NICK FURY: ‘I am Iron Man.’ You think you’re the only superhero in the world? Mr. Stark, you’ve become part of a bigger universe, you just don’t know it yet.
TONY STARK: Who the hell are you?
FURY: Nick Fury, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.
FURY: I’m here to talk to you about the Avenger Initiative.
With that conversation, as well as Tony Stark announcing to the world via a news conference that he is Iron Man, the beginning of a whole new universe was established, and went on to ring a bell that is still being heard and felt to this very day. Iron Man was the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which was then followed by The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger. All of which led to the first-ever live-action appearance of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes: The Avengers, which opened in theaters on May 4, 2012.
FYI: I’m fully aware that the actual title of the film is Marvel’s The Avengers in order to differentiate itself from the 1960s television series The Avengers, as well as its 1998 film adaptation, which was a critical and commercial failure (though it did bless us with Uma Thurman as Emma Peel in a catsuit). Hence why Marvel’s The Avengers is known in the United Kingdom as Marvel Avengers Assemble. But it should be clear to all five of you who are reading this article that this is about the Marvel Comics characters, and not the impeccably-dressed British spies with unresolved sexual tension.
In exchange for being provided with an entire army of Chitauri to help him invade and dominate all of Earth, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is recruited to find and steal the Tesseract (a.k.a. the Space Stone, one of the six Infinity Stones), a powerful energy source of near-limitless potential. He invades S.H.I.E.L.D’s base of operations in order to do so, causing a lot of bodies to hit the floor as a result, and while doing so, he mind-controls both Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) to make them do his bidding. When they all disappear with the Tesseract to parts unknown, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) have no other choice but to activate the Avenger Initiative and recruit some heroes to find Loki and stop him from tearing the planet apart. Those heroes include: Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Bruce Banner, a.k.a. The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America (Chris Evans), Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), and Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth). They’re not entirely enthused about working together, especially when they realize that Fury had his own secret plans for the Tesseract that involved manufacturing weapons against any and all threats of unknown origin. But when Loki escapes captivity, and sheds the blood of one of their closest allies while doing so, they have no choice but to accept that there’s only one way they can take down Loki and save the world: Together, as The Avengers.
Joss Whedon, who wrote and directed The Avengers, made a lot of people very happy when Marvel/Disney hired him to bring his skills and his knowledge of comics to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and make an Avengers film that would be worth watching. None of that changes the fact that he was an abusive f-ckboy who thought way too highly of himself then, and that he’s still an abusive f-ckboy who thinks way too highly of himself now. There has already been plenty of discussion about many of those f-ckboy tendencies rearing their head and hurting a lot of people as a result, and I would say that this is the last time I’ll mention him in this article, but I still have more sh-t-talking to do about him and his work, which I’ll get to later.
Like most other films in which a team of skilled individuals is recruited and assembled in order to pull off a dangerous job, each member of The Avengers is introduced to show or remind us of why they’re useful and awesome enough to be recruited in the first place. Black Widow’s fighting skills, as well as her expertise in persuading and manipulating others to provide her with whatever access or information she wants; Thor, the God of Thunder willing to do whatever it takes to protect Earth, particularly by bringing Loki and the Tesseract back to Asgard before he causes any more havoc than he already has; Bruce Banner is a brilliant scientist with knowledge of and previous experience with gamma radiation that gives him an advantage in hopefully locating the Tesseract, and as the Hulk, he’s a living, breathing weapon of mass destruction that can and will destroy anything in his path if you make him angry; Tony Stark, who describes himself as a genius, billionaire, playboy, and philanthropist (and isn’t wrong when doing so), whose intelligence and cunning are valuable assets in helping The Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. figure out what Loki really wants the Tesseract for, and who is fully capable of giving Loki some pause for thought when he suits up as Iron Man and launches a plan of attack; Hawkeye, whose razor-sharp observational skills help his teammates organize their moves on the battleground, while using his near-perfect marksmanship with bow and arrows to have their backs and protect them from harm; and Captain America, who will not only lead his teammates into battle, but he’ll fight skillfully and bravely alongside them until his very last breath. (And he’ll do all of this while wearing one of the absolute worst-looking versions of his costume. Seriously, the 1990 direct-to-video version of Captain America with the $3 million budget had a better costume than what Chris Evans is made to wear in this film.)
