvel Studios—required a gifted traffic cop; and Whedon, who demonstrated a knack for ensemble maneuvering in his TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly, was, as we now see, the ideal man for the job.

He also proves himself a master of big-budget action and CGI integration, and, most important, of maintaining focus on his many characters' famous idiosyncrasies through even the most distracting clamor. The movie kicks to life with an attack on the headquarters of S.H.I.E.L.D.—the Earth-guarding agency helmed by one-eyed Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson in full scowl)—by the renegade god Loki (Tom Hiddleston), adoptive son of faraway Odin and thus resentful brother of the blindingly blond Thor (Chris Hemsworth). Loki was last seen disappearing down a space wormhole at the end of last year's Thor. Now he has arrived on Earth, "burdened with glorious purpose," as he puts it, and determined to seize the Tesseract, a "cosmic cube" of fearsome power, which has been in S.H.I.E.L.D.'s possession since the end of last year's Captain America: The First Avenger. (Whedon was brought in on both of those films to sync up their endings with the already plotted beginning of this one.)  

When Loki and his gang of hideous reptilian space thugs make off the with the Tesserac—which will enable Loki to (what else?) conquer the world—Nick Fury declares a "Level 7" emergency, and sets about assembling the Avengers, that retaliatory strike force made up of the wise-cracking Iron Man, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.); World War II hero Captain America (Chris Evans), only recently awoken from a 70-year nap; Thor, of course (once again played by Chris Hemsworth), who actually just happens to drop in; and the deadly assassin Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), listed on the S.H.I.E.L.D. speed dial as the Black Widow. (They're later joined by the brooding super-archer Hawkeye, played by Jeremy Renner.) Romanoff is further tasked with locating and re-recruiting the disaffected Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), currently working on his anger-management issues as a doctor at an Indian leper colony under his real-world name of Bruce Banner. Soon most of these characters are assembled on S.H.I.E.L.D.'s vast flying battleship, the Helicarrier, and they set off in search of the demented Loki.

This is familiar superhero stuff, and madly complicated. But director Whedon maintains clarity throughout by concentrating on the team's various personal issues of brotherly estrangement, guilt, self-doubt, and so forth. He also stages a virtually nonstop series of spectacular action sequences. Early on, we find the Black Widow tied to a chair in a violent interrogation by some Russian mobsters. Receiving an urgent phone call from S.H.I.E.L.D. (very witty), she erupts into a frenzy of butt-kicking—still tied to the chair—that is a model of martial-arts devastation. The furor builds through many explosive confrontations to an elaborate (if predictable, and overlong) showdown among the skyscrapers of New York. (Concluding, if it need be said, in a fleeting tease for the inevitable sequel).

There's also an abundance of snappy lines sprinkled throughout the story (some of the best allotted to Downey—possibly a contractual obligation). Advised that the caped and armored Thor and Loki are "basically gods," the straight-arrow Captain America replies, "There's only one God, ma'am, and He doesn't dress like that." And Whedon's script keeps the zingers coming right up to the end.

But it's the unusually high-quality actors who really power the movie. Downey is…well, Downey, always a fairly splendid thing. Hemsworth is a sweetly personable muscle mountain, and Clark Gregg once again brings valuable warmth to the fantastical story as Nick Fury's suit-and-tied aide, Phil Coulson. But Whedon's most inspired casting move was to bring in Ruffalo to play the Hulk (a character previously portrayed, with minimal memorability, by Eric Bana and Edward Norton). Ruffalo's Bruce Banner is a man struggling to suppress the violent outbursts that transform him into a rampaging "big green rage monster" (Tony Stark's formulation), and the actor plays him with meticulous restraint (which vanishes, of course, when he erupts into his mo-capped alter ego).

As good as the performances are, and as extravagant as the movie's gleaming art design is, the most rousing aspect of The Avengers is the liberation it surely prefigures for Whedon. Having successfully subordinated himself to the purposes of the Marvel empire, he can now move on to bring his own visions to the screen, with the larger budgets his unique talent warrants. Unlike the pitiful Loki, Whedon would seem to be a man who really is on his way to world conquest.

Kurt Loder is a writer living in New York. His third book, a collection of film reviews called The Good, the Bad and the Godawful, is now available. Follow him on Twitter at kurt_loder.

