The Avengers (2012) – The 6th Marvel Cinematic Universe Film – Directed by Joss Whedon – Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgård, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany, Alexis Denisof, Stan Lee, Powers Boothe, Lou Ferrigno, and Harry Dean Stanton.
Welcome to the eleventh (and final) character-specific reaction to Joss Whedon’s THE AVENGERS. I’ve already written a 4,200+ word review of the film, but that wasn’t nearly enough to cover everything I wanted to talk about, so I’m going to write character-specific reactions to delve a bit deeper into the film. You can find all of the relevant AVENGERS links at the bottom of this post.
Also, please note that these reactions are evolving as we go. If you see some line I got wrong or a detail I overlooked, by all means let me know. I’ve seen the movie twice, but it’s a long movie and the audience reacts wildly in parts, so some things get lost or forgotten or misinterpreted. And I’m sure some of the quotes are wrong, but I will correct the mistakes as I become aware of them. Don’t be surprised if these reactions grow a bit in the coming days.
Let me be clear about what’s coming: SPOILERS. Lots and lots of SPOILERS. Read ahead only if you’re cool with that. If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want things ruined, come on back when you do.
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“That’s the guy my dad wouldn’t shut up about?”
I’ll be honest, I thought I’d spend the bulk of May writing about movies like Adventures in Babysitting, Eight Legged Freaks, and Snakes on a Plane. I thought I’d spend more time talking about the animated Avengers than the live action ones.
But then I watched MARVEL’S THE AVENGERS and … yeah. Wow. Best Superhero Movie Ever. (And, people, if you’ve been complaining about the name of the movie because you think Marvel put their name there so as not to confuse anyone looking for the new Patrick Macnee/Honor Blackman/Diana Rigg/Ralph Fiennes/Uma Thurman, well, I’m guessing it has more to do with building brand recognition for Marvel.) And sometime during the process of writing my review of the movie, I decided one post wasn’t enough and I’d tackle the individual characters to flesh the movie out a bit more.
We’ve now reached the end of that road. I hope you’ve enjoyed these reactions – if you’re reading this close to its publication date, you’ll note the overwhelming popularity of these posts, so thanks for stopping by, reading, and in some cases, commenting. It’s been great to hear from old friends and new ones and if I had the cash, I’d fly all of you to Reno and rent out a theater so we could watch AVENGERS one more time on the big screen.
I had planned to save the IRON MAN reaction to the end because I thought it would be the largest of reactions. While Joss Whedon did an excellent job balancing his cast, we are living in Robert Downey Jr.’s world, and his personality and screen presence is going to rise to the top. Indeed, it’s Tony Stark who gets the most traditional character arc in AVENGERS as it’s Stark who needs the most convincing to believe in the Avengers, it’s Stark who has his character most challenged (by Cap), and it’s Stark who gets to defeat the Chitauri and almost sacrifice himself to save the world, thereby meeting the challenge to his character.
Instead of going through a play-by-play for Tony Stark’s entire cinematic experience in AVENGERS (most of his best interactions have been covered in the reactions for the other half of those exchanges), I want to build this reaction around Stark’s acceptance of his fellow Avengers into his world, and his negotiation between the Avengers Initiative/SHIELD and the Avengers themselves.
As the film opens, Tony Stark is in a very comfortable, very adult space. His life is good and he is content, having moved away from being a weapons contractor to being “the only name in green energy,” as he describes himself to Captain America (Chris Evans) deeper into the movie. His journey in AVENGERS begins under water, with him hooking up the arc reactor, making Stark Tower self-sufficient. He blasts out of the water and across the city to the tower, where he lands and has his armor removed by a whirling band of mechanical arms in a slow walk down into his main apartment floor, where the beautiful Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is waiting for him.
This first Stark Tower walk symbolizes the domestication of the playboy and the maturation of the visionary. Stark is committed and happy, yet not fully content because he’ll never be fully content. He is happy to play the roguish bachelor with Pepper, though, and their back-and-forth, playfully antagonistic relationship is a real joy to watch. What’s impressive here and throughout the film is how well Downey plays off every single actor he shares the screen with in AVENGERS; Paltrow is not an overly dynamic actress, but you can see Downey pulling Paltrow out of her comfortable shell the same way Stark is performing his magic on Pepper.
