- Arts & Literature
- Science & Technology
By Alex Lynchehaun
When defending comic books, fans draw a comparison between today’s superheroes and Ancient Greek gods. They claim that forces from Zeus to Superman have served as symbols of near-infinite power, describing their feats with awed reverence and sometimes fear. This is indeed true, but they share another common source of long-lasting appeal as well: their respective levels of humanity. Even the most powerful of superheroes would be boring if they were perfect in conduct and contentment. Thus, if we see these forces of nature as tortured or imperfect, it makes them relatable; and it’s even better if such forces conflict when they interact. It is this dimension that makes The Avengers such an effective entry into the genre.
There is one general reason that a number of different superheroes come together, on paper and in film: if a threat appears that is too powerful for any one of them to handle alone. That trend continues in the Avengers plotline, with exiled Norse God Loki (Tom Hiddleston) obtaining an energy source with unlimited potential called the Tesseract. S.H.I.E.L.D Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) plays the role of recruiter and hires a female assassin (Scarlett Johannson), a doctor with deep-seeded problem anger management issues (Mark Ruffalo), another Norse god with family connections (Chris Hemsworth), a narcissistic, alcoholic weapons manufacturer (Robert Downey, Jr.), and a super-soldier who is the symbol of a nation fighting an obesity epidemic (Chris Evans). Needless to say, due to potential invasions of cosmic evil and personality clashes, efforts at team-forging quickly go awry.
It is no difficulty for the cast to find their grounding onscreen, partially because several of these actors have already played their respective roles in movies. Downey’s sense of dry sarcasm in Iron Man, Hemsworth’s old-fashioned display of regal mannerisms with Thor, Evans’ straight-arrowed focus that epitomizes Captain America (and most our grandparents, for that matter)…we recognize these personalities from recent movies and, put bluntly, we thus have a group of skilled veteran actors who have largely had plenty of practice stepping into these spandex-laden roles. And Samuel L. Jackson, who has appeared through brief cameos up until this point, shines as the stoic cornerstone of grit and intellect that any army of superheroes would need in apocalyptic battle.
But even with exemplary set pieces and fight choreography (which appears in spades and only rarely overstays its welcome), there is no guarantee of depth in this notoriously inconsistent film genre. What makes this film shine is how much time director Joss Whedon devotes to each character’s internal growth. By the time the climactic scenes unfold, you know what motivates each superhero (unique and easy to follow), you’ve witnessed verbal fights that highlight insecurities (is Captain America’s source of greatness basically steroids?), and you witness what events allow them to move from mistrust to mutual camaraderie. In other words, the way this crime-fighting team comes together feels organic. You won’t find comparisons to cheesy, oversimplified crossover specials here, and that helps make it supremely entertaining.
A question is asked part way through the film about the moral fallibility superheroes are capable of, and what makes them any better than the villains they fight. The Avengers gives us a possible answer. Heroes know overcoming their flaws is hard, but they use the fight within themselves to form inner strength. Villains give up and instead settle for strength of any kind.