Monthly Archives: July 2020

Processing Endgame VIIa: The Avengers (2012) (continued…)

Please note that this is one of a series of posts, all of which may contain spoilers for the MCU, and particularly Endgame.

Date re-watched: 2019-09-06

(Note also that this I liked Avengers (2012) so much, that I had to write more about it. #filmateleven)

In an effort to make this not just a laundry list of ramblings, I want to organize my thoughts into a few themes. Remember that a lot of this is about processing my feelings from Infinity War & especially Endgame, and really about the finality of the character arcs that ended there. There’s something about character death, similar to the death of a famous painter or sculptor. It puts all of their other actions into relief, and each moment becomes more poignant, as you see how each moment led them to their now inevitable end. Your mind tries to piece together their story, and make each bit make sense, now that you know the ending.

As far as characters, Tony is of course at the top of the list for me, probably because he’s the intended stand-in for the cis white male viewer, and perhaps also because he tickles my nerd/maker side (in a very cinematic way). In Avengers, a lot of the interesting interactions with Tony happen with Cap. As Jack Saint[1] argues, they are representatives of the two main sides of the heroic ideology in the MCU[2], Tony being the ‘pragmatist’ and Steve being the ‘idealist’, but still both representatives of the fundamental ‘great man‘ ideology of the MCU.

That being said, Tony & Steve, though they have philosophical differences, respect each other, well enough that Tony, who never takes orders from anyone, says at the height of the battle for New York (his home): “Call it, Cap.”. In the other direction, Cap asks everyone about Loki, to better understand his tactics. (Especially since Cap is the only one who has physically traded blows with Loki, and understands and appreciates his strength.) Thor is too embarrassed about being Loki’s brother, Banner dismisses him as having a brain with ‘a bag full of cats’, and Cap ends up understanding that only Tony can understand the way that Loki is a “full-tilt diva“. They also agree on other fundamentals, very distinctly that SHIELD should not be developing super weapons[3], and on defending the Earth from external threats…such as Loki.

Speaking of Loki, like Gamora, he is reborn (in a way) after Endgame, effectively re-setting his character development to the end of Avengers, so it’s worthwhile talking about where he is as a character here.

Physically, he’s the Asgardian/god/high-level ‘rogue’ of the party, able to hold his own in combat against ‘lesser beings’, even a ‘super-soldier’ human like Cap. With an artifact weapon (the staff), he is fought to a standstill by his warrior brother (Thor, who is likely pulling his punches), and falls twice to Tony’s repulsor blasts, and is taken out by the Hulk.

Loki wants attention and adulation ‘Full-tilt diva'[4], and is happy to bully lesser beings to get it, or to talk when he perceives that he has the upper hand, instead of using it. Tony is able to read this, perhaps because he sees it in himself, and has had to confront some of those demons in himself[5]. Perhaps more importantly, Tony is able to use this against Loki, using Loki’s distaste at being reminded of his brother Thor to distract him while he puts on the Mark 7 ‘bracelets’. Out-tricking the ‘trickster god'[6]. How much must that sting?

So, where is Loki sitting at the end of this? He had been cast out by his family and home, was taken in by an interstellar villain, given power (but always reminded that he was subordinate to them)[7]. He knows that he is being taken back to Asgard, to face some sort of punishment. He likely knows it will be some sort of imprisonment or exile. Like ‘a bag full of cats'[8], Loki is at war with himself. Thor is able to convince him briefly that they can work together to undo things, but he is unable to help himself from stabbing Thor and running away[9]. Throw the influence of the mind stone/scepter, and it’s difficult to come up with a consistent characterization. If anything, he might have learned something about being more effective, and perhaps how he is unsuited to command in a combat situation.[10] Or is he still ‘burdened by terrible privilege’?

Speaking of alternate timelines, the scene where Tony is thrown out the window in Stark tower has always been super-harrowing for me. Think of how many timelines there are where Tony didn’t survive[10], where Loki thought to shoot his suit with the scepter, all the times he almost died, both before and after this.

