The Avengers part 13
Toward the beginning of Act III of The Avengers, a security guy gives clothes to Bruce Banner, who has crashed through the roof of a factory or warehouse or something. The security guy is played by Harry Dean Stanton, who, the veteran viewer knows, has seen some weird shit in his day. He asks Bruce if he’s an alien, specifically referencing Alien, where Stanton got his head gored by the eponymous xenomorph.
Back at the helicarrier, we check in with Black Widow and Hawkeye. Hawkeye was the first superhero casualty of the screenplay, now he’s the first to be brought around to action again. Hawkeye’s first concern is “How many agents did I kill while I was hypnotized?” As the screenplay has hinted, there are dark aspects to “good guys” having too much power, especially in the world of spycraft. The casting of Jeremy Renner, star of The Hurt Locker, deliberately echoes the message. In that movie he was an adrenaline-mad soldier heedless of collateral damage, and Hawkeye’s arc connects The Avengers to the real world, makes its metaphor clear: if we, the “good guys,” can’t use our power for good, are we still good? Black Widow complains of “red in her ledger,” but it’s everyone on the team who has red in their ledger. Can ridding the world of Loki wipe it out?
Keep in mind, at this point no one on the good side of the equation even knows about the real villain of the piece, the Chitauri. Is that part of the narrative strategy, to make our heroes rail against the comic villain, the buffoon, expending themselves before unleashing the real villain of the piece? Was that Loki’s goal all along, to sow dissent among the Avengers so that they would be in disarray when it was time to show his true hand? Somehow I doubt it — he’s been caught off guard too many times, he’s been practicing his victory speeches too much. As Coulson says, it’s not in his nature to succeed.
Tony, for his part, does some analysis of Loki’s personality and finds — himself. It is only when Tony sees himself, sees his own vanity and desire for fame that he grasps Loki’s plan — to take over Stark Tower. While Tony, Steve, Black Widow and Hawkeye take off for New York and Thor wields his hammer anew, Fury’s new right hand, Maria Hill, chides him for lying to his team — his children — to get them to fight. It’s one of the laudable aspects of The Avengers that, even at its most gung-ho, it finds a moment to keep its protagonist shaded in ambiguity.
Heading into the final battle, Tony’s “red” — his own megalomania — is what he needs to clear from his ledger. Dr. Selvig, still in love with “power itself” in the form of the Tesseract, is opening a portal to the other end of the universe right on top of Tony’s own super-powered building. He cannot destroy the Tesseract, it defends itself at this point, but he could, theoretically, destroy his building, which would send Dr. Selvig’s portal-generating device down into the street. He, of course, cannot do that — ego would not allow him to destroy a building with his name on it. It’s his legacy, his gift to the world.
No, instead of destroying his building, Tony lopes inside and has a chat with Loki, who, for the first time I believe, mentions the Chitauri to Tony, or anybody. Tony doesn’t acknowledge that an army of aliens is coming, he either doesn’t register it or doesn’t consider it germane to the conversation, which is merely him, one on one, with Loki, whom he neither respects nor fears. Which is, of course, exactly the sort of attitude designed to get Loki riled. Loki may be Thor’s brother, but he’s Tony’s soulmate. Tony’s tete-a-tete with Loki is his own Black Widow moment.
Loki tries to take Tony’s heart with his scepter, but ah, Tony, lest we forget, doesn’t have a heart, or rather, he has a mechanical heart. Tony’s heartlessness, his defining characteristic, here is his saving grace. Loki cannot harm him, at least not in a god-like way. He can, of course, shove him through a plate-glass window and send him to his death, which he does, but of course Tony has a plan for that as well, he has a plan for everything, he’s the Batman of the team. He takes no damage whatsoever from the plunge through the plate-glass window and puts on his super-suit in mid-air, and comes back with a rejoinder for Loki. “There’s one more guy you pissed off,” he says. “His name is Phil.” “Phil,” of course, being Phil Coulson, whose name the screenplay made a point of, 90 minutes or so ago, here in this very room.