I covered the conversation between Stark, Pepper, and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) in the main AVENGERS review and I won’t recap it here, except to say that it demonstrates how Whedon builds his conception of characters in this film better than any other moment. Joss Whedon’s Tony Stark is completely in line with the character from IRON MAN and its sequel, but Whedon gives him an arc (built around his feelings of inadequacy) and a character trait (referencing other movies) to help keep everything in motion.
Motion is the primary trait of Whedon’s film (not action, which there is plenty of, but motion, which is what builds and circles throughout) and this technique is best exemplified in Tony Stark, who’s seemingly always engaged on three fronts: the actual scene that’s happening with all of its physical and mental conflicts, how this scene effects his own feelings of inadequacy, and then how his quick wit verbalizes and/or releases the tension inside of him. Stark is happy with Pepper, but then Agent Coulson breaks in to spoil the fun and Stark is suddenly fifteen years old, not wanting to do what his uncle wants and jealous because he girlfriend knows his uncle’s name.
“Uh, Phil? His first name is Agent.”
It’s such a wonderful moment because Stark, for all his success bedding gorgeous women, is now bothered by Pepper knowing some other guy’s first name. It’s not simply jealousy, though, Stark is also bothered by the fact that Coulson is a person; he wants to think of him as a suit, as SHIELD middle management who’s nothing but a nuisance, and yet here’s Pepper recognizing that Coulson is a person, at the same time she’s playing mother hen to Stark, getting him to focus on the task that Coulson has for him.
Without overselling the “Phil” angle, Whedon deftly and directly touches on it with Stark later in the film. The first time this happens is almost a throwaway bit. Stark and Coulson are entering a room and Stark tells Coulson he’ll fly him to Portland to meet up with the cellist player he was involved with, the second time comes in the aftermath of Coulson’s death/”death” at the hands of Loki, and then lastly when Stark tells Loki that, “You p*ssed off someone else, too. His name was Phil.”
While we never see it, it certainly feels like Stark was embarrassed by his childish (but playful) jealousy with Pepper and sincerely wanted to make it up to Coulson. And honestly, it’s that moment on the Helicarrier when Stark is giving romantic advice to Coulson that works for me better than the “his name was Phil” finale. It’s those small moments that quintessentially become “Avengers moments,” just like the trip to the schawarma restaurant at the end of the film feels like a quintessential moment.
And really, it’s to everyone’s credit that you don’t hear any Avengers fans politely wondering, “You know what would have made that better? If Stark had said, ‘I hear Clint puts on a mean barbecue. We should totally crash at his place when this is over. I’ll get the steak. Thor, you get the beer, and Cap … get Hulk whatever he wants.’”
“We’ve got to get Loki first.”
“Right. Then barbecue at Hawkeye’s.”
Stark’s insecurity or feelings of inadequacy show up with his relationship with Steve, too, and it’s because of this feeling that Stark delivers his best line of the film. After he and Steve get into it a bit in front of Banner over what their next move should be, Steve leaves and Stark remarks to Banner, “That’s the guy my dad would never shut up about?”
The dispute was caused over Steve and Tony’s differing reactions to the amount of knowledge Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) has concerning the Loki/Tesseract situation. Stark has planted a virus onto the SHIELD’s computers to disrupt Fury’s leadership while Steve thinks the best move is to follow orders; Stark distrusts the guy smarter than him while Steve decides to trust the chain of command. Stark’s snotty line, however, is every bit as much about his own dad as it is about Captain America. Clearly, Stark has daddy issues; his father was a great inventor and built the family fortune through weapons, a fact that Stark has increasingly become uncomfortable with in the Cinematic Universe. He’s gone to great lengths to distance himself from his dad’s legacy and now here’s his dad’s hero walking right into the middle of Stark’s life and potentially taking some of the glitz away from Stark.
I don’t mean this in a “Tony wants all the acclaim” manner, but rather that here he is, the creator of the Iron Man armor, and now an “old fashioned” bit of technology enters his life that his father had a hand in creating. It’s why Tony snaps at Steve how “everything great about you came out of a bottle.” That line of attack is one based on science, and on that matter Stark wants to believe himself superior to his dad. Tony doesn’t snap, “If you’re so great, how come you couldn’t land a plane,” or “Don’t worry, Cap, we’ve got computers to land planes now” because that would have made the confrontation more about him and Steve, and Tony, because of his feelings of inadequacy, must feel like that’s a losing battle.
Critically, though, it’s Tony who turns over leadership in the Avengers to Cap during the battle with the Chitauri, although he does make the final decision to take the nuke through the space portal on his own. Even that act, though, directly finishes the simmering feud between him and Steve, as the play Tony makes is one of personal sacrifice, which is the exact charge Steve had laid at his feet earlier in the film.”