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    1. Amehn.

      I had been peripherally aware that there was an Avengers movie coming out. I hadn’t seen any of the trailers or other info.

      I was hoping it was based on the 1960s British TV series. (But all the previous re-boots on that had sucked as well, so I wasn’t hoping too much.)

      [My favorite plot from the TV series: Death by Instant Dry Rot.]

      1. Possibly my favorite episode was “The Morning After”, even though it was a Linda Thorson episode (which fortunately she mostly slept thru). Very well constructed in terms of the mystery and its solution.

  1. “If you break the law, I’m going to beat you up!” hisses the muscle-guy in red, white n’ blue Lycra.

  2. Fun for the whole family! And some cracker lines!
    Story and moral a bit thin and fuzzy though.

    1. Save the Earth from the alien invaders. Seems straightforward enough.

    2. Or subtle. Loki’s causus belli was to free humans from freedom. We’ve seen that theory in action lately.

      I particularly appreciated that several times during the story ordinary non-superhero people stood up to be counted. It wasn’t just the heros-rescuing-sheep trope.

      Wheedon rules.

  3. I was a big fan from 1972-1978. I like to think I was ahead of my time.

    1. *sprains hand patting self on back*

      1. When I do that the stress seems more in the shoulder.

        1. “Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all”

          – Whitney Houston pre-bathtub drowning.

          1. It’s an important message.

            Crucial, really.

            And it’s beautifully stated on the album.

  4. I’m going to see this tonight.

  5. Related, for all you nerd-types who like JoCo.

  6. Did someone mention Firefly?

    We all know what that means!

    1. Don’t use the F word.

    2. KK Are you in your bunk?

      1. Bunk, work cubicle – same thing.

    3. Jaaaaaane!
      ‘Let me do the math. Ten percent of nuthin’ is…”

      1. Jayne, your mouth is talking. You might wanna look to that.

      2. Boy, it sure would be nice if we had some grenades, don’t you think?

      3. We gotta go to the crappy town where I’m a hero.

  7. If Whedon turned this into a good movie, I’m impressed. It had potential train wreck written all over it.

    1. Yeah, even though I liked these characters in their own movies (except the two Hulks), I figured “How can you make a coherent story about a group of superheroes with wildly different origins?”

    2. Whedon’s been a great director for a while now. I’m glad that this success will bring him some financial backing for even better films.

      1. Whedon’s been a great director for a while now.

        The end action sequence in Serenity was fucking horrible.

        My god how hard is it to put a camera over Jayne’s shoulder when he was shooting revers?

        Seriously after a giant CGI pretty awesome space chase the last bit of trench warfare was like watching a GI Joe Saturday morning cartoon….fucking horrible. It nearly ruins the movie beyond repair.

        1. Budget was pretty limited on that movie.

        2. It was supposed to be the conclusion of a moderately long running series, not a two hour movie.

          1. Yeah, as much as I liked Serenity, it seemed like a slightly amped up tv episode of Firefly.

            I was late to the Firefly party, so I enjoyed it.

            It had a $39 million budget which seems like a lot of money, but when compared to other similar movies is fairly small.

            Picking a random sci-fi movie, Solaris which really had little in the area of special effects had a budget of $47 million.

  8. My handle legally requires me to see this.

    My public school education compels me to see Battleship…for non-ironic reasons…

    Hey at least they are making Atlas Shrugged pt. 2: Electric Bugaloo…hopefully they replace the corpses with living actors and the PlayStation 2 special effects with supercomputer graphics. Sigh…it’s going to suck…

    1. If I were directing it I’d put Dagny in a leather catsuit and write in an invasion of collectivist aliens. Maybe a wisecracking cyborg bulldog…

      1. Can the bulldog be racist as well? Please say yes!?

        Howbout, Galt walks away from an explosion without looking at it. Badass.

        1. A loveable racist in an archie bunker sort of way. Love the walk away idea. Instead of a railroad, let’s make it a starship to Alpha Centauri.

