We're watching the Marvel movies in order for a series of regular features. Check out our previous pieces on Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. Today, it's the turn of The Avengers. Coming soon: Iron Man 3.
Do you know what’s a surefire way to prove that you’re getting old? Find out what year some of your favorite movies came out. I’ll wait.
Feeling old yet? Marvel Avengers took the world by storm almost a decade ago. I still remember the theater being so crowded on opening night that I ended up in the front row with my father, our necks stretched out like Pez dispensers just so that we could see the screen. It was the moment everybody was waiting for, finding out what it would look like for the MCU to come together.
Eight years later and that magic still remains in a film that set off a massive chain of events in cinematic history.
Avengers takes place shortly after the first Thor film. Loki returns to earth, stealing an item of great power and threatening to bring an alien army to conquer all of humanity. It’s your standard comic book stuff.
The threat he poses is so great that no one hero can take it on alone. We see Nick Fury, the director of SHIELD who previously made appearances in the last two Iron Man films and Captain America, calls together heroes from the previous MCU stories to face this enemy together. While Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Captain America were established beforehand, 2012’s Avengers film manages to still feel like an origin story, and in a way it is.
The dynamic between each of these characters establishes what the Avengers is all about. The great part about watching dysfunctional heroes is watching them be dysfunctional together. After seeing just about every character headline their own adventure, the biggest question on everyone’s mind is how do you handle so many big stars in one film?
The answer is: by using that to your advantage. The Avengers is not just about the fact that no single character could face Loki and his army alone. It's about all those egos learning to get out of each other’s way to save the world.
It’s a tension so compelling that it makes up the core of the film's conflict. Loki utilizes their distrust of one another as a weapon against these characters. We have to see the infighting between the two of the most powerful members of the team, Iron Man and Thor, not to mention the threat of the Hulk, and the team’s distrust of Fury and his intentions. It doesn’t take much effort for Loki to tear this team apart before it’s even put together, and it’s only towards the end, after having gone through that trial, that the team is finally ready to face Loki and his alien hordes.
Leaning towards its comic book roots
Two major things stand out when you rewatch The Avengers now. The first is that the movie clearly wants to have a lot of fun, with no brooding dark superheroes, and one-liners packed into every scene. The second is that while many other films in the MCU try to merge superheroics with another movie genre type, the Avengers is a comic book movie through and through. It’s trying to be superheroes at their best and in many aspects it succeeds.
It leans heavily on the archetypes each of the main heroes fulfill. Tony Stark carries across all his snark, dry wit, and cynicism, while Steve Rogers plays the man out of time, being the loyal soldier to a world that isn't as black and white as he remembers. Meanwhile, Bruce Banner, this time portrayed by Mark Ruffalo instead of Ed Norton, plays the tired and weary man who has accepted his fate as a monster.
What you notice on a rewatch is the birth of so many fan favorite relationships between these characters: Bruce and Tony bonding as both scientist and geniuses, Widow and Hawkeye’s familial brother/sister connection and most importantly, Tony and Steve's battle of ideals. These dynamics are sold to perfection by the cast – and they will pay off down the line in crucial ways.
For as much credit as Robert Downey Jr gets for making us believe that he is Tony Stark, the same should be said for the rest of the cast. Each of them bring these comic characters to life and really get their moment (even Clint!) – and you really do sense that they're stronger as a team.
It’s fan service executed pretty much perfectly, and we live in an era where good movies like this age well.
Yes, CG effects do improve over the course of the coming years in the MCU timeline. But nothing about the Avengers feels dated, which makes revisiting moments like the Avengers' initial skirmish, Hulk vs Thor, or the final battle in New York so exciting. As an audience member you can’t help but grin from ear to ear as the full team is finally comes together against the invasion.
Connecting the MCU and the birth of the shared universe
It wasn't until The Avengers that Marvel proved this whole shared universe thing could work.
What’s interesting is that it uses Coulson, a character who ties these movies together even more than Nick Fury, as the heart of the Avengers. It’s the reason why his character’s death is the film’s first major emotional beat, serving as the unifying moment for the groups. With his role in the first phase of the MCU being so important, it’s really a shame that his character gets pretty much forgotten by the core characters in future films (even if he does appear in Captain Marvel much later on).
The impact of The Avengers can’t be understated. It’s the result of an experiment lasting more than four years, that not only succeeds but upon rewatch, proves that it’s not a fluke. In fact, its success inspired other film studios to attempt the same formula with little to no success.
Attempts like Fox’s shared X-Men/Fantastic Four movies and Universal Monster movie mashups crashed and burned before even getting a chance to start. Meanwhile, the Warner Bros DCEU rushed to bring classic heroes like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman together, resulting in a messy lineup of connected films.
Why does Marvel’s MCU and The Avengers work so well? It’s the foundation. Movies that focus on being their own thing more than trying to sprint to the end goal: that's how you do it.
Yes, the MCU has its stumbling blocks and the crossovers sometimes impede movies rather than help them – but each character is given room to breathe in their solo adventures. In the end, audiences get to know who they are dealing with, and by the time a movie like The Avengers comes around and brings them together, you can't help but be dazzled by what you're seeing on the big screen.