As we come to the end of my rewatch of what Marvel call “Phase 1”, why not go back and take a quick peek at my Prodigious Preamble, which links to the previous five movies in the series I’ve spoken about thus far.
When I came to the end of The Avengers (Called Avengers Assemble in the U.K. thanks to some T.V. show from the 1960s I’m sure had a big audience crossover with this one) I was initially unsure about what kind of approach to make when talking about it for my blog.
It’s a very different kind of movie than those that came before it, and because of that there’s a different expectation from it as an audience member. The focus when making The Avengers was more a spectacle more than an in depth character study. Despite this though it was only upon re-reading my notes that I realised just how quaint The Avengers was. y’know, for a $220 million, massively ambitious crossover cinema event.
Actors still finding their characters:
Calling it “quaint” is really underselling what The Avengers actually achieved back in 2012. It’s only looking back at it today, in a post Endgame world that it really does feel small by comparison. A big part of this comes from the fact that for most of the actors, they were still out finding their feet in their roles.
For most of these guys, it was only their first or second times playing the characters. And for some of them it really shows. As much as I love Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner now, you can tell it was very early days for the character.
Ruffalo’s Banner still has elements of the character present in the Norton movie. He’s guarded, he’s antsy and has an overly grim perspective on his condition. What finally starts to break the character away from the depressing presence he was before are his interactions with the rest of the cast.
The kindling friendship between him and Tony in this movie really paves the way to creating the much more complete Banner we eventually get in Endgame. The same really goes for Thor, and to a lesser extent Cap too. But this starting point is really where they start to find their takes on the characters.
Which ends up being the real focus of the movie.
The character dynamics are core:
At face value, this is still a spectacle movie. It’s big characters doing big action. However, for me watching it today, the most interesting thing about it was seeing these characters interact with one another for the first time. Characters who become friends down the road, become enemies and ultimately forgive one another by the end… game.
The burgeoning, complicated relationship between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark is one of my personal highlights of this movie, as strange as that may seem considering everything else going on within it. Their verbal arguments feeling like they carry a lot more weight than when they trade blows. At least in this movie.
While the fight in the woods is an amazing visual piece, the argument in the Helicarrier really feels like it carries more weight, especially in hindsight. The characters are all apprehensive and on guard around one another, which is so much different than how their relationships have grown and developed by the time Endgame rolls around.
During that argument, with just a few words Cap manages just cuts Tony to the core in a way we’ve never really seen anyone else do before. Tony is nearly always unflappable, but loses his cool and starts throwing weak insults at Cap knowing he’s got nothing else left in his arsenal.
It’s because Tony isn’t a solider, he’s freaked out by whats going on around him: a situation outside of his control.
The line: “you’re not the man to make the sacrifice play.” is one that comes back to bear in not just this movie, but every movie going forward. It sparks a need for self-sacrifice in Tony that builds right up until his final moments in Endgame.
The long play wasn’t apparent yet:
Everything in Endgame felt meticulous and satisfying, seeing just how neatly everything slotted together. It’s difficult to tell how much Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios had planned at this point.
They don’t know how the Tesseract and the Spear worked into things yet I don’t think. I feel they’re having the beginnings of ideas of the cube being an infinity stone, but within the they claim the spear is powered by the cube, even though that doesn’t really line up in the events of the movie. The Tesseract does feel like it’s the space stone based on what it does though.
What I’m getting at here is, while this movie felt huge and climactic at the time, there is a real sense that Marvel were still finding their feet and keeping their options open. They knew they had an extended plan leading further down the road, and as a result a lot of this movie feels constrained. Again though, that only become apparent when watching it after seeing what the MCU would eventually become.
They were leaving their options open here certainly. Thanos shows up as a mid credits scene, but even Feige said they still didn’t know how they’d end up using him further down the road.
In the end, the first Avengers movie strikes a good balance of being an effective movie in its own right, while working to tie together all the previous movies into itself. The things in here that end up paying off in the future don’t feel like they were placed specifically with the future in mind.
Joss Whedon just decided to work with what he had and make the best movie he could right there and then. Things would eventually scale up, and we’d meet more and more characters and concepts would get introduced. But it never felt like there was too much being poured into the film. Which has been the strongest aspect of the MCU, that they’ve never tried to overreach and grow too quickly.
So of course Avengers seems low key and quaint today, but that’s because it was what was needed at the time.