The Avengers part 7

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At the top of Act II of The Avengers we begin where we began Act I, in space, with The Other and Loki, checking in.  They talk about The Chitauri, to remind us that that’s a thing, they talk about the mysterious boss at the other end of the jukebox, and remind us that the boss wants The Tesseract, Or Else.  We also learn that Loki was once “the rightful king of Asgard,” which gives him the horse in this race.  Loki may not be the Ultimate Boss of The Avengers, but he has a much more compelling motivation: revenge against his brother Thor, who exiled him.  This narrative stroke, to make two characters from Thor the hinge of the screenplay, is masterful: the traditional studio approach would be to take the wild cards of the franchise (Norse gods!) and ignore them compleely, or give them only token attention.  But to put Loki and Thor at the middle of this gigantic tentpole money-making machine provides a useful bridge between the mundane (Hawkeye), the fantastic-but-still-believable (Iron Man), the straight-out fantastic (Capt America, Hulk), and the gonzo sci-fi alien spectacle of The Chitauri.  The mere fact that one movie embraces all these characters is daring enough, but the screenplay for The Avengers distrubutes its narratve effects so judiciously and balances its characters so well that a common, non-comics-reading audient sees a Norse god taking orders from an alien in a robe and thinks “Okay, sure, I get it.”  The fact that Loki’s motivation is both human and not centered on “conquering the universe” but one-upping his good-looking brother gives the narrative an appreciable scale and, thus, creates audience involvement in something patently absurd.

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Now that we’ve checked in with Loki and The Other, now we check in with SHIELD and its array of impressive transportation vehicles.  Act I gave us Nick Fury arriving in a helicopter at a secret government installation, Act II gives us Coulson and Steve Rogers arriving in a fancy heli-jet on an aircraft carrier.  It might sound trivial, but again, the relative power of the characters is telegraphed by their mode of transportation, and Nick Fury will have the last laugh in this regard.

Black Widow meets Capt America.  She’s blase, but tips Coulson’s hand as a super-fan, underscoring Coulson’s humanity (and position as audience surrogate — if Coulson has a set of vintage Capt America trading cards, maybe Capt America is cool after all!).  Capt America meets Bruce Banner, and both characters seek to put the other at ease: Capt America brushes away concerns about Bruce’s alter ego, and Bruce tries to relate to Capt America’s naivety.  Both characters, then, are shown to be naive as the aircraft carrier sprouts rotors and lifts off into the air.  This, surely, is the largest, most intimidating vehicle possible on Earth (and yet, the fact that it’s a recognizable fuel-burning machine and not an alien-artifact-powered flying saucer makes it impressive, yet understandable).

Steve and Bruce head to the bridge, where we see just how large and impressive Nick Fury’s operation is, and it’s telling that the immortal super-soldier and the green giant look awed and a little lost when faced with a well-staffed technological marvel.  Technology, even of the old-fashioned kind, is still a force to be reckoned with.

 

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Now we check in with Hawkeye and Dr. Selvig, in thrall to Loki, toiling away at the Tesseract.  Dr. Selvig, for some reason, needs some iridium to do whatever he needs to do with the Tesseract.  He’s become a shiny-eyed zealot, he loves Loki for bringing him the power of the Tesseract.  He’s the Edward Teller of the piece, the scientist in search of “truth” and in love with power.  For him, the Tesseract is an end in itself, not a doorway or an energy source.  Thanos wants the power to conquer the universe, Nick Fury want the power to light the world, but Dr. Selvig just wants to be in the presence of power itself.

Back at the heli-carrier, Coulson, we find, is pestering Steve Rogers for an autograph for his vintage Capt America trading cards.  Coulson, a man who wields enormous power in his own right, is, on another level, nothing but a fan.  He mentions that it took him years to aquire his “complete near-mint” set of trading cards: apparently the monstrous level of technology available to agents of SHIELD does not allow him to get everything he wants.  For some things, you just have to go on a pilgramage.

 

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Meanwhile, in Stuttgart, Loki drops in on a fancy museum party of some sort, to get an eye-ball print off a guy so that, across town, Hawkeye can use that print to break into a lab and swipe some iridium.  Why does Loki need to participate in a heist?  Is there no one else qualified to walk into a lobby, grab a guy and stick a thing in his eye?