        2. While monologueing. Can’t be Galt without a monologue.

          1. They are saving it for 3. Atlas Shrugged 3: Nothing but Galt.

            1. Will the monologue be a full length film?

              1. Only if they make a six hour movie.

                1. I think I counted like 174 pages for just the monologue the last time I read that book.

                  That said, I think that particular movie will be a little on the dull side if we’re watching Galt just talk at the camera the whole time; yet I’m caught in a dilemma because it’s worth the read.

                  To cut or not to cut?

                  1. Solution: It’s Galt talking while walking away from explosions and killing Nazis with a nigh-infinite supply of firearms. Then, when the bullets run out, flying sidekicks.

                    1. Only if Robert Downey Jr can play Galt.

                    2. Sounds more like a job for…

                      CHUCK NORRIS

                    3. “We want you to become economic dictator, Mr. Galt.”

                      “I thought I didn’t qualify. Apparently I’m, what was it? ‘Volatile, self-obsessed, and don’t play well with others’?”

                      “Oh, that was just theory! We’ve got to be practical!”

  9. But Kurt, you didn’t address the most burning question in all our minds. How much screen time does Chris Hemsworth’s glorious naked torso get in the flick? If it’s less than several minutes I’ll be pissed.

    1. NOW I’m in my bunk….

    2. When seeing Thor in theaters, for legal obligations, the only time the women-folk stopped snoring and audibly gasped is when his Hollywood-fueled physique polluted the screen. Oh well, at least they went right back into the kitchen to make sandwiches for everyone afterwards.

      1. Much as God intended it …

      2. Hollywood-fueled physique polluted glorified the screen all who witnessed it’s radical presence.

        Chris Hemsworth’s torso has the chest muscles that launched a thousand ships. Don’t be one of those whiny bitches who complains “yoga pants aren’t pants” just because she doesn’t look good in yoga pants.

        1. No, he was beefed up that’s for sure. Just would have preferred more baddies getting crushed with a magical hammer (god…why does that sound gay?) than glorification of the disgusting utilitarian(See Seinfeld) male form.

          Actually, on third thought, they can keep the glorification of the disgusting utilitarian(See Seinfeld) male form as long as they cut out that romance bullshit. FUCK. THAT. NOIZE.

          Who says Libertarians can’t compromise?

          1. I find the male form to be quite aesthetically pleasing, especially when it has a massive V shape in the torso and bulletproof pecs. Part projection of an amateur strength trainer, part not being a 0 on the kinsey scale, and part contrarian tendencies.

            I wasn’t bothered with the romance. Natalie Portman I could take or leave, but Chris Hemsworth was so charming in this role, which was a big part of the reason the movie was enjoyable, and I think charming the ladies was an important part of that charm.

            I agree there could have been more violence. There can always be more violence. Smashing Jotuns, who aren’t even human, with a magic hammer which moves at the speed of sound and is so heavy you need to 1)be Thor 2)have magic gloves and 3)have a magic belt to lift it, should have resulted in frequent occurrence of ludicrous gibs.

  10. Cannot watch. The whole concept of the Avengers is retarded in the first place, in the special way that comic books are retarded. Each of these superheroes in isolation can be made interesting, and at least self-consistent within the confines of their own fictional worlds. How the hell am I supposed to buy a team of two ordinary people without superpowers, an ordinary person with plausibly fabulous wealth and plausible superpowers based on tech, a guy with superpowers from an implausible but not reality-shattering superserum, a guy with hopelessly unrealistic shapechanging superpowers that might as well be magic, and a god from the goddamn Norse mythos? They might as well throw in an actuary, a wizard, and Jehovah himself, to really balance out the team.

    1. That will be in Avengers II.

    2. Asator would rip Jehovah’s fucking arms and legs off any day of the week.

    3. Cannot watch. The whole concept of the Avengers is retarded in the first place, in the special way that comic books are retarded.

      If you go to a movie and expect a portrayal of realistic situations you’re not going to get what you want most of the time.

      1. You misunderstood. I don’t expect or require that kind of realism. I do expect coherence.

        1. You must be frequently disappointed.

    4. Actuary Man was too busy doing the Avengers taxes to participate in this film, but he will be in the deleted scenes!

      1. Perhaps the directors cut?

    5. How the hell am I supposed to buy a team of two ordinary people without superpowers, an ordinary person with plausibly fabulous wealth and plausible superpowers based on tech, a guy with superpowers from an implausible but not reality-shattering superserum, a guy with hopelessly unrealistic shapechanging superpowers that might as well be magic, and a god from the goddamn Norse mythos?