Moving on to the Natasha, she is easy to overlook, as she rarely gets a lot of screentime, and she is not the flashiest character, but we really have to give her credit for being the bravest character in the movie. (Also each scene she’s in makes sense, and there’s a reason for her being there.) She’s a (well trained) normal human being who decides to take it upon herself to leap onto a flying Chitauri chariot, knowing that one misstep would be her death. (And how did she even grab it? Was it her suit locking her hands?) We also get to see her unique ‘interrogation’ technique, allowing herself to get captured[11] earlier in the film, and again tricking the trickster god to get his plan for the Hulk out of him. Her ploy/way of understanding people and making them talk is not really played up in the other movies, and I hope that they explore it more in her solo movie. Avengers also brings out her relationship with Barton, and perhaps explains some of her bravery, as S puts it, the self-sacrifice might be a way to wipe the ‘red in her ledger’ clean.

There was also a nice gentle non-toxic masculinity scene with Tony & Banner (about 3:10), where Banner talks about being ‘exposed, like a nerve’. ‘A terrible privilege’ ‘but you can control it’ ‘because I learned how’ (Note that this scene also includes blueberries that RDJ hid on set.)[12] This is perhaps Tony trying to do for Banner what Yinsen did for him, trying to remind Banner that he can be a force for good. Tony is proven correct, when Banner shows up to the Battle of New York, after perhaps making a difficult decision while talking to a security guard who seems curiously well informed, and pushing him towards helping out… “I know where I can do the most good, but it’s also where I can do the most harm.” “Your mind’s already made up, son. The rest of you will follow”

A few last random comments, so this doesn’t become three posts:
I really enjoyed the ‘Metal Man’ comment by Thor, and the idea of Thor charging up Iron Man’s suit (which would not be fully realized until Endgame). I also wonder if the ‘Shwarma’ scene was part of Tony’s journey to deal with his PTSD and accepting the good things that the Middle East has to offer. I thought the ‘Hulk yelling at Tony’ to save him was silly, but it had the desired filmmaking effect to break the mood, even if it was outside the film’s general scientific basis (unless the Hulk has special ‘jumpstart’ powers in his yell).

Cap is also understated and seemingly hurt all through the helicarrier section, perhaps because the mind stone/staff is getting to him, perhaps by bringing out his PTSD and his feeling of being ‘out of time’. Eventually, perhaps Cap and Tony bond over their shared pain, but in a subconscious way (as opposed to the conscious way that Tony & Banner, or Natasha & Hawkeye bond over shared pain).

We also see the first installment of Thor vs. The Hulk, where they seem to be evenly matched, although Thor’s dodging prowess seems to be vitally important.

Lastly, we see the Tesseract acting with inconsistent characterization, with it ‘telling things’ to Selvig, although that could easily have been the Mind Stone (or the other stones have powers beyond what is normally assumed by their expected bailiwicks).

Thanks for reading all the way to the end! Next time, we’ll continue with Iron Man 3, where we follow Tony’s reaction to the Chitauri invasion and almost dying carrying a nuke through the portal into space. Stay tuned!

[1] S showed me this video this week. I recommend it very highly. 🙂

[2] And this conflict will spiral into ‘Civil War’.

[3] This leads to the great scene where Tony is trying to break in and comb through SHIELD files on the helicarrier, to figure out what Fury and SHIELD are up to (‘Phase II’, energy weapons similar to ‘Hydra weapons’, as Cap puts it), while Cap simply breaks into the armory and brings one to the lab. “Sorry, the computer was moving a little slow for me.“[3a]

[3a] At 2:36, that video shows one of multiple occasions where Hawkeye enjoys posing with his bow slightly too much for non-sequential-art.

[4] Funnily, this just seems to add to the Shakespearean feel of the Asgardians, almost like they understand that they are but players on a stage.

[5] There are interesting questions here about whether humans, because of their mortality, are more likely to see it necessary to learn and grow.

[6] We never really get to see Loki’s illusions in ‘Avengers’. The closest we see is a few costume changes, and one image projection to trap Thor in the ‘Hulk Hotel Room’ on the Helicarrier (and to get around behind Coulson). So, we never really get to see how Tony would have dealt with them. There seems to be a ‘Mirror Image‘ quality to Loki’s illusions, where sometimes (like Ragnarok), he seems to leave an image behind while he walks away, while in Stuttgart, he seems to almost be able to teleport between them. (Although, upon watching it again, they seem to be only images…but this disagrees with what we saw in Dark World…) So, how would Tony deal with have dealt with these? Are they only visual illusions? We know that the Soul Stone was able to dispel Dr. Strange’s images in Infinity War, so we know that it is possible to tell them apart, but can it be done using only things like heat signature detection?

