Our journey to Infinity War continues by looking back at Marvel’s The Avengers, which is perhaps the most important superhero movie in the history of the genre. And quite possibly the greatest, if you’re like me and like to think of The Dark Knight as an action/thriller that happens to have a guy in a costume in it some of the time. In any case, so far, we’ve looked at all of Marvel’s individual Phase 1 movies that got us to this point. Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger were leading us here. Everyone knew fairly quickly that they were taking us to an Avengers movie, but nothing like this had ever been done before. Nobody really knew if this could work. It not only works, it’s still the gold standard for team-up movies and hasn’t lost a step nearly six years later when watching it now.
Revisiting all of the Phase 1 movies has been strange and interesting so far, as I haven’t watched them all in a row like this since they were first released. It’s easy to forget how little The Avengers, in terms of plot and how the dynamic between all of these various characters, was set up and how it was all going to work. Truly, I don’t know if anyone really knew or understood what we were in for. And we were in for something truly special.
I feel like maybe Avengers: Age of Ultron did something to make people forget just how incredible what Joss Whedon pulled off with this movie is. It’s so easy to forget now, even just six years later, but nothing like this had really even been conceived before and pulling in all of these characters from different franchises, using only loose threads to connect them, especially in Phase 1, and giving every character enough screen time, providing us with a satisfying villain, and introducing new characters all had to be accomplished. Add on top of that having to set up massive, very satisfying set pieces, balance comedy and action in equal parts and make sure not to overstay your welcome with the audience and not become an overstuffed mess (looking at you, Batman V. Superman), and it’s a miracle this ever got done. But Whedon managed all of this and more. It’s miraculous.
Joss Whedon is a guy who hadn’t ever directed anything on this scale before (not even close), but he was the perfect man for the job. He had written some tremendous runs on comic books in his day, he created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and, more importantly, Firefly and had directed Serenity. He understood everything it would take to pull off something like this. He was uniquely qualified in a way it seems like Hollywood rarely is able to notice. This was maybe the first, best example of Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios looking somewhere nobody else would think to look and provide us with a match made in heaven. This is something they would later do with James Gunn on Guardians of the Galaxy, the Russo brothers on Captain America: The Winter Soldier and, more recently, Taika Waititi on Thor: Ragnarok.
Joss Whedon understood how to give the fanboys and fangirls what they want, yet make it just as relatable and enjoyable, even goosebump-inducing for those people as it is to those who haven’t loved this stuff their whole lives. The general audience had to love it just as much. That’s not easy to do, but he does it. Look at things like Black Widow’s amazing opening interrogation scene, the forest fight between Cap, Iron Man and Thor, or literally the entirety of the New York battle. Iron Man flying around and blasting aliens out of the sky, Hulk gloriously smashing (especially that unforgettable Loki bit). And then there’s that shot. That single glorious shot. The shot that still gives me goosebumps. The most heroic shot in all of comic book movies. The Avengers assembled together, truly as a unit for the first time with that ever-so-perfect music blasting in the background. It’s the definition of iconic and instantly was so. It simply doesn’t get better than that shot.
This whole thing was set up to be clumsy. The Avengers is the opposite of clumsy. Everyone’s introduction in the movie feels natural and fulfilling. Even if you hadn’t seen all of the Phase 1 movies, you understand enough about every character to know what they want and how they function. And, save for Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye who really gets the shaft in this movie up until the third act, everyone has a very satisfying arc. In a way it feels silly to drone on about how great The Avengers is because it’s one of those things that, in my mind, has become a generally accepted fact. It’s like saying the sky is blue and Jurassic Park is the best movie ever made about dinosaurs. It’s just such an obvious thing to say.
Not to just gloss over all of this, but it’s worth saying that pretty much everyone, performance wise, nails it in this movie. Mark Ruffalo is so instantly suited to be Bruce Banner, Scarlett Johansson really comes into her own as Black Widow, Samuel L. Jackson gets to shine as Nick Fury. Everyone shows up in a big way. Especially Tom Hiddleston as Loki, who is still Marvel’s best villain to date. The delivery of the line, “I’m burdened with glorious purpose” is what the term badass was made for. And not for nothing, but Captain America did give us one of the all time great MCU lines with, “I understood that reference.” Not only that, but a very great and useful meme, I might add.
This is a piece leading us to Avengers: Infinity War, so it would be a missed opportunity not to talk about Thanos here. Not only is this where we first see him in what is perhaps the best post-credits scene Marvel has done to date, but it’s actually amazing how clearly he’s pulling the strings throughout the movie. It’s subtle, but it’s there. Six years before Thanos is set to truly enter the MCU, he was there in the background, just waiting for his chance.
It would be easy to go on and on about The Avengers. It’s a movie that means everything to someone who loved this stuff their whole lives. But what’s most important is that this movie was able to communicate the ideas, themes and characters that comic book fans had loved for decades to the general public so effectively. No longer could you be called a nerd for loving Captain America. How could you not after seeing this movie? This movie gives everyone that feeling that comic book lovers enjoyed years before these characters were mainstream pop culture icons and that’s what Marvel has really done so well over the years. At the end of the movie, a world security council member asks Nick Fury, “Was that the point of all this? A statement.” To which, Nick Fury replies, “A promise.” From Marvel’s standpoint, I think that’s exactly what The Avengers was.