I’ve never been particularly attracted to the action movie genre; especially not the movies DC Comics or Marvel create about Superheroes. Much to my surprise, the special effects and the fundamentally compelling story of good versus bad in “The Avengers” kept my attention the entire time.
The movie begins in a remote research facility where the Tesseract, a powerful energy source, is used to create a portal to outer space. Loki, an alien Asgardian villain, enters through the Tesseract and starts killing resident soldiers. He steals the Tesseract and escapes from the facility. The next time we see Loki he’s in communication with the Other, leader of the Chitauri, an alien race. Other urges Loki to use the Tesseract to open up a portal to let Chitauri soldiers into New York City. In exchange for the Tesseract, Other offers Loki an army to fight for domination on Earth. Nick Fury, an agent of Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Divisions (S.H.I.E.L.D.) assembles the Avengers. The team consists of superheroes Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, and Hawkeye whose mission is to capture Loki and retrieve the Tesseract. Thor arrives later in the movie to assist the Avengers.
A great deal of credit should go to the Costume, Art, Sound, and Special Effects Departments. The action sequences carried the movie from beginning to end, starting with Loki’s destruction of the research facility to the fight for New York City between the Avengers and the Chitauri. I can’t remember any abrupt scene changes because the action sequences aligned together so well. Each fight sequence was purposeful and accounted for the next; first the Avengers needed to attack Loki to gain the Tesseract, then Loki needed to launch a counter attack with the Chitauri, and finally the Avengers needed to launch their counterattack to get rid of Loki.
Most of the violence in the movie involved destroying infrastructure, exploding space ships, and demolishing technology (the aliens themselves are robots). I could see waves of explosion run down entire buildings, tearing into the walls till the building was stripped bare and there was nothing left. I could see the depth of each explosion with layers of fire and ash and anything else stuck in the crossfire; terribly violent but extremely thrilling.
There was almost the same amount of violence as an epic war movie like “Saving Private Ryan,” without all the gore and loss of human life. Science fiction movies like “The Avengers” have ingeniously preserved the violence that attracts an audience, while getting rid of tumultuous emotions that can come with it. “The Avengers” promotes the sense of glory and righteousness that can come from defending one’s own nation from a hostile take over, while getting rid of the possibility of losing men because the soldiers are super heroes. The U.S. has lost over 6,000 men over the past decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a movie that eliminates the chance of all soldiers dying could be just what America needs.
The one character that did die during the movie was Agent Phil Coulson. The death of the well to do, hardworking operative who didn’t have any super powers emphasizes how powerless he was in the face of his own death, especially at the hands of a super natural creature like Loki. Coulson’s death highlights the vulnerability of the human race and the consequent need to defend it.
His death adds just the right proportions of sadness and patriotism to give the movie depth beyond three-dimensional special effects, ensuring that the movie doesn’t seem too commercial. That being said, the movie could’ve used depth. The special effects, while compelling, did not provide much intellectual stimulation. It’s clear that the movie was monopolizing on violence and sex appeal, what with the constant action sequences and Scarlet Johansson parading around in tight black leather outfit.
One way the movie could have achieved depth is through character development of the heroes. Captain American, Iron Man, Hulk, and Thor all had preceding movies that explained the genesis of their character but Black Widow and Hawkeye didn’t. It would’ve been interesting to learn more about their pasts in “The Avengers” instead of having to discern their backgrounds from vague references in dialogue.
Creating more complex story arcs for relationships between characters would also help to add another layer of depth. Joss Whedon, the director, provided one: Captain America and Iron Man disagree with each other a lot at the beginning of the movie but they find a way to work together in the end, highlighting the emotional strength needed to overcome conflict adjacent to their physical strength. It would have been interesting to see similar interactions between other characters to give them the same sense of depth. However, it’s understandable that there weren’t many interactions like this because Whedon had to balance action sequences with character development. And as far as action movies go, there was definitely more plot in this one than in most.
“The Avengers” DVD release is on September 12, 2012. Don’t miss out on your chance to watch!