[7] Thanos’ herald: “You would question me, him?”

[8] As per Banner.

[9] Similar to the ‘snake story’ in Ragnarok.

[10] In Dark World, we see Loki only being truly effective in combat when paired with Thor. In Ragnarok, Loki will learn that he is not the most effective at command in the rulership sense, but eventually learns some of how to do this by the end of the movie (while still fighting alongside Thor). There’s also questions as to how much Loki was being influenced by the mind stone/scepter, and how much that impaired his judgement and abilities…but he seemed perfectly willing to cause chaos and destruction after being separated from the scepter during the ‘final battle’. However, Loki perhaps learns very different lessons when he escapes from ‘Avengers’ at in the middle of ‘Endgame’, perhaps having learned how to be a little more effective, but perhaps thinking that he just needs to find people more suitable for his ‘rule’, similar to how he pretends to be Odin later in the series, or perhaps he will just go around messing with people, taking the opportunity to be actually free of constraints.

[10] Although, we see in Endgame how the Ancient One is busy fighting off Chitauri during the Battle of New York, so one would expect that she would have used the Time Stone’s powers to set things so that New York would not be nuked. This also brings up general questions of fate, and how much the events were controlled by various types of puppetmasters, but that is perhaps more appropriately a better conversation for a later post about Dr. Strange’s plan(s).

[11] Perhaps by some of the arms dealers that Tony refers to in Age of Ultron.

[12] Perhaps the best foreshadowing of ‘Professor Hulk’ from Endgame.

Processing Endgame VII: The Avengers (2012)

Please note that this is one of a series of posts, all of which may contain spoilers for the MCU, and particularly Endgame.

Date re-watched: 2019-09-06

So, this is perhaps my most favourite of the MCU movies. Maybe it’s like the first even-numbered Star Trek you see. The Undiscovered Country may be a better movie, but Save The Whales will always have the favoured place in my heart.

It’s also probably the one I’ve watched the most, but only in clips. It was super-interesting to watch it in full-movie form, both without interruptions, but also to see all of the interstitial scenes that tied things together. It’s interesting, the decisions movie makers make, which connecting scenes they think to be necessary, and which ones not, kind of like decisions as to what action/etc. to put in the whitespace between comic panels[1]…

For example, these interstitial parts established Banner as some kind of M.D. (or at least proficient enough to practice medicine)[2].

The interstitial parts showed the interplay between the characters, really smart & funny dialogue (“he’s adopted”, “No hard feelings, Point Break, you’ve got a mean swing.”, “I was having 12% of a moment”, “How does Fury even see these?” “He turns.” “Sounds Exhausting.”, “Are you nuts?” “Jury’s out.”[3]

Interestingly, apparently Robert Downey Jr. is known to never say the same line twice: “Robert will never do the same line twice. I think it’s sort of, he gets bored the minute he says the line.” He also improvised the ‘blueberries scene’ near the “Jury’s out.” scene above.

Chris Hemsworth was kind of odd to watch in this movie, especially since Ragnarok was so fresh in my mind. This was pre-‘Kevin‘, but you can see some of his humour coming through in lines like “He’s adopted“, but he seems almost reticent or guilty about it (but that could be the scene), and plays it straight and narrow through the rest of the film, falling back on the once-interesting, but very one-note Shakespearean, similar to the first two Thor movies, one each before and after this. (Interestingly, it seems that the writers/director felt this way too, and decided to send it up with Tony’s mockery of Thor’s Shakespearean demeanour with “Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?“, but they rolled that back in Thor:The Dark World, reverting/sticking with the Shakespearean tone…speaking of Shakespearean tone, only Tom Hiddleston could have pulled off ‘Balm’ in an American movie.)

In this movie, we see various Avengers facing off against each other, perhaps because (like the first two Iron Man movies), the antagonists, while powerful, are not a match for the heroes all working together (witness Thor ‘lighting up’ the Chitauri coming through the portal). In these face-offs, one can see the relative power levels of the characters (or perhaps the perception of the screenwriter/director), with Thor and Iron Man battling to a standstill (although Thor might have been pulling his punches, as he’s still the protector of Earth, after all), with Hawkeye successful only through stealth (he is a ‘master assassin’, though), Thor knocking the Hulk back through better combat skill, and a seemingly similar ability to soak damage, and Black Widow vs. Hawkeye also quite evenly matched.

