The Avengers part 10
We briefly check in with Dr. Selvig, who is in a mobile laboratory, adding his stolen irridium to the Tesseract for whatever purpose. ”Checking in with the Tesseract” generally signals an act break in The Avengers, so let’s see where we are now.
Nick Fury wants the Tesseract back, for mysterious reasons. He’s got Loki, who stole the Tesseract, but he got him rather early in Act II, and without much of a fight. At the act break, Fury is nowhere to be found. Instead, we have a face-off scene between Tony Stark, Bruce Banner and Steve Rogers, debating the nature of Fury’s scheme. We screenwriters define an act break as the irreversible course change in the protagonist’s path, so in the case of The Avengers it would seem that Fury has sat out this particular act break, letting his bickering family members alter the course of his path for him. And since “getting the Avengers to work together” is what Fury needs to do in order to get the Tesseract back, “Tony Stark sowing seeds of discontent among the team” counts as a significant setback.
Next we have a brief scene where Coulson lets Thor know that Jane Foster, Thor’s significant other, has been moved out of harm’s way. This piece of exposition, meant solely to mop up a continuity issue between Thor and The Avengers, is given to Coulson in order to further humanize him. If Fury is the father of the piece, Coulson is the mother. Fury fulminates and plans while Coulson cares.
Thor, for his part, wonders if superheroics are really so useful in the human world. It’s nice to be a god, he reasons, but gods are human too, and when they fight, as his kin — and certainly the Avengers — do, the destruction visited on the human world is terrible. Better, perhaps, to be an absent god, to be rumored and feared, but essentially unknown?
Fury knows what he wants from Thor: to have a god torture a god until that god gives up his secrets. Does that constitute a turning point for Fury? Fury had mentioned to Steve that “America has made some mistakes” since WWII, is the torturing of prisoners one of those mistakes? If so, is torturing Loki not a thing that Fury was thinking of doing until Thor came along? Is that Fury’s turning point, the “whatever it takes to keep the world safe” excuse that’s been used by the US since 9/11 to justify committing war crimes? How desperate is he? He alluded to being plenty desperate earlier — was he prepared to torture prisoners then too?
In any case, Fury does not send Thor to torture Loki, but instead sends Black Widow, in the best scene in the movie, and one of the best scenes of any movie in 2012. Deliberately lifted from the climax of Act II of Silence of the Lambs, this scene shows how you do that, how you take a classic scene, pay homage to it, then lift it out of its context, flip it around, make it pop, get a laugh and advance your plot. And it all comes from character.
Black Widow goes to Loki, we think on her own, we think behind Fury’s back, to plead for Barton’s life, to plead for some measure of humanity from Loki, in the same way that Clarice Starling goes to Lecter in his cell in the Tennessee courthouse in Silence to plead for the identity of Buffalo Bill, to save the life of a kidnapped young woman. Loki, like Lecter, is addicted to cruelty, and uses Black Widow’s vulnerability as a lever against her. Black Widow, like Clarice, confesses her darkest secrets and desires, in the hopes of warming Loki’s heart. But Loki, unlike Lecter, doesn’t care about his interlocuter, doesn’t have Lecter’s curiosity about the human heart. No, he’s got all of Black Widow’s secrets already and he uses his knowledge to make her feel worse and worse, crowing in his triumph at her agony until he spills his own secret — that he allowed himself to be captured in order to have access to Bruce Banner. And, because we’ve seen Black Widow do this before, it is both completely surprising and completely expected that her agony is all an act, that it is she who’s been playing Loki the whole time. Loki, as a reader has pointed out, is a very poor player indeed, focused solely on his own sense of power, in love with his own voice, never thinking of what might be coming up to blindside him. He’s been rehearsing his triumphal speeches for eons and keeps getting frustrated when the crowd blows raspberries at them.
This means that Nick Fury’s path does not irreversibly change in mid-movie, that, for all his desperation, torturing a prisoner was not something he was willing to do (either that, or Black Widow took the alternate route upon herself while Fury was busy elsewhere. Fury, however, now must deal with Stark and his suspicions, which bring with them a whole other set of problems.