At the end of the last post I mentioned “stakes.” An important thing to understand about stakes is that they are directly related to the success of a cinematic narrative. When the stakes are low, the movie feels “small,” and the narrative decreases audience involvement. A movie about a guy who loses his keys is going to be less involving, to most people, than a movie about the end of the world. On a macro scale, less audience involvement generally means less audience. When the stakes are life-or-death, audience involvement increases. So The Avengers takes care to mention, right up front, that nothing less than the fate of all humanity, and the universe, is at stake. Not the planet, not the solar system or even the galaxy, but the universe. Obviously, this movie is playing for keeps.
In the coming weeks, there will be much discussion of what the “best screenplay” of 2012 is. The Avengers will probably be absent from that discussion. That’s a shame, because the screenplay for The Avengers is a startling model of precision, density and propulsive narrative. It manages to balance no fewer than ten wildly disparate main characters in its ensemble cast, but gives each of them weight, clarity and purpose. Dear readers, I’ve worked on many a comic-book movie, none of which ever got near production. Getting one superhero narrative to work is damn near impossible; The Avengers has a screenplay that soars with seven.