So, if you are one of approximately nine people in the country that hasn't seen The Avengers yet, you should probably go ahead and go. (And remember, stay until the end of the credits.) I have seen it twice. Once in 3D.
So, I have to admit that my son and I went on a mission to meet all of the prerequisites for the movie. We have seen Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America. Our favorite was definitely Captain America. But, I have to say that the movies all point toward this summer's blockbuster, interweaving characters and subplots in a nice way. So, we were excited to see The Avengers, and it did not disappoint. And, if you haven't seen the prerequisites, you probably aren't too lost. There's enough brief exposition to get everyone up to speed enough to enjoy the film for what it is, and enough esoteric references to affirm the comic book nerds who know all the backstories.
The main plot actually comes from probably the weakest of the prior movies, Thor. Thor's evil stepbrother, Loki, has regrouped since he was last banished and come under the tutelage of an even more evil villain in the "other realm," a realm that includes Asgard, Thor's home country. At the same time, S.H.I.E.L.D. has uncovered "the Tesseract," the strange 4-dimensional blue cube that gives off magical energy, which was stolen by the Red Skull in Captain America and buried with Steve Rogers at the end of the movie. The Tesseract originally came from Asgard, and Loki has promised it to these evil Chitauri folks. Once Loki has the Tesseract, then Direct Nick Fury must assemble the Avengers, Iron Man, Hulk and Captain America. Though not called by Fury, Thor returns to Earth to deal with Loki and so becomes the fourth Avenger. Black Widow and Hawkeye are sort of "hero support" for the avengers, not having super powers themselves, but having "a specific set of skills" that make them very useful. Once the Avengers are assembled, they of course first fight each other before learning how to fight together and save the world.
At least one reviewer has tried to say that The Avengers is really about 9/11, but as commenters pointed out, the analogy was stretched a bit too thin by the reviewer's inaccurate depiction of the facts of the movie. Yes, there is a big, tall building in Manhattan that is the scene of the final battle. Stark's office tower, which he made self-powering via his "arc reactor." However, Stark Tower, which is located in Midtown, predates 9/11 as a fixture of the comic book series, and more likely stands for Tony Stark's ego. At the beginning of the movie, we see him very proud of his building, telling his better half Pepper Potts that she can take "12% of the credit." Later, Captain America, who is often pointing out Stark's self-absorption, describes the building as ugly. The battle takes place around the building, but the fighting isn't really directed toward the building as there Loki has placed the Tesseract to "open the portal" to the other realm so the Chitauri can cross over. To close the portal, Stark has to sacrifice himself, overcoming his own ego to become part of a team. More generally, the movie draws on patriotism as a theme, alluding to various times of turmoil, including Captain America's WWII, and rallying symbols such as the stars and stripes.
Besides the non-stop action, the dialogue is great, mostly everything that comes out of Robert Downey Jr.'s mouth. (And, some of which you can only catch the second time -- including his calling Thor "Point Break.") And then of course the sentimental favorites that send chills up your spine, like the lone German who refuses to bow to Loki saying, "There have always been men like you."
A few things were surprising. First, the producers had to turn Agent Coulson into a likeable character, the Dobby of the Avengers, if you will. But, in the prequels, Coulson is first portrayed as the cold evil of faceless government intervention. The Marvel folks tried to loosen up his persona in a few "shorts" on the DVDs, but they lay it on thick in the movie. We learn that Coulson is pining for a cross-country girlfriend and collects Captain America trading cards. Pepper has befriended him and wants to solve his romantic woes. This becomes necessary for what comes next, which I'm sure you can figure out.
Also, my two boys (who saw the movie separately), both independently announced to me that they wanted to be Hawkeye for Hallowe'en. Hawkeye? Why? I have no idea. He does have bows and arrows (and his quiver has to hold about 2000 arrows, by my count). But he has no superpowers. Maybe he's accessible. Who knows?
So, what are the movie's flaws? As my 12-year-old girl pointed out, Black Widow is a token player in the movie. During a movie season that brings us Katniss Everdeen, this seems a little behind the times. And, the only other woman is Agent Maria Hill, a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who doesn't do much but who was given a soldier's "catsuit" uniform. I'm not sure why female agents in the shadow agency aren't issued ordinary clothing to wear. Agent Coulson just wears a suit. Director Fury does wear his long, leather coat whether he's on the base 20 stories underground or on the base 35,000 feet in the air. I guess he just gets chilly. Anyway, women get short-shrift here, but I assume this topic has come up in the comic book world before.
And the weirdest thing is that it would be as easy to compare The Avengers to The Hunger Games as to 9/11 revenge fantasy. Both movies have amazing archers. Both movies have something called "tesseract/tesserae"), which both seem like something you sell your soul for. And, both movies (at least for awhile) have a strangely-clothed "Gamemaker" who is manipulating powerful young people into fighting each other. Weird.
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