They say that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. If Iron Man/The Incredible Hulk are the single step, then 2012’s The Avengers is like the 500th mile. Of course, at the time of its release, Avengers was the journey’s end. All the movies pieces and through lines from the previous MCU films comes together in spectacular fashion.
Avengers picks up with Loki (I think the MCU’s only reoccurring villain), infiltrating a SHIELD outpost, stealing the Tesseract, mind-controlling a bunch of goons, and leaving Nick Fury kneeling next to a pile of former-base. From there, Fury, Black Widow, and Agent Coulson set about assembling the titular Avengers. Steve Rogers is pulled out of a gym, mid-workout and mid-flashback to his own movie. Dr. Bruce Banner (now played by Mark Ruffalo) is taken from an Indian slum by a terrified Black Widow and a whole squadron of SHIELD troops. Tony Stark is…intrigued (if that’s a word) into working with Agent Coulson. And Thor teleports into a jet flying through a thunderstorm mid-mission.
Once everybody’s together, the film shifts focus and the question becomes: “Can our heroes put aside their differences and save New York and the world from a power mad god and his army of expendable grey aliens?”
The answer is of course, “Yes”. The Avengers join together. Loki is defeated. The world can rest easy again.
Until the post-credit scene when a big purple alien smiles at the camera.
But that’s for another day.
The Avengers succeeds because it skillfully works with an established world, while never losing sight of the characters that drew people into the other films.
Tony Stark’s journey from careless billionaire to selfless super hero reaches a conclusion here. Throughout the movie, Tony’s motivation and attitude is questioned constantly by Captain America, someone who already proved himself to be entirely selfless. In the end, Tony proves Cap wrong by guiding a nuclear missile into the heart of the alien fleet, fully expecting not to return. Of course, he does. Iron Man’s the face of the franchise after all. But he was willing to sacrifice everything to save everyone. A far cry from the cold-hearted “Da Vinci of death” from Iron Man.
While The Avengers closes the book on Iron Man’s motivations and characterization through Phase One, it really does a lot of the leg work for setting up the character arcs for the other team members, who have had less screen time than Stark.
Captain America is still adjusting to the 21st Century. Throughout the film, he slowly begins to settle back into life, finding friends and (for lack of a better term) co-workers in a crisis. But the film also reveals that some shadow of HYDRA may still exist, and SHIELD may not be able to be as trusted whole-heartedly.
Thor grows more into his role as protector of Earth. The haughty prince from the early minutes of Thor still appears from time to time, but by The Avenger’s conclusion, Thor is humbled by the sacrifices and strength of the mortals around him. He’s also able to bring Loki to some kind of justice, capturing him and returning he and the Tesseract to Asgard.
The Avengers does the most work, in my opinion, with Bruce Banner. Behind the scenes, Edward Norton had some differences of opinion with the direction the character would be taken in. He was then replaced by Mark Ruffalo. Ruffalo’s Banner is shy and does not trust easily. And while he still fears the Hulk, he is more willing to see the good that can come from controlling the Hulk. By the film’s end, he has formed a friendship with Tony Stark and learned to trust in others, if not necessarily the governments they serve.
Black Widow was there. So was Hawkeye. Hawkeye started as a bad guy, and then he got better.
The Avengers was a massive success, generating 1.5 billion dollars at the box office. It was clear that the MCU finished. And while the movie-going public didn’t have a clear of exactly the direction the next phase would take, we were offered about a five second glance.
He’s on screen for ten freaking seconds (I know, I checked) and that was enough to propel a nagging, persistent threat through the entirety of Phase Two, to the end of Phase Three, and possibly the end of the MCU as we know it.
The Avengers was a game-changer for Marvel Studios, smashing all expectations of success and propelling the studio new and greater heights.