So, by now, everyone will have, or should have, seen the Avengers. Even if you’re not invested in the characters or the comic book adaptation the film still represents a huge undertaking as far as cinema and movies in general are concerned. Never before has a film series attempted to replicate the same continuity usually found in comics and relied upon the viewer’s attention. Watching The Avengers without having seen Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor or Captain America could be done but certain details, such as the bad blood between Thor and Loki or the various powers of the Tesseract, would be missing. For The Avengers to have the most impact and greatest potency, it requires the viewer to have seen all the previous films in the series.
Just to set the record straight first of all, I did enjoy the film. I thought Joss Whedon did what he does best with the group dynamic and he probably was the best director for the job due to his experience with ensemble casts on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. The cast all meshed well, which was nice to see, considering that they were all coming off their own individual films where they were unequivocally in the main roles and they now have to share that role with five other actors. I’m not trying to suggest that any of the actors had to deflate their egos but I’m sure it’s difficult to go from lead to ensemble while still acting as the same character. Writing and production was great too. The story made sense and there was nothing too difficult to grasp. The threat gradually intensified and the final battle completely delivered.
But that’s not to say that the film didn’t have its failings. None of them were ‘significant and dispiriting’ as one New York critic put it, but they existed all the same. What were they? Well, firstly, Hawkeye was rather under represented and under developed as a character, both within the team and outside of it. He got a lot less screen time than the other Avengers and this is partly for good reason. Since he was corrupted by Loki, showing too much of Hawkeye’s activities would have ruined much of the mid-film action but, nonetheless, this was the first time we got to be properly introduced to Hawkeye. Sure, we had the cameo appearance from a scene in Thor but that was nothing compared to the amount of character building that Black Widow had already received in Iron Man 2. Honestly, it felt like Whedon had no use for him in the majority of the film so he made him a dragon to the bad guy. This is a common trait in Whedon’s ensembles, or so I’ve found. In Buffy, Xander regularly had little or nothing to do except make sarcastic quips and Rupert Giles seemed to fall into similar territory around in seasons four and six. Fred Burkle in Angel was so useless by the end of the series that Whedon traded her in for a completely different character, the ancient goddess, Illyria. Similarly, Hawkeye felt a bit tacked on at times.
Another of Whedon’s favourite motifs popped up too. The strong, empowered female with quick wit and dry, sometimes even dark, humour has become a signature of Whedon’s work. It exists in Buffy right through to The Avengers. Both Black Widow and Maria Hill show various elements of this in The Avengers. Sometimes, it seemed like Cobie Smulders was getting a lot to do at the expense of characters such as Hawkeye and Scarlett Johansson’s character, Black Widow, seemed like the most proactive of all the characters. Sure, Tony Stark was hacking into the system and Captain America was looking around in the storage bay but Black Widow was the only one grilling Loki and tricking him in the interrogation. That’s not to say that their importance in the film was overplayed but it definitely felt as though Whedon was trying to make us like both of them as much as we were meant to like Thor, Captain America or Iron Man.
Furthermore, for a film that was so detailed due to the world building that went on throughout Iron Man 2 and Thor there seemed to a few areas where the writing was just a tad vague. The main offenders were the Chitauri. Who are they? They’re the skeleton army that was given to Loki at the beginning of the movie but their name is only mentioned once and it’s never explained who they are or where they come from. This is mostly due to the fact that they’re based on the Skrull army but the rights to the Skrull race belong to Fox, who own the rights to The Fantastic Four. The Chitauri are a variant of the Skrull race from an alternate reality, although they’re still not represented in the film as they are in the comics. But that’s fine. They already made Nick Fury black so no one is going to complain. It’s just a little unsatisfying that the writing made no attempt to explain the nature of this army.
One final hanging thread on the otherwise awesome tapestry of The Avengers is actually an offset from post – credits scene of Thor. In that scene, Nick Fury is seen showing the Tesseract to Stellan Skarsgård’s character, Dr. Erik Selvig, but the camera then pans out to show Loki in his reflection. The problem with this is two-fold. First of all, it implies that Loki, somehow, inhabited the body of Dr. Selvig or impersonated him but this concept appeared nowhere in The Avengers. So, what exactly was going on there? Additionally, this scene suggested that Loki was already on Earth or capable of passing from one world to the next freely, whereas we clearly saw the Tesseract being used to open a portal and send Loki to Earth at the beginning of The Avengers. There are some discrepancies between the scenes and the end result in the films. And for a film where continuity seemed to be of the utmost importance, slips like those are disappointing.
However, as I’ve said, none of these are major flaws and mostly likely won’t ruin your overall enjoyment of the film. It truly was a great film and it undoubtedly showed that a film can employ continuity in the same way as a comic book or Television series. With that success, Marvel are now gearing up for a The Avengers 2 with sequels to all the previous films in the series and probably a couple solo outings for the members of the team that didn’t get any last time, namely Black Widow. Let’s see if they can catch lightning twice.