The Avengers part 7
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.
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.
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.
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.