On a lighter note, I love how Whedon has Tony use pop culture references in a “blink and you’ll miss it” fashion. He references Lord of the Rings in conversation with Hawkeye (“Better clench up, Legolas”), refers to the Thor/Loki feud as “Shakespeare in the park,” and in one of his funnier lines, tells Thor after their fight, “No hard feelings, Point Break.” In these small lines, Whedon and Downey seek to humanize Stark a bit by bringing him down to everyone else’s level. Let’s face it, the guy is exactly what he says he is: a genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist. It’s really only with Steve and Fury, though, that Stark tries to Big Man them, and it’s not hard to figure out that this is because of both their military connection and a sense of distrust or inadequacy towards them.
(Curiously, there’s not much interplay between Stark and Tasha in the film, despite their history together in IRON MAN 2.)
The most interesting relationship that Tony Stark has in the movie, however, is with Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). Even the casting of Ruffalo indicates that he and Stark are contemporaries, which adds to their bonding. (Interestingly, of course, Cap and Thor are much older than Stark and Banner, yet look considerably younger.) Perhaps it’s because Stark is a genius, allowing he and Banner can connect on that level, that Banner is drawn to Tony, or perhaps it’s because Tony directly addresses the issue of the Hulk. Banner is worried about Fury and Tasha’s motives because when he looks at them, all he sees is “the government.” Steve diffuses any concerns in his initial meeting with Bruce, but Steve is interested in the mission first, and people second. Tony comes right out and says, “I’m a fan of the way you lose control and turn into an enormous green rage monster” upon his initial meeting with Banner which, if nothing else, proves that Tony isn’t afraid to tip-toe around the issue that dominates Banner’s life.
In the lab, Tony and Bruce seamlessly begin working together but where Bruce is primarily about the work they need to do, and secondarily about the work they need to do, Stark takes care of the work as quickly as he can in order to get into Banner’s head, inviting him to come to Stark Tower and then suggesting that Banner “suit up” with the rest of them.
“You might not like that,” Banner warns.
“You might,” Stark counters back.
There are only two non-military/intelligence people on the ship – Banner and Thor – and it’s not surprising that Stark chooses to bond with the one that is a scientist instead of a warrior.
All told, Whedon and Downey doing a spectacular job with Tony Stark, making him seem like a real person while still giving Downey plenty of opportunity to shine. The Marvel Cinematic Universe and AVENGERS owe so much to Downey. Not only is he a charismatic actor that turned a secondary Marvel hero into a first rate movie star, his willingness and generosity to share the spotlight helps make AVENGERS the phenomenal film it is. I mentioned in another reaction that there were reports way back at the start of the production that Downey wanted the film to be more centered around him, and that issues like that are something he doesn’t have to worry about.
Because of who is he, because of his talent, and because of the importance of Tony Stark and Iron Man to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Robert Downey Jr. will always have a prominent role. He’s the only lead actor in the world that steals every scene he’s in – even when the scene is designed to be his, he finds a way to steal it. In AVENGERS and other MCU film, Downey and Tony Stark are still the gold standard. One of the lessons here for both Downey and Stark is that by taking the occasional step back to allow other actors and other heroes to step forward, it makes you better in the process. Stark needs to separate the Avengers from the Avengers initiative; he tells Steve, “I’m not marching to Fury’s fife,” and when Steve say that he isn’t either, it opens the door for Stark to believe the Avengers can be something more than a militarized band of soldiers marching under the flag of SHIELD. Nick Fury might have brought them all together, but it’s Tony’s acceptance of, and willingness to trust Steve that bind them to one another.
And that’s it on the reactions. I’m sure I’ll tweak them here and there, but it’s been a blast writing them and I sincerely hope you’ve had a blast reading them.
THE AVENGERS REVIEW INDEX
THE AVENGERS: THE MOVIE REVIEW
THE AVENGERS: THE HAWKEYE REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE AGENT COULSON REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE BLACK WIDOW REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE NICK FURY REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE MARIA HILL REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE CAPTAIN AMERICA REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE CHITAURI/THANOS REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE HULK REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE THOR REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE LOKI REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE IRON MAN REACTION
THE MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE REVIEW INDEX
1. IRON MAN
2. THE INCREDIBLE HULK
3. IRON MAN 2
5. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER