The Avengers part 12

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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.

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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.

Comments

3 Responses to “The Avengers part 12”
  1. BenjaminJB says:

    After reading your Part 11–where the characters discuss super-powers in the real world and the film flips upside down–I was wondering how the film would get back to a more right-side up view. And it seems that it gets back to the plot by putting the characters through some standard heroics: fighting off the bad guys (and dealing with team dynamics, which is also pretty standard). It’s adventure/spectacle with plot significance (i.e., not hugger-mugger).

  2. I assume you’re joking around when you refer to Steve Rodgers as “kind of an idiot,” since he is the de facto leader of the team, and someone all of us would be proud to follow into battle. One of the screenplay’s most brilliant strokes is the way it gives each character an emotional arc to follow – something most ensemble pieces like this fail to do on a regular basis. Thor, of course, is still trying to clean up his (adopted) brother’s messes, hoping to bring Loki back into the Asgard-ian fold; Banner has his anger issues, and is finally able to use “the other guy” as an outward creative force; Natasha has her “red ledger” as does Hawkeye (though Barton, as in the comics, starts the movie as a villain and ultimately turns good, looking for some payback); and Tony is flat-out told that he’s only on the lookout for himself, and will never make the “big sacrifice” (which, by the end of course, he does).

    Cap’s arc, it would seem, is to grow accustomed to his surroundings – to find his place in the modern world. And a big part of that is to get over his blind loyalty to God and country, i.e. that government authority is no longer as black-and-white as it once was. When Tony and Bruce confront him about S.H.I.E.L.D.’s true modus operandi, Steve is trying to be the “good soldier”; it is not in his character to question authority. And while he’s certainly no “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist,” Steve is still smart enough to sneak behind the scenes to discover the truth for himself.

  3. Tim says:

    I love your whole analysis. I’m putting my comments here since they both concern Phil, the “audience surrogate” as you say, and my personal favorite.

    One little moment early on that humanizes him is during the escape from the facility as soldiers are taking out the military things. A cart gets knocked over, a bunch of military things fall, and the soldiers escorting them go to pick them up. Barely heard is Phil yelling “Leave them! Leave them!” He cares more for the soldiers getting out then the military whatevers.

    Also, when he’s talking to Captain America (I believe on the way to the helicarrier), the Captain says something about the uniform being old-fashioned. Phil responds with something along the lines of “With everything that’s about to happen, the things about to come to light…people could use a little old-fashioned.” I think this is a small reveal about Phil knowing SHIELD’s/Fury’s secrets and realizing 1) the secrets might come out, and 2) everything happening might just be the thing that brings them out. What do you think?