Oh I did it fam. In preparation for my viewing of Avengers: Infinity War on April 26th at 7PM, I went back and rewatched the previous 18 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, from Iron Man to Black Panther. Every day leading up to Infinity War I’ll be posting a short piece on each film and my most recent hot takes on nearly a decade of the MCU. I’ll also be linking back to whatever old nonsense I wrote about the movies at the time, if applicable. And if that isn’t enough, check out my ranked listed of the MCU to date on my Letterboxd account here.
“You’ve become part of a bigger universe. You just don’t know it yet.”
Such was the promise lobbed at audiences in 2008 at the end of the end of Iron Man (remember when we used to be able to leave the theater when the movie ended?). Nick Fury’s words proved all the wiser in retrospect. So much of Marvel’s formative first phase was concerned with individuals stepping into circumstances far beyond anything they previously could have imagined. There’s an ignorance to those first steps, be they arrogant or altruistic, which is shared amongst the likes of Tony Stark, Bruce Banner and Steve Rogers. Their reach exceeds their grasp and there are consequences that come with that disparity. In Thor, we learned the same was true of SHIELD and the shadowy government and military institutions prominent throughout these first five films. They entered into an arena they were woefully unequipped for. Shoot, by the time The Avengers wraps up, we learn the same was true even of Loki, who strikes a bargain with severe cost and consequence that, even if only momentarily, he has to second guess.
In The Avengers, what separates the heroes from the villains from the bureaucrats is how each individual dealt with the consequences of that excessive reach. Loki doubled down on his actions. The World Security Council wished them away with a nuke. The Avengers, though? The Avengers took responsibility. The team only finally came into their own when they shirked authority altogether and took matters into their own hands. And without a soul to tell them “with great power must also come great responsibility” even!
Thematically, The Avengers is a fantastic climax to the first phase of the MCU. Cinematically, six years on it’s still a landmark in blockbuster history. I really don’t feel like I can gush enough about how far Joss Whedon’s script knocks it out of the park. He took what could have been a stunt, a gimmick, a train wreck, and made a film of extreme competence and proficiency.
Perhaps the smartest move Whedon made was keeping things simple. The force of antagonism is clear, unburdened by philosophical or emotional justifications, and the rationale for every Avenger’s presence in the film is sound and straightforward. This is a script that requires no narrative gymnastics on the part of the viewer. It’s all there in the script. Rather than weave a convoluted, interconnected web of motivations to bring the team together, or plumb the depths of villainy in the search of the next Joker, Whedon dealt out hands quick and efficiently, giving him ample time instead to bounce these characters off one another to compelling effect.
Save the comic books from whence these characters came, there was no precedent for what Whedon pulled off with The Avengers. I’ve got my issues here and there with the film, but nothing that can take away from how deftly Whedon executed a cinematic first. He needed to bring these characters together and to make their fellowship worth the wait and he went about doing it elegantly, emphasizing quality over intricacy.
Four years later, Joss Whedon who delivered on Nick Fury’s ominous promise in spectacular fashion.