Chapter 10. “What’s His Play?” 50:25 – 1:01:08
Logline: The Avengers gather on the SHIELD bridge and spend all their time bantering instead of working out their next move.
The Sequence. We think of literal blockbuster action scenes when we remember The Avengers, but THIS actually is the centrepiece sequence. It’s the moment in which our core characters get in one room and bounce off of each other. And it’s somewhat delightful.
Everyone here is literally in a different movie. Let’s assess what we’ve got.
-Brilliant technological innovator. Sarcastic, arrogant.
-Genetically enhanced soldier brought forward from World War II. Earnest.
-God from another planet. Dour, ponderous.
-Genius scientist who can turn into a killing machine. Awkward.
-Russian super spy. Straightforward.
This is actually Joss Whedon’s wheelhouse. Angel was about not one but two formerly evil vampires who had been given a soul, a gregarious demon who reads people’s futures if you sing at him, a human vampire killer from the streets, a once foppish Brit molded into a merciless badass, and an ancient mummy who’d once ruled the world. The thing is, that show took five seasons to get that wacky of a group together. Whedon has come into a project where he’s been handed all these different characters who simply don’t belong in a scene together. Just having them talk to each other produces some moments of brilliance.
The Big Picture. I’m enjoying these characters playing off each other, but I don’t feel as invested in The Avengers as I did in Back to the Future, The Matrix, or Aliens. Those films had these audience insert characters who started ordinary and became extraordinary. These people are extraordinary to start with. Not only that, they were extraordinary to start with even in their debut films (aside from Captain America).
This is kind of my paradoxical problem with superhero movies. Ideally origin stories should make you relate to a character before they become extraordinary, but even if I like the character I get bored with the movie they’re in when they follow a lot of the same beats. Sequels to superhero movies are far more confidently made, but with the protagonist fully formed there sometimes less of a human element.
It’s not that fun to watch a character who’s “above” us and dealing with things we can no longer relate to (see Neo in The Matrix vs. The Matrix Reloaded). However, there’s is a novelty to taking five character who are “above” us and putting them in one room. It’s a lot of fun, but I don’t care about what’s happening in quite the same way as the previous three films we’ve covered.
50:50 – Loki looks like he could escape the soldiers whenever he wants, but I think that’s the point. It’s his choice to be here, Fury knows that it’s his choice to be here and isn’t happy about it, but all they can really do is let things play out.
51:35 – “Ant. Boot.” This feels like a Rock/Stathem type callback that should be happening at the very end of the movie, that we’re getting it now should be worrisome for the viewer. The more the movie tries to lull you into thinking everything is fun at the 51 minute mark, the greater the impending tragedy.
53:39 – The recapping around the table is one of the less interesting bits here. The scene starts to come to life when Banner compares Loki’s brain to a “bag full of cats.” That’s just funny.
55:22 – For all the tension that builds in the scene, I do like that Stark takes to Banner right off the bat. It could make him really one note and jerkassy if he was just sarcastic to everybody.
55:51 – Fury referencing flying monkeys, Thor not understanding, and Rogers being uncharacteristically delighted about finally getting a pop culture reference is one of those quietly joyful moments that you can only get from having such well established, yet wholly different characters in one room.
57:52 – Love Rogers “That big ugly…” [realizes he’s offending Tony, then realizes he doesn’t care] “…building in New York?”
1:00:12 – Stark and Banner, talking about what makes them alike. Cursed with terrible weaknesses that, if embraced, are what makes them heroes. The two of them talk to each other through a glass monitor, and each of their faces are reflected in the other’s coverages. The two are being paralleled.
Behind the Scenes
-Whedon made the best of the tiresome “people sitting around the table talking” scene that he could. The more stalwart heroes are sitting or standing around talking. Then Tony comes in and is constantly moving, touching other characters, standing where Fury is supposed to stand. Reveals his dynamism.
Chapter 11. “Tensions Rise” 1:01:08 – 1:12:52
Logline: Serious tensions, exacerbated by Loki, begin to develop among the Avengers.
