The Avengers part 15
The battle sequence that caps The Avengers is ferociously complicated and it bears study for its ability to balance plot, theme, character and story.
It begins with Tony Stark confronting Loki as a mirror. If all the Avengers want to “wipe the red from their ledger,” Tony’s red is his ego. He succeeds in his first blow, insofar as he strikes it for Agent Coulson instead of for himself (although he stops short of destroying his own penthouse apartment for the sake of toppling the Tesseract’s portal-generator).
Loki’s response to Tony’s blow (although it was always going to happen) is to let through the Chitauri. Tony, being a one-man army, now faces a multi-man army. He has the tools to defend, but the Chitauri are many.
Luckily, Thor now shows up to battle Loki atop Stark Tower mano-a-mano, allowing Tony to concentrate on the Chitauri. Which is apt: Tony “won” his war against Loki when he struck a blow for Agent Coulson, but Thor’s battle has just begun. (How Thor knew to find Loki in midtown Manhattan is another question.)
Next, Black Widow, Hawkeye and Capt America enter the fray, in a SHIELD jet. Being all, essentially, soldiers, they join in Iron Man’s fight in the skies against the swarming Chitauri. They almost immediately fail and crash (into the plaza of The Clamp Building, the location for Gremlins 2, for those keeping score).
The first round of the battle ends as the earthbound trio are confronted by the massive whatsit Chitauri flying spinal-column thing, that spawns Chitauri like fleas off a dog’s back. Everyone is taken aback by this, including Loki, who suddenly realizes that he’s been played for a fool, that the Chitauri (or The Other, or the mysterious unnamed boss at the other end of the universe) have no intention of leaving an Earth worthy of Loki’s rule. This almost, but not quite, leads Loki to a change of heart. He knows he’s been had now, but that doesn’t lessen his need for respect, or for fear.
Unable to beat Thor, or face his foolishness, Loki catches a ride on a passing Chitauri glider and proceeds to blow up a chunk of Park Avenue. The flying spinal-column troop transport ship has taken the skies over midtown, now Loki takes to the streets. Goodness knows how many casualties there are in the midtown area at this point, but the movie doesn’t pause to mourn the dead or wounded, so, in action-movie language, there aren’t any. Cars fly and building facades shatter, but no victims burn, fall or splat. In action-movie language, property damage is awesome but loss of life is a bummer.
With three of its heroes earthbound, the narrative hands them a rescue mission: get some people out of a bus. Why? Why not keep the SHIELD jet in the air, so our guys could blast aliens out of the sky? Well, it keeps the battle raging on multiple levels, and it also makes an important narrative point, one that often goes ignored in superhero narratives: the bad guys have to be after something other than the good guys, and the good guys have to defend something other than themselves. Bruce Wayne has to defend Gotham, not merely address his prepubescent trauma, although it helps if he can do both.
We check in with Black Widow and Hawkeye, the two spies, who share a moment of camaraderie, or what passes for it among spies. Hawkeye, to some extent, is the red in Black Widow’s ledger, and the two of them now reconcile the way SHIELD agents do: by working together to pick off some horrible aliens.
Capt America stops to give orders to a police officer. The officer, who is unfamiliar with Capt America, balks. Why? The movie could have easily made the officer a Coulson type, a “fan,” but instead it plays the “cynical NY cop” card. The screenplay wants to remind us that Capt America has an image problem, that he is, let’s face it, a boy scout, a do-gooder and kind of a dork. If only the nation he represents had the same qualities in the 21st century! And yet, here on the beleaguered streets of Manhattan, Capt America is living up to the hype. He isn’t a technological genius like Tony Stark, he doesn’t have blood in the battle like Thor and he’s not a duplicitous spy like Black Widow or Hawkeye: he’s a street-level defender of the innocent, which gains the cop’s, and our, respect. Capt America’s anachronism is the red in his ledger, and “defending the innocent” is his answer: after all that has changed in America, that’s still what he’s good at.
Thor joins the earthbound trio in the street, and they realize that they are a necessary lightning-rod of the battle. Without them, the Chitauri will run rampant over the city (with their endgame being — what, exactly? Planetary surrender?). At this point, Bruce shows up on a puttering moped and offers to join in. He says to Capt America that his secret is “I’m always angry,” which both turns conventional Hulk wisdom on its head and suggests another, previously-ignored aspect to Bruce’s personality. If Bruce Banner is “always angry,” why does he do what he does? Does he travel to India to help the sick because he is “always angry” about the way poor people don’t have access to medical care? Does he come to Fury’s helicarrier to help find the Tesseract because he is “always angry” about tyranny? The point seems to be, if Bruce is “always angry,” then the Hulk is an expression of something else, or a controlled response to extreme stimuli. It is something he wills into being. Self-control is Bruce’s red, and his will-of-the-Hulk is his ledger.
In any case, the Hulk brings down the Big Flying Whatsit with one punch, and the battle moves into its next phase.