It is incredibly fun and funny to see the six of them bounce off of one another as they all meet for the first time, and push each other’s buttons to see what makes them tick (bonus points to Tony spotting that one of the S.H.I.E.L.D. employees is using his computer terminal to play Galaga when he thinks that no one is looking), until they realize that not playing well with others isn’t an option when the fate of the world is hanging in the balance. But before we see them fighting together as one cohesive unit, there is some necessary set-up, and much of it that takes up the majority of the film’s runtime consists of The Avengers butting heads with each other, both verbally and physically. Instead of seeing them slowly become friends as they learn more about each other, and respect what they each bring to the table (Tony and Bruce being the exception, as the former makes it clear how much respect he has for Bruce when it comes to what he’s able to do as both Banner and the Hulk, and also expresses faith that he’ll eventually learn how to use “the other guy” as an unstoppable force for good), we instead get to see Iron Man vs. Thor, Iron Man and Thor vs. Captain America, Thor vs. Hulk, Black Widow vs. Hulk, and Black Widow vs. Hawkeye. All of which is very cool to see, but it also seems as if these conflicts mostly happen just to have them make lots of sarcastic remarks at each other, and also because of Whedon’s well-known belief that happy relationships in fiction are boring, and that seeing The Avengers come together through teeth-clenched teamwork instead of as a found family is so much better and much more interesting. (This was an approach that Whedon used once again when he was hired to direct and co-write the theatrical version of Justice League, and that approach failed miserably the second time around)
Another aspect of the film that hasn’t aged well at all (and which had some complaints even during its original release) was the interrogation scene between Black Widow and Loki, and just how Black Widow is treated. Starting with the blatant shots of Scarlett being filmed from behind with her backside clearly in view while she is facing Loki. (Another move that Whedon repeated with his theatrical version of Justice League, this time with Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman) And frankly, if I wanted to stare at Scarlett Johannsson’s ass this much while she’s on camera, I’d just watch the opening shot of Lost In Translation, and even that came off a lot more respectfully than what was done here. Then there’s the part of the conversation where Black Widow explains to Loki just how important Hawkeye is to her, enough that she wants Loki to return him safely and no longer under his control. Instead, Loki mocks her, laughs at her, and directly tells Black Widow that not only will he have Hawkeye kill her slowly and painfully, but also seems to imply that Hawkeye will sexually assault her before he kills her (or that he’ll even do it while he’s killing her), and then ends it by calling her a ‘mewling quim.’
Which is pretty much an Olde English way of Loki calling Black Widow a whining and whimpering cu—
Well…you know what word I was actually referring to, and it sure as hell wasn’t “Cumberbatch.”
In the eyes of some viewers looking back at The Avengers … to have a character, even one as villainous as Loki, say something so vile and misogynistic didn’t leave them questioning just how bad Loki could be. It left them questioning just how bad Joss “Why am I still writing strong female characters? Because you’re still asking me that question” Whedon could be.
The Avengers ends with one of the best and most exciting action scenes in any comic-book movie: the Battle of New York. Where we get to see The Avengers finally assemble as a team in order to stop Loki and the Chitauri, and save New York from destruction before S.H.I.E.L.D. launches a nuclear warhead at Manhattan to stop the threat. It includes some terrific, crowd-pleasing moments: Bruce showing up in the nick of time and sharing a secret as to how he handles being the Hulk (“That’s my secret, Captain. I’m always angry.”); Captain America giving instructions to each Avenger on what to do during the battle and how to do it (“And Hulk? Smash!”), Hulk sucker-punching Thor right after they successfully take down the Leviathan; the continuous shot that follows each one of them as they launch their own attacks, including Iron Man firing his repulsors at Cap’s shield to kill several Chitauri at once; and of course, the famous shot in which the camera circles the Avengers as they stare down the Chitauri and prepare themselves for what’s next, which is set to composer Alan Silvestri’s sweeping and magnificent theme. And when Earth’s Mightiest Heroes miraculously achieve victory, thanks to the combined efforts of Hulk pulverizing Loki by slamming him into the ground like a ragdoll (“Puny god!”), Black Widow using Loki’s scepter to close the portal that gives the Chitauri access to Earth, and Iron Man sending the nuclear missile to outer space, where it explodes and destroys the Chitauri’s base of operations, what do they all do to celebrate the occasion? They hit up a nearby restaurant (courtesy of Iron Man’s glowing recommendation), and eat all of the shawarma they can get their hands on, despite how exhausted they all are. (Thanks to that very same recommendation, sales of shawarma increased in several cities by about ninety percent after the film’s hugely successful opening weekend.)