We see some interesting combat tactic foreshadowing, or perhaps Loki’s weakness, where both Cap & Thor have similar ‘throw something at him, make him react, then you can get inside his defenses’. Cap also mentions that Loki ‘packs quite a wallop’, suggesting that even though ‘weak’ for an ‘Asgardian’, Loki still somewhat outclasses the ‘Super-soldier’.

It’s also fun to speculate about the composition/mechanism of Iron Man’s repulsor beams, as they seem to have some sort of knockback force for Thor & Loki when used. Iron Man seems to also quickly one-shot Loki both times they confront each other directly.

We also see a common trope, where the ‘biggest gun’ is busy fixing something (or solving a different problem, where Iron Man is unavailable for the Helicarrier battle, where he could have make a huge difference, because he’s also the best (only) one who can solve the technical problem.

We see some character growth, from Natasha talking about the ‘red in her ledger’ that she wants to erase, talking with Barton about how she’s been ‘compromised’ and is now fighting for something. Thor’s (slow) growth is mentioned above, but his ‘protector of Earth’ is very much in play, especially wanting to protect Earth from the ‘higher form of war’. “Your work with the Tesseract is what drew Loki to it, and his allies. It is the signal to all the realms that the earth is ready for a higher form of war.”

One wonders how Thanos found Loki. The other time he fell off the Bifrost, he ended up on Sakaar. Given Thanos’ goals, it is possible that he was watching Asgard very closely for any signs of weakness. Speaking of Loki, how much of the ‘glorious purpose’ that he was ‘burdened with’ was from inside himself, how much was from drifting in space for a year, how much was from the mind stone?[4]

Loki’s plans were really not that good (as Tony was quick to point out). They involved dividing the Avengers, and making a quick show of force to cow the Earth into submission. This worked (mostly) well enough with the civilians at a gala in Stuttgart, but as soon as Cap & Tony got there, it quickly fell apart. Eventually, Loki’s machinations at the Helicarrier end up bringing the Avengers together, perhaps a type of ‘predestination paradox’… Even though the Chitauri are widely known (outside Earth) to be a terrible army (perhaps a sign that Thanos was not in favour of sending his ‘A-Game’ along with Loki[5]), Loki still used them badly. He sent a small number of Chitauri chariots, let the Avengers get used to them, then sent one large Leviathan, allowed the Hulk & Tony to take care of it, then sent ‘the rest’, with apparently only minimal orders, apparently only trying to cause as much destruction and chaos as possible.

Perhaps it is because, as Coulson said, Loki ‘lacks conviction’. Loki always seems to be seeking approval for his actions, from Coulson ‘Where is my disadvantage?’, from Tony ‘What have I to fear?’, from Thor “It’s too late to stop it.”, as if he has mounted the tiger made by his ambition and the Mind Stone, and even though he doesn’t really want to rule, he wants to be respected (feared?) as if he was. It feels almost like a classic ‘B’ personality raised as with the expectations of an ‘A’ personality, always at war with themselves, never willing to accept that the ‘Trickster God’ is never really meant to rule, and can be much more effective in other ways, no matter how much they think they might want something else.[6]

This is getting long, so I’ll continue in a second installment, where I’ll talk about a bunch of smaller things, and perhaps get into some analysis of some of the ‘physics’ of the MCU. Stay tuned!

[1] Thanks, ‘Understanding Comics

[2] Not to be confused with the scene (after the credits in Iron Man 3) where Banner states that he’s “not that kind of doctor.” This trope is played multiple times for comedic effect, my favourite being in the escape from Sakaar, when he states that none of his Ph.D.s are ‘for flying alien spaceships’. I’ll admit that I enjoy doing this myself. I have two degrees with the word ‘Bio’ in them, but S is generally the one who is more knowledgeable about human biology, leading to hilarity (at least on my part.)

[3] This is not just Tony, Romanoff, Banner, Fury, Coulson, Stark, Potts, even Cap have many pithy lines. It’s unclear how much of this is good/pithy writing, stealing from the comic books, or