The Avengers part 9
Loki, our chief antagonist so far, is aboard SHIELD’s helicarrier. The viewer is a little confused: one street fight in Stuttgart, and the bad guy is captured? Loki’s introductory shot, so reminiscent of Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, was not a coincidence. Loki will go on to make the Lecter comparison concrete. Not only will he play the Lecter suit of corrupting minds from his cell, he is, like Lecter in Silence, not the real anatgonist, only the most charismatic one, the one most fun to watch.
Elsewhere on the helicarrier, Bruce Banner works at a high-tech machine of some kind, doing science stuff, as Loki is paraded by in cuffs. (How you cuff a Norse God, I’m still not clear on.) Loki gives Bruce a sly smile as he passes. He is a god of chaos, an expert in loss of control, the thing Bruce fears the most. Moreover, he is on his way to the helicarrier’s big-deal high-tech unbreakable prison cell, a cell designed to hold Bruce, should he ever hulk out.
Fury, playing Dr. Chilton to Loki’s Lecter, explains how the cage works: if Loki misbehaves, he gets dropped 30,000 feet to the ground. I’m not sure how that’s supposed to effect a Norse god, but I’ll take it on faith that it’s bad for him. Loki, undaunted, lectures Fury on the nature of the movie’s maguffin: the Tesseract is “Power” in its most plastic sense: it can light the world, or put it in the thrall of an oppressor.
Next, we have a powow scene between Bruce, Steve Rogers, Thor and Black Widow, discussing what to do next and catching the audience up. Ordinarily, I chafe at these kinds of expository scenes, and there are many of them in The Avengers, but this is the culmination of several scenes, played out piecemeal in Act I, the information finally strung together for the first time. The Avengers understands that it’s throwing a lot of sensation at its audience, a lot of characters, a lot of imagery and dialogue and conflicts and weirdness, so it’s been very careful to parcel out its exposition, so that the key components of the plot, “Tesseract,” “Loki,” “Chitauri,” “Portal,” “Army not of this world,” have been mentioned but not explicated until now. That strategy keeps this scene from being an info dump, and invites the viewer in, makes the audience one of the team.
Tony Stark and Coulson enter the meeting. Tony is caught in mid-sentence, murmuring something to Coulson about “flying him into Portland” to “keep love alive.” Again, off the cuff, personal, not related to the plot, barely heard, but a tiny little narrative time bomb to detonate later.
Tony catches the team up on iridium, which Dr. Selvig needs for the portal Loki is building to let the Chitauri through into our world. Tony shows off, playing the jerk to cover for his planting of a device on Fury’s bridge. Tony, like Robert Downey Jr.’s other big-ticket role Sherlock Holmes, uses his intelligence, callousness and cynicism to hold the world at arm’s length: if people dislike him they won’t want to be around him, and he’ll get to do his work. Which, the screenplay reminds us, he’s very good at: Iron Man is not merely a suit, but a genius asshole in a suit.
Tony and fellow-nerd Bruce head to the lab for some science. As you can see from the above still, “science,” here, involves pointing a price-scanner at a shiny stick and reciting a bunch of sciencey-sounding stuff. What is happening, dramatically, is that Tony and Bruce are bonding, the man who lives to keep tight control of himself and the man who lives to express his every whim.
Steve shows up, and he and Tony expand on their earlier conversation contrasting “good soldier” with “cynical bastard.” When pressed for an opinion on SHIELD, Bruce tries to retreat to a place of pure science (which connects him with Dr. Selvig, who loves the Tesseract for itself and not for its applications). He connects Fury’s desire for unlimited energy (or “power”) to Tony’s Stark Tower, which runs on an Arc Reactor, ie the same thing that runs his heart. The Tesseract, and Loki, and Fury, are thus elegantly tied to Tony and made his antagonists, which makes Tony an antagonist to our protagonsit Fury — Fury’s not going to have an easy time getting his super-family to work together if one of them suspects the father-figure of being dishonest.
Tony and Bruce then discuss their parallel super-powers. Tony’s engineering brilliance caused him to create the Arc Reactor, which not only saved his life but gave him his life’s work. Bruce, on the other hand, was given his powers through an accident and sees them as a curse, a terror to be avoided. We’ve seen the problems of Dr. Banner dramatised for decades now, but somehow the TV shows and movies never managed to get him this level of denial. Dread, yes, but not denial. Bruce in The Avengers isn’t just hoping that The Hulk doesn’t appear, he’s made it his business to pretend “the other guy” doesn’t exist. Tony, ever the hedonist, pushes Bruce to indulge his lust for power, which also ties him into the movie’s theme of power and its uses — in this case, power as a tool of self-actualization. Why be a brilliant scientist if you can also be a giant rage monster?