As the Marvel Cinematic Universe went on to become a guaranteed money-printing machine for Marvel/Disney, that machine also included sequels to The Avengers. The first one was Avengers: Age of Ultron, which opened in 2015, and featured the team gaining new members such as Vision (Paul Bettany); and siblings Pietro Maximoff, a.k.a. Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), and Wanda Maximoff, a.k.a. Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), as they went up against a powerful and malevolent artificial intelligence called Ultron (James Spader).
Not only was this Whedon’s final film for Marvel/Disney, which he chalked up to stress and exhaustion and some creative interference from the studios, but it also experienced some controversy as a result of Whedon’s unfortunate and misguided idea of having Hulk and Black Widow in a relationship with each other. (Was this supposed to be the Marvel/Disney version of Buffy and Angel, perhaps?) Natasha explains to Bruce that she cannot have children, due to all Black Widow assassins undergoing hysterectomies upon completion of their training to make sure that they won’t lose their edge and abandon their duties by getting pregnant and becoming mothers. She then describes herself as a monster, and fans were both upset and divided as to whether she called herself a monster because she can’t have kids, or because she gave up that ability so she could go on to do all of the horrible things which resulted in so much red in her ledger, red that she wants more than anything to wipe out. No matter the reason, those fans (particularly female fans) weren’t pleased. It also didn’t help to hear Tony crack a joke about reinstituting “prima nocta” (the right of a lord to have sex with any bride in his kingdom on her wedding night) if he is able to lift Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir (or “Mew-Mew,” as Dr. Darcy Lewis calls it), and earn the right to rule Asgard.
Avengers: Infinity War opened in 2018, and had The Avengers defending Earth from the Big Bad whose presence was hinted at and teased since the end of the first film: Thanos (Josh Brolin), the powerful and merciless alien warlord who is obsessed with gaining the Infinity Stones for his gauntlet and using them to rule the universe.
Infinity War ended with Thanos using the Infinity Gauntlet to snap half of all life in the universe out of existence, including many of the heroes we know and love. And yes, it’s glaringly obvious that this isn’t the most important thing to care about when it comes to this catastrof-ck of a pandemic, but let us all give thanks that Avengers: Endgame was released in 2019, and that it was not scheduled to open in movie theaters after March of 2020. Because I can’t even begin to imagine how upset and impatient Marvel stans would be if they had to wait and wait and wait even longer to see how this story would be resolved. Hell, I still remember how angry and impatient they were about wanting Black Widow to finally stream on Disney Plus, as well as wanting to finally see a trailer for Spider-Man: No Way Home after months of anticipation.
After shedding a few tears when seeing Coulson killed by Loki, and Fury having to watch the life disappear from his eyes, this is how I still feel about the fact that we never got to see Coulson reunite with any of the Avengers in any of the movies after he was brought back to life on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.:
It’s also how I feel about Captain America not hooking up with Maria Hill, or even with Black Widow, and instead we see him try to start something with Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp), the niece of his recently deceased one true love, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) in
The Avengers 2.5 Captain America: Civil War. But that is another rant for another day.