Why a museum?  Why, for that matter, Stuttgart?  The museum setting represents “culture,” and the European setting makes it “old culture.”  Loki, no stranger to old European culture himself, relishes this chance to shock the squares at the museum, to flex his muscles, to try out his desired role of overlord.  He demands that the bluenoses kneel before him.  The target audience of The Avengers doesn’t identify with the bluenoses, so the point is not to give us a taste of Loki’s wrath.  Rather, it is, like so many of scenes in the movie, a character beat, showing Loki for the kind of petulant leader he would be — vain, short-fused and childish.

Loki demands that the crowd kneel, but an elderly man stands up and challenges him, and then we understand why Stuttgart.  The elderly man who stands up to Loki is meant to remind us of an earlier German generation, the one that didn’t stand up to Hitler.  Invoking Godwin’s Law at this juncture paves the way for Capt America to show up, getting to finally fulfill his fantasy of punching Hitler.

Iron Man, playing 21st-century cynic to Cap’s 20th-century idealist, shows up to help, and the two of them capture Loki, surprisingly easily.  It’s unexpected, anticlimactic even, to see Loki go so easily, but of course he has other tricks up his sleeve.

 

Comments

4 Responses to “The Avengers part 7”
  1. Marco says:

    I love the way that every time Loki power-monologues he gets his ass kicked or otherwise gets bested (such as when threatening the Black Widow or … his unfortunate showdown with The Hulk).

  2. I’ve been sick for the last week+, so I’m only now catching up.

    The Stuttgart/Cap/Iron Man arrangement is, I think, one of the many beautiful tonal balances the script pulls off. You need Cap to be Captain America; you need him to be the WWII ideal of everything that’s good about America, rather than trying to “update” him for the cynicism of the modern day. Ergo, so Whedon creates a nice little WWII-evocative moment for him to be himself in. But if you let it go on for too long, it will get cloying; it will become cheesy. So it lasts for only a few seconds — long enough to give Cap a pithy line or two — and then Iron Man (and Black Widow) show up with the jet and the advanced technology and the cynicism, and things move on. It doesn’t cheapen Cap, but it begins the process of contrasting him and Tony Stark, that will grow as the story goes along.

  3. BenjaminJB says:

    It’s interesting to me that in the Cap vs. Loki in Stuttgart scene, yes, it does play into Cap’s origin story, reminding us of his heroism. But the real moral authority of that scene seems to be with the old man, the guy who will stand up to power even though he has no hope of surviving the clash. (In other words, it’s a tiny beat on the theme of sacrifice, too.)

    Also, I’m not sure what to make of Loki’s mind-control: is he totally taking over Selvig or is there some Selvig left? (Joss had the same problem dealing with vampires and souls in Buffy.) The mind-control clearly leaves some vestige of Selvig–his scientific mind, for instance. But does he have any moral culpability for his actions? (To me, the ambiguity of that necessitates his tiny redemption at the end, but there’s no sacrifice or heroism there. I guess that’s why he’s a supporting character, with no internal character growth.)

  4. Mark says:

    Right before the Stuttgart scene, Hawkeye says he needs two things from Loki. I think the audience gets so caught up in the first request (“an eyeball”) that they overlook the second (“a distraction”). I’ve noticed that the stories from Whedon (and the other writers that he has worked with) that I enjoy the most are where they tell you exactly what is going to happen, but I didn’t realize it until did happen. I get so caught up in the obvious reason for a scene happening, that I don’t consider that it could be serving a second (or third) purpose.

    I suspect that his background in comedy writing helps. Do a joke setup, give the audience the expected punchline, then later give a better punchline when it isn’t expected.

    One problem with super hero films is when they don’t bother to set up the ground rules for these fantastic beings. If the audience doesn’t know the limits of their powers, then it is difficult to know what is a real threat, versus a minor distraction. (I couldn’t get into “Constantine”, because it seemed like the hero could do anything and everything, when the plot required it.) In this film, we see Widow take out those thugs, and Cap punch out the punching bag. But then Stuttgart shows that, while Cap can slow down Loki, he is clearly overmatched.