Fair warning! If you haven't been watching the MCU movies up to this point you may start to get lost. The whole saga really starts to get underway with this one.
Preface: As promised last year, I plan to review every single
currently available movie in what is known as the Marvel Cinematic
Universe (MCU) over the year 2024. These will appear in order of their
release over that time period. This is the sixth installment. (Oh, and
by the way, after I've exhausted all of the currently available MCU
movies I will be rounding out the year with some of the other available
movies made from the Marvel comics pantheon.)
Notes: In each of the MCU installments you will be seeing references to two recurring events that occur in nearly every MCU movie.
Where is Stan Lee?: Stan Lee was the driving genius behind Marvel Comics. He usually shows up in a cameo. Sometimes these are so quick you gotta be sure you don't blink. Occasionally he gets a line of dialogue.
And the Credits Roll: You should always stay in the theater for the credits when watching a MCU movie, because during the credits and at the end there is a teaser (or two) that is worth the wait. Often they were a teaser for the next installment of the films.
The best part of the MCU cycle, for me, is when more than one character takes up screen time. Over the course of the (so far) 33 MCU movies, this has happened about a 1/3 of the time. Personality conflicts are one of the things that drew me to Marvel comics in the first place. (see my post from last year for more on that.)
By this time, most of the Marvel heroes had been introduced. There would still be a few more coming, but the main ones were now present for a match up that would require all of their special attributes. One of the changes that came about during the production is that the character of Bruce Banner was recast. Edward Norton, who apparently was a difficult person to deal with, was replaced by Mark Ruffalo. (Not entirely a bad thing, Ruffalo was a good choice. Norton didn't exactly shine in The Incredible Hulk, but I do like Norton as an actor... oh, well.)
Missing in the first Avengers movie was a character introduced in the second Iron Man movie, War Machine. That is the only character that had been previously hinted or introduced that did not make the team. To be sure there were still more to come. Once these had their own solo introductions they would appear as part of the team in future Avengers movies.
Interestingly enough, in the timeline of Marvel comics the original lineup did not include Captain America. Here is the original 1st issue of the comic book:
Notice the top of the cover. Ant Man was one of the original four in the lineup, although in the timeline of MCU he wouldn't appear for another 5 movies. (3 years later in terms of movie history). Captain America wasn't actually found in his frozen state until issue #4, although he would become one of the members of The Avengers afterwards. Also, in the course of the comic book saga, Hulk left the Avengers by issue #2. But we have to make allowances when dealing with the MCU because the money always tops everything, And since only the fanboys know the real story, and only the most dedicated (read: obsessive) really care about it, it isn't too much of a problem.
The Avengers (2012):
The film opens in the secret lab of S.H.I.E.L.D. as the crew and people are being evacuated. It seems that the Tesseract has begun doing some strange things independently. Or as Agent Barton (Jeremy Renner), also known as "Hawkeye" observes, someone or something is doing it from the other side since the Tesseract is a portal to the other side of "space". Eventually it allows the appearance of Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to cross over from Asgard and take the Tesseract. In the process, Loki manages to use his power to control both Hawkeye and Dr. Selvig (Stellan Skargard).
Thus the director, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), is forced to implement his own measures by bringing in his own special forces, the Avengers. Only the higher ups have closed down the Avengers Initiative and are reluctant to turn over the fate of the world to a "handful of freaks". But Fury is insistent that his plan is the only one that can save the world from ultimate destruction.
As Fury uses his forces to gather together the Ultimate Avengers crew, he brings in Dr, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), aka The Hulk, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), aka Captain America and Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), aka Iron Man for the task of capturing Loki and returning the Tesseract to more saner forces. But Loki, who is not acting alone (he has a backing from a race called "the Chitauri") is not ready to go quietly into that good night.
So, ultimately, Loki is captured. Was it that easy? Maybe not. Maybe, just maybe, he was operating on another level and WANTED to be captured. But, enter his brother, Thor, who rescues Loki. It's a familial thing, however, not an idea that Thor is against the efforts of the Avengers. He apparently just wants Loki to come home and play nice.
Of course, the others in the Avengers are not exactly on the same field as Thor. We get an interesting battle between Iron Man and Thor which is only brought to an impasse when Captain America shows up and puts a stop to it.
Back on the flying mobile home base, the Avengers, with the help of Banner and Stark's computer wizardry and hacking discover that Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. have ulterior motives for the Tesseract. One of the more intriguing developments in this interplay is establishing the personalities of our heroes. I have always preferred Cap over Iron Man because Cap is naive but still a better man in terms of his dedication. Stark is, as he proudly claims, a " genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist" (in other words, at least to me, Stark is #1 in Stark's world, not the interest of humanity, while Rogers really cares about humanity and has it's interests at the top of the list).
In the midst of all the chaos, the Tesseract opens the portal which allows the Chitauri to invade. But meanwhile Bruce has started to get a little annoyed with Black Widow. When the Hulk makes his presence, it might just be a battle between the Chitauri and the Hulk to see who can do the most damage to the Flying Fortress.
Eventually the Avengers do come to some sort of working agreement to help save the Earth, however. And what with the Chitauri having some rather superior weaponry (including some monstrous mechanical eel robots), it seems they might get the upper hand.
One of the Avengers I had the most problems with is Hawkeye. The problem is not with the actor himself. I just had a feeling that he might not be as effective a warrior against some rather advanced technology. After all, his main power is he is pretty damn good with a bow and arrow, but even his beaucoup quiver of super arrows don't seem to be all that potentially effective at the base of it, But I am convinced in retrospect that he is a help, it just took a while to warm up to his superhero abilities. (I was the same way about the DC character Green Arrow, so maybe I just don't see archery expertise as a bonus for this kind of thing.
The last part of the movie involves the kind of bang up action that makes the Marvel movies worth checking out, however.
Even Hawkeye puts on a good show. (And, oh, by the way, you might think I'm giving Black Widow a pass because, after all, her big input is her acrobatic abilities, and yes I AM giving her pass, but it's Scarlett Johansson... Woof!... Yes, I'm being a typical male...)
Ultimately, of course, the team defeats the invaders, closes the portal, and the Tesseract is secured once again. As the movie ends there are dozens of man on the street interviews with citizens of New York City.
Where is Stan Lee?: We had to wait until the end of the movie, but Stan shows up as one of the citizens in the newsreels saying "Superheroes in New York City? Give me a break!" (And this is one of those aforementioned "blink and you'll miss it" cameos...)
The Avengers then have a dinner date set to go to an out of the way restaurant to relax.
And the Credits Roll: Immediately after the list of cast members part of the credits and before the rest of the credits roll, there is a scene where a character known as The Other is reporting to his master about the futility of trying to subjugate the Earth, When he has finished reporting, the master turns and we see our first glimpse of Thanos (more about him in future movies.
And the Credits Roll (Bonus!!): After everything we get to see all the Avengers sitting down to a meal in a quiet little diner. No conversation, just them enjoying a meal.
The Avengers was the place where the whole phase 1 portion of the MCU movies came to a conclusion. I don't really know entirely why the movies are divided up into "Phases". Personally, I just divide them up as pre- Avengers:Endgame and post-Avengers:Endgame. But the first contribution to the collection of movies that pitted more than one superhero in it comes out pretty good.