The Avengers was a massive hit with both critics and audiences, and it became the first Marvel film to reach the benchmark of making over a billion dollars at the box-office. And it not only let Hollywood know that the Marvel Cinematic Universe was a force to be reckoned with, it also changed the way that comic-book movies were made, and how they were viewed. For some, The Avengers is two-and-a-half hours of near-perfection as a comic-book movie, and has such an amazing balance of action and comedy and heart and respect of the source material, that it made them go “Now that’s a comic-book movie, and that’s what I want from all other comic-book movies from here on out!” For others, The Avengers is more of a curse than a blessing, in that it not only gave Joss Whedon more power to wield in Hollywood (and more excuses to be an abusive f-ckboy towards his colleagues, and anyone else who crossed his path), but it made a lot of critics and fans believe that Whedon’s way of making a comic-book movie like The Avengers is the only way to do it.
Yes, it has action and heart and respect towards the source material, but it also seemingly convinced Marvel/Disney that there needs to be a joke and a laugh in their movies every five minutes to remind the audience that what they’re watching is supposed to be fun, and is not supposed to be taken too seriously. Comic-book movies are meant to be amazing rollercoaster rides that make sure we’re all having a good time, but when you keep relying on bathos in almost every scene, and you undermine the full dramatic effect of whatever story you’re telling, then what’s the point? All that it ends up doing is poisoning the well for other writers and directors who aren’t trying to follow directly in Whedon’s footsteps when making a superhero movie (for Marvel or DC or any other company), who would like to make their own mark and do their own thing within reason, and without being expected to adhere so closely to the house style that Marvel/Disney has seemingly made into law with almost every movie and television show that is a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And depending on who you ask, that house style has made many of those movies and television shows almost indistinguishable from each other in terms of cinematography, tone, and characterization, whether it’s
Guardians of the Galaxy 2.5 Thor: Ragnarok, Ant-Man, or even an episode of Hawkeye. Say what you will about Man of Steel (and nine years after it first opened in theaters, the Internet still has a whole damn lot to say about it), but if The Avengers hadn’t opened in theaters a year before Man of Steel did, would the response to the film and to this version of Superman have been a lot less mixed and controversial? Would viewers have been a little more open-minded as to what director Zack Snyder was trying to do, which didn’t involve nonstop wisecracking and winks to the audience to put them all at ease?
After the release of Avengers: Endgame, Twitter came up with the idea of using a hashtag to show their appreciation to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and to all of the artists who did their part in bringing it to life and entertaining/inspiring so many fans worldwide. The hashtag was #ThankYouAvengers, and it got plenty of usage.
#ThankYouAvengers. What a gift this has been, and always will be. The sheer number of young girls and boys that will continue to find great inspiration in these (layered, flawed but ultimately human at heart) superheroes will be the greatest legacy of the MCU.— Jo Garfein (@jopinionated) April 28, 2019
After seeing #AvengersEndGame, I can confidently say that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the Star Wars of this generation. The cultural impact not only on movies, but the real world in general, shows me that. #ThankYouAvengers pic.twitter.com/ecKxnDOJmS— Evan J Gamber (@GamberEvanJ) April 27, 2019
There has never been a movie franchise that’s given me more joy to share with my family and friends than the #MarvelCinematicUniverse. The MCU is the GOAT. Thank you, #MarvelStudios. #ThankYouAvengers #AvengersEndgame pic.twitter.com/6xFIbOcppC— Sean Gerber (@MrSeanGerber) April 27, 2019
Man, @Jon_Favreau is such a major reason we got @RobertDowneyJr and this beautiful Marvel Cinematic Universe. So thankful for his foresight. #ThankYouAvengers #AvengersEndgame pic.twitter.com/cTE10qXTWq— Frederick "Pre-order Patriarchy Blues" Joseph (@FredTJoseph) April 27, 2019
It’s still a mystery as to what Marvel/Disney have planned for the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe when it comes to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, who will be included in the next line-up, and which ultra-powerful Big Bad will throw the gauntlet down to challenge them. But until that mystery is solved, we can still look back and enjoy what we got with The Avengers and its sequels, while also saying thank you and f-ck you times infinity to Joss Whedon for his part in helping to make The Avengers assemble.
The Avengers is now streaming on Disney Plus.