In what Time magazine (May 7, 2012) calls the “first of this summer’s ultra-expensive, apex-predator blockbuster movies,” and the “Travelling Wilberys of super-hero franchises,” six super-heroes assemble to defend earth against an alien invasion. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) of S.H.I.E.L.D calls together Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Hulk (Mark Rufallo), Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) to join forces against Thor’s [adopted] brother , Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who has enlisted the evil Chitauri to help him enslave the human race. The film is directed by Joss Whedon, a super-hero among super-hero fans and creator/director of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, and the most recent The Cabin in the Woods.
This film has some of the funniest lines I have ever heard in an action movie. The team of super-personalities is supported by witty, rapid-fire dialogue which keeps pace with the motion of the plot. If you have not seen the four “tent-pole” movies feeding into this one (Iron Man (2008,2010), Captain America (2011), and Thor (2011)), you might have some difficulty in understanding the background stories, and consequential motivations, of each hero. It can be tremendously difficult to keep track of who has what super-power and who is vulnerable to what. This can be especially puzzling when the super-heroes are quarreling amongst themselves. For example, who knew that Thor’s hammer could send Iron Man hurtling through the woods but fail to penetrate Captain America’s fancy-shmancy shield? Actually, one thing that sets this group apart from others like the X-Men or the Fantastic Four is that technically not all of them have super-powers. Iron Man just has a fancy suit, and the Black Widow, well I don’t really now her power. She’s a good spy? She can shoot really well? She looks good in a body suit (more on this later)? I would recommend honing your Avengers knowledge before attempting to understand exactly what’s going on in this movie.
That’s not to say that this movie is only for Marvel Comic fans. At bottom, each super-hero in The Avengers represents a distinct subset of American values. I think we are a conflicted nation, suspicious of our government, dissilusioned by the concepts of “freedom” and “democracy,” insecure about our status as a world power, and cynical about our future. We can sympathize with Loki, who wants to quiet everyone down to submission, but we are tied to a history and a set of ethics that resists tyranny and encourages freedom of thought, speech, and action. As Joss Whedon (right) himself says in an interview with Time, The Avengers is “a story about broken people… about what we’ve lost that we used to have culturally, in terms of this sense of community, this sense of helping each other, this sense of sacrifice.” We find strength in the idea that individuals of moral fortitude can summon the power to unify and defeat the foe. Because of this driving urge that lives at the heart of our civilization, super-hero movies like The Avengers come to have a much deeper significance for the American movie-going public.