The Avengers part 12
Let’s talk for a moment about how The Avengers balances its “superhero” moments.
It begins with Nick Fury, who posesses a kind of power everyone is familiar with: governmental power. Fury commands people, airships, scientists, bureaucrats, resources. It then presents Dr. Selvig, who possesses scientific power, the power to understand the Tesseract, and Loki, who wields a sceptre that gives him power over men’s minds but is otherwise a dude in a weird outfit. It then sidesteps to Black Widow, who also has power over men’s minds, albeit in a very different way. Then it gives us Tony Stark, who wants to use his powers for good but is kind of a jerk, Steve Rogers, who wants to use his powers for good but is kind of an idiot, and Bruce Banner, who doesn’t want to use his powers at all. Finally it gives us Thor, who has incredible power but feels it’s best to withhold it. Each one of these scenes is presented with maximum impact — we feel Fury’s governmental power and Black Widow’s psychological power as viscerally as we feel Tony’s technological power or Steve’s physical power. The narrative builds power upon power, it has differently-powered characters first dance with one another, then fight, until Hawkeye, Loki’s slave, returns to free his master, and the narrative cycle begins again. Now that all that power has been presented, tangled and and coiled in on itself, it is time, at mid-movie, to express itself.
So the screenplay presents a conflagration, an excuse, really, to let all that coiled energy burst forth. Hawkeye alights on Nick Fury’s gigantic helicarrier and takes out one of its rotors with one arrow strike. It would appear that Hawkeye’s talent is for precision, knowing an enemy’s weak point. It is not a coincidence that Hawkeye strikes at the exact moment when tempers have reached their boiling point among the Avengers; it is, rather, a narrative expression of it. It’s like the moment in a romantic comedy when the lovers argue, then grab each other and kiss: having flexed their muscles for an hour, our gang of heroes now must leap into action with each other.
The scenario breaks into a number of sections. The cynical Tony and the naive Steve are given a technological problem to solve, Black Widow is handed a situation with the Hulk that she can’t solve with feminine wiles, and must hand things over to Thor, who sees himself as an expert in peace through strength. Nick Fury, meanwhile, contends with the tactical problem of hostile forces invading his ship’s bridge. At the mid-point of the sequence, Fury’s men get the Hulk out of the way, leaving Thor to deal with Loki, who gets the drop on him and, well, drops him, out of the sky in his own prison. Tony and Steve get separated, leaving Tony to deal with the technology and Steve to deal with some soldier work. The action round-robin circles back around to Black Widow, who cures Hawkeye from his Loki-mind-meld with a clonk to the head.
This is all impeccably staged. The technology feels real, the superheroics have heft and impact, the emotions are felt, the human interactions are closely observed. The power wielded by the superheroes is primarily defensive: Iron Man fixes a rotor, Steve fights off some soldiers, Black Widow knocks some sense into Hawkeye, Thor tries to control Hulk. The only people using their powers to attack are the power-hungry, the entranced and the enraged.
At the end of this long, complicated roundelay, Agent Coulson dies at the hands of Loki, who escapes on a jet. Coulson has been the fragile human soul of the movie, the “fan,” the audience surrogate, the most easily relatable character. His fanboy admiration of the dorkiest Avenger, Capt America, touches us, because there is a part of us who like to be that simple, that pure, that sure of ourselves.
And so, here at the end-of-Act II low point, Nick Fury, our protagonist, our father figure who has lost his favorite son, finally reveals himself. Yes, he says to Tony and Steve, SHIELD was developing superweapons from the Tesseract, but he has always had his mind on a higher goal: a team, a family greater than the sum of its parts. Those parts are now scattered hither and yon, the Tesseract and Loki are gone.