I saw The Avengers four times in theaters when it was released. Twice in IMAX and twice in regular over the span of about a month. I was understandably younger and not quite in my 30’s just yet, but still it was because of how much I enjoyed the movie that my girlfriend and I saw it as many times as we did. At that point it was a major culmination of everything we had seen up to that point in the Marvel Cinematic Universe through five movies. We saw Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and Captain America all fight their own battles. Now we got to see them all come together with Black Widow and Hawkeye to fight one big battle. It was spectacular to say the least.
Yet, when I re-watch The Avengers now at this point of having experienced the whole MCU, it’s not that I like it any less than I did before when I saw it four times in the theater, I just like it differently now after observing some things.
I’ve talked before about how the MCU is really structured like a cinematic big budget TV series and if Phase 1 is Season 1 of that series then The Avengers is every bit the badass season finale and it really is built that way. Despite the variety of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations that each of our main characters inhabit to this point, it’s ultimately Nick Fury and SHIELD that bring the team together to find the Tesseract, stolen by Loki for a nefarious scheme to bring an alien army to Earth in hopes of conquering it.
So, let’s break this down like film study. The Avengers is a strong three-act film in every sense. The first act is from the start of the movie to the moment that Loki is brought aboard the Helicarrier after being captured by Captain America and Iron Man in Germany. The whole point of the first act is to understand what the threat is and to assemble the team, both of which we see and for the first time we saw our heroes interact with each other on screen at the same time. We even saw an awesome fight between Thor and Iron Man in the woods that was broken up by Captain America and his mighty Vibranium shield. Plenty of action, a decent amount of exposition and mostly seeing everyone come together.
The second act is all aboard the Helicarrier from the point of Loki’s capture to the point of his escape, and more notably the point of Agent Coulson’s “death.” Yes, I’m putting quotes around it because of Agents of SHIELD, you know I am. It’d be nice if someone told the team he was alive. You know, after six years? I digress. The second act is mostly decompression and to have the characters interact with each other to see just how much they don’t get along, especially Tony Stark and Steve Rogers. From the beginning Stark doesn’t trust Fury’s motivations and Rogers is reluctant to question orders like a good soldier would be, but eventually he learns the truth about Fury’s actual plan to use the Tesseract to build Red Skull-like weapons for SHIELD and the seeds of mistrust in the government that will literally last for the next six years in the mind of Steve Rogers are sewn. Seriously, that’s a big moment for him and it only gets worse and more complicated down the road.
This is the first time we see Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner and just like with Don Cheadle as Rhodes, they didn’t draw attention to it. No flimsy excuse was made, no explanation was given. He’s just Banner now. It didn’t bug me then and it still doesn’t bug me now, even with my renewed praise for The Incredible Hulk movie. Ruffalo works with this ensemble cast and while he might not seem like your standard stereotypical science geek, he still authoritatively gives off a professional geek vibe. Plus, his Hulk CGI is modeled off of his actual look so it’s less comic book in nature and more tailored to his true features, which I enjoy because I think that makes sense overall.
After mind-controlled Hawkeye leads Loki’s forces aboard the Helicarrier to bust him out of their prison, Thor and Hulk are separated from the Helicarrier and Coulson is killed, the third act begins with the “we are not soldiers” conversation between Stark and Rogers, when they figure out where Loki is building his portal to bring in the Chitauri army. Most of the final act is a no holds barred, cinematic slugfest between the Avengers and Loki’s army with not much time to breath in between fight sequences. Again, it’s the perfect season finale crossover event complete with the majestic “working together” sequence where you see all six of them fighting together, Stark’s attempt at ultimate heroism when he sends a nuke through the portal to destroy the rest of the alien army in space, and an ending montage of the rest of the world reacting to what has just happened with the Avengers making their presence known as a group. It was a payoff well worth it for fans of the MCU to that point.
It’s clear though looking back on it that it’s not a movie that can totally stand on its own as it needs setup from the characters and machinations of the previous five movies to really get the full effect of what is happening, and that’s fine within the structure of the MCU. It’s not a standalone movie after all, it’s a massive team-up movie. Yet this is the first time in Phase 1 that an MCU movie feels completely like an action movie and nothing else with regard to depth, drama or deeper character motivations. The Avengers is very much an A to B movie without regard for anything more than the basic plot. The major character building moments we had in the previous five MCU movies aren’t really there because this movie assumes you got all of that in the other films, which can work for and against an audience at the same time. The Avengers is certainly a more jovial movie than the rest of Phase 1 but it’s still not a movie that prides itself on fun above story. The story just happens to be very basic good versus evil, that’s all.
The VFX is as you would expect for a 143-minute movie with a $220 million budget. Phenomenal for the most part. Alan Silvestri, fresh off of Captain America: The First Avenger turns in a score that gave the MCU its most recognizable theme by far with the Avengers theme, but otherwise the score isn’t quite on par with what he did in Captain America. Solid nonetheless, though.
It should also be noted that this was a Joss Whedon film, back during a time when most people still revered him for Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Many were excited about him doing this movie and were not disappointed in the slightest by his effort at the time. Wow, has that perspective changed in six years for so many reasons.
The Avengers at the time of this posting is still the highest grossing MCU movie at $1.51 billion, $623.4 million of which was domestic totals. It was in theaters for 22 weeks, was the culmination of the first four years of the comic book shared cinematic universe experiment and set the stage for another six years of the franchise’s evolution. Whatever way you may feel about the MCU today, it was certainly a triumph for Marvel Studios and Disney in general. Even with the assured success of Avengers: Infinity War, we may never see another event like The Avengers in 2012.
Phase 1 re-watch complete. Onto the next phase.