      I actually find Iron Man’s suit (jet engines in the palm of the hand…and feet!!) and a super serum made in the 40’s less plausible then Thor who is from an advanced alien society using technology that is beyond our understanding. Hulk and Super serum are equally implausible to me.

      1. DC Comics had a plausible scenario snuck slyly into the Suerpman series. This story featured an Earthling who wound up on an inhabited planet with low gravity, where he could leap tall bldgs. in a single bound. The natives built their bldgs. with walls of glass, which was opaque to their eyes but which the Earthling could see thru — or break with his bare hands. In such low gravity, the natives were made of low density material that could be easily penetrated with weapons that would just bounce off the Earthling.

    6. Honestly, I watched the trailer for this movie and then The Dark Knight Rises back to back and was struck by how different these two movies are.

      Nolan is a serious director making a comic book movie that represents the pinnacle of the comic book as a dramatic form (I’m already predicting a crap load of Oscar noms for this one, including Best Picture).

      While the The Avengers is just cinematic junk food, not that there is anything wrong with seeing a fun movie.

      1. I didn’t like the second batman film. The first one was alright.

    7. Look, I don’t think it ought to be blasphemy, just saying “Jehovah”!

      You’re only making it worse for yourself!

      Making it worse? How could it be worse? Jehovah, Jehovah, Jehovah!

    8. All of this was addressed and handled in the movie. That’s part of what makes it great.

  11. Dude seems to know what he is talking about. WOw.


  12. Unlike the pitiful Loki, Whedon would seem to be a man who really is on his way to world conquest.

    This is Whedon we are talking about here.

    He will implode on his next project guaranteed.

    No worries though he always seems to pick himself off the ground afterward.

  13. These characters are the Avengers?

    I thought John Steed and Emma Peel were the Avengers.

    1. They already made a crappy movie version of The Avengers, not even Sean Connery could save it.

  14. I don’t know, I can buy gamma radiation turning you into some kind of mutant with superhuman strength, but where does the extra 800 pounds of mass come from every time you turn into the Hulk? And where does it go when you turn back into Banner?

    1. Hmm? He’s surrounded by invisible, readily-available mass.

      Seriously, with all the actual plausibility problems involved in shapeshifting, why do people always seem to think that the mass is some sort of special showstopper? You’re swimming in atmosphere, exchanging your own mass with it all the time. Why can’t a shapeshifter? If Bruce Banner needs to gain 800 lbs. to become the Hulk, he just effectively inhales a 22-foot-a-side cube of air.

      1. I wonder if he could suffocate someone that way.

      2. If it is a biological process turning air which is mostly nitrogen into muscle in a matter of seconds is pretty hard to do.

        Life has evolved over a 4 billion year period and still has a pretty hard time doing anything with it…and that is not without trying. Fixing nitrate is a fundamental biological process.

        I am sure there are quicker ways but my guess is that it requires a shit load of energy. Hulk would be melting the floor every time he transforms.

    2. I think that Peter David (who wrote a really great stretch of Hulk comics) put something in about Banner’s rage and gamma radiated cells opening some kind of quantum portal to draw not just mass, but the immense amounts of energy to ‘Hulk out’. It is also why, as Banner’s personality changed (splintered and reformed) we saw a variety of Hulk incarnations.

      /end of geek speek

  15. I saw it at a sneak preview. It’s cinematic junk food, for sure, but great cinematic junk food. Think 7-layer dip with Cool Ranch Doritos, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Marshmallow Peeps, and a 12-pack of Cactus Cooler.
    BTW, stay all the way through the end of the credits for the final scene.

  16. For fuck’s sake, can’t a guy just enjoy a movie as a fanboy without having to worry about the physics involved?

    BTW, I will gladly take 2.5 hours of escape from the real world where we will likely end up with either Obama or Romney and people will act like it matters.

  17. oh gawd, my favorite superhero is Paul Kersey, where have all the flowers gone eh?

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  19. This is one of the great movie, it’s cool..

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