The Avengers part 3
Our protagonist, Nick Fury, gets out of his helicopter, along with his sidekick Agent Maria Hill, and exchanges some rapid-fire dialogue with Agent Coulson as he heads down, down, down into the depths of the installation. He’s arrived in a helicopter, a symbol of power, and now he descends deep, deep underground. What does he talk about with Coulson? “A bunch of stuff.” The Tesseract, we come to understand, has done something surprising, which has necessitated the evacuation of the installation. The Tesseract, which, again, we don’t know what it is or what it does, is kept deep, deep underground because it’s so freaking powerful.
(Incidentally, why must the installation be evacuated? The answer: because The Avengers, in order to make the ton of money it needs to make, must be rated PG-13. The installation is about to go sky-high, so to speak, and if the movie begins with a catastrophic loss of life, it becomes Saving Private Ryan instead of the colorful spectacle it needs to be.)
Nick Fury gets to the Tesseract Lab and meets up with Dr. Selvig, who seems to be in charge of Things Tesseract. We are told for the third or fourth time in a minute that the Tesseract is doing something weird. This is a useful script note: since so much information is getting thrown at the audience all the time, keep reminding the viewer, in different ways, what the headlines are and why things are important.
What exactly goes on in the Tesseract Lab when the Tesseract is not being weird? I guess Dr. Selvig and company do research on it, and try to figure out how to harness it as an energy source. I say “I guess” because I can’t figure out from the design of the lab what’s supposed to happen there. There’s the Tesseract, held in some kind of Big Round Thing that looks like it was borrowed from Tony Stark’s lab, and then there are a bunch of cables leading to some kind of staging area, and there are scientists who examine the Tesseract by poking at it with a stick. No, really. Obviously, Tesseract Studies are a very new thing, if the level of examination is at the “poking at it with a stick” phase.
Dr. Selvig grunts some lines about the nature of the Tesseract. It’s from outer space, it’s being weird, no one knows what to do, outside of poking at it with a stick.
Nick Fury has barely spoken to Dr. Selvig about the possible imminent destruction of the planet before he asks about another character, Agent Barton, or Hawkeye. The Avengers is supremely busy, with five important characters, all of whom will have competing and intertwining agendas, all being introduced in the first four minutes. Nick Fury chats with Hawkeye, who informs him that the Tesseract is “a doorway to the other end of space.” Why does Hawkeye tell Fury this, and not Dr. Selvig? For that matter, why does Fury need to talk to Hawkeye? For that matter, why is Hawkeye even there?
Fury talks to Hawkeye so that we will understand that Hawkeye is a proficient, if detached, agent of SHIELD, so that when SOMETHING BAD happens to him in a moment, we will have a vague understanding of who he is and what has been damaged.
Right on time, that something bad happens. The Tesseract goes kerblooey and blasts out a beam of energy at the staging area at the other end of the lab (still not sure what that thing’s doing there) and, in a flourish of smoke and a pose in homage to Hannibal Lecter, our antagonist appears, Loki. This is, of course, the “ally” The Other spoke of, and here he is, with his special alien sceptre. I was about to identify Loki as our primary antagonist, but The Avengers does an unusual thing with its antagonists; it staggers them throughout the narrative, tag-teams them almost, so that their seven-hero narrative has plenty to do.
(We are led to understand that the Tesseract has opened from The Other’s end of space. Are we told how The Other manages to do that, exactly? And if he could have done it at any time, is there some reason why he’s only doing it now? “The Tesseract has awakened,” do they mention at some point how or why that happened? Did I miss something?)
In short order, we learn that Loki’s spear can shoot energy bolts, suck human souls out of their bodies, and also hit things and spear things. Loki trashes the Tesseract Lab (not that it was a model of regimented order to begin with) and tussles with Hawkeye, sucking out his soul and, apparently, turning to his side.
Nick Fury swipes the Tesseract (apparently no one thought to keep it in a safe place, because otherwise how would you poke at it with a stick?) while Loki steals Dr. Selvig’s soul and monologues about his intent: he is here to enslave humanity. Hawkeye, now evil, shoots Fury and Loki, Hawkeye and Selvig hot-foot it out of there.
Turning Hawkeye evil in the first sequence of the movie is The Avengers‘ first stroke of genius. In a narrative with seven superheroes, get one out of the way as soon as possible, but in a dramatically important way. Now you only have six superheroes to deal with.
Nick Fury responds to being shot the way anyone would — he yanks the bullet out of his chest like it’s a piece of gum stuck to his shirt and gets on with things. The beauty of The Avengers is in the way it perfectly captures the comic-book experience: it is both very serious and very silly at the same time, even in the same breath. Its entire cast understands this about the script: it must be played with utter sincerity, especially when it’s at its most ridiculous.
Big chase scene, as Loki and his team try to get out of the installation before it collapses. (Why is it collapsing? No particular reason is given. The blue energy whatsit of the Tesseract causes a collapse of some kind, somehow, for some reason. It’s from outer space, it doesn’t need physics.) Hawkeye and Maria Hill get great action moments, and we begin to understand another of the great narrative ideas of the movie: it’s fun to see superheroes fight supervillains, but it’s even more fun to see superheroes fight each other.
So, the installation collapses, mostly bloodlessly, and Loki escapes with the Tesseract. (It seems kind of odd that a Norse God has to escape in an SUV, but them’s the breaks.) Our protagonist is at war with a Norse God working for an alien force (kind of odd that a Norse God has to work for anyone, much less some aliens) and he needs every weapon in his arsenal.