The Sequence. We’re building off the last sequence. There had been banter, but it was playful. This time, though the dialogue is polished and witty still, it’s dipped in venom. Even if Loki’s staff is changing the tone of the room, some genuinely toxic secrets come out. Romanov, though she recovers quickly, does seem a little shaken by what Barton has told Loki. Fury has resentment and mistrust towards Thor for indirectly kicking off an intergalactic threat. Banner reveals he tried to commit suicide.
Stark and Rogers alone keep their personal secrets out of it, but the tension between them starts to boil. We’ll see that play out over many films. Again, going back to Angel, it does take me back to the Angel vs. Spike showdown that had been a long time coming. Those two had a violent clash over what it really means to be a hero, and Whedon draws from that same well here. Is Stark an independent, self made hero, or a guy who’s nothing without his suit? Is Rogers a patriot of the second World War, or a toy solider whose powers came from a bottle? Like Spike and Angels, two heroes arguing that the other is not heroic is inherently interesting material.
At the end of the sequence, the argument is cut short when SHIELD is attacked. Their differences aren’t resolved, the heroes are only united against a much more immediate problem. That can only mean one thing, especially considering we’re headed into the Part 4 Darkest Hour… this is a fight the Avengers are about to lose.
The Big Picture. Even if I did grouse a bit in the last chapter, I think the deliberate simplicity of the storyline is what makes The Avengers work. And it does conform perfectly to the five act structure.
Part 1: We meet the heroes individually.
Part 2: The heroes comes together in a violent way.
Part 3: The heroes get a chance to talk to each other. They clash.
Part 4: The heroes team up and fight. They lose.
Part 5: The heroes rally back and fight again. They win.
Meanwhile, what’s the throughline? Loki wants to use a powerful energy source to subjugate and potentially destroy the Earth. We know that ten minutes in, and nothing new is added to that ten minutes from the end.
The plot in The Avengers is a framework for six protagonists to meet, clash, then get into big action scenes. And that’s not a knock. Simplicity is beautiful. When I go into an ice cream parlour, don’t try to give me a Mont Blanc Chocolate Pavlova. No, give me the most amount of ice cream you have in the biggest waffle bowl you have. If I’m seeing The Avengers, I want only a couple specific things from it, and it gives them to me in generous quantities.
1:01:45 – We cut away from a quick scene of Dr. Selvig to Thor looking at Natalie Portman’s photo. Doesn’t feel like his one piece is in isolation.
1:02:53 – Staging is always important. Thor and Coulson have a solid relationship, the two of them are on the same level chatting to each other. Fury talks to Thor from a catwalk, appearing to tower over him. We don’t explicitly know that Fury resents Thor, but we feel it based on where their characters are positioned in the scene.
1:05:40 – When Loki alludes to some devastating events in Natasha’s past, it’s not entirely clear if she’s actually affected and is using that in her performance, or 100% playing him all along. I like that ambiguity.
1:05:55 – More reflections. I don’t know if Loki’s weird distorted steps towards her symbolizes anything other than it being weird and off putting.
1:06:23 – He does do more than scratch the glass. I would have liked it if suddenly Loki has just dropped out of the scene mid monologue.
1:07:29 – At this point, the main villain is in a cell, and Tony and Bruce have got the search for the Tesseract well in hand. The overall problem is (seemingly) well in hand and almost beside the point compared to the threat the characters pose to each other.
1:07:34 – “What is Phase 2?” “Phase 2 is SHIELD uses the Cube to make weapons.” No, Phase 2 is Winter Solider and then a bunch of mostly ok movies. Come at me.
1:09:31 – The shot of the Avengers arguing upside down with the Loki stick in the foreground. Any time there’s a shot I don’t understand I just assume it’s a reference to a famous comic book I never read.
1:10:52 – Most of this scene cuts around wildly, but it goes in very tight on Stark and Rogers. It sends a message that this relationship is not only the core relationship of the movie, but of many movies to come.
1:11:22 – The “drunk shot” of Thor. I don’t know why, but that angle is shorthand for “He’s under a bad influence.”
Behind the Scenes
-Never even registered this, but Whedon takes care to give Coulson a scene with every character he’s met in a previous film, because when is he going to get another chance…?
-It’s another dreaded scene of six characters in a room talking to each other, and there was very little Whedon could do to vary it up. It’s a credit to the punchy dialogue, the heat from the actors, and the quick cutting that it feels interesting even without any real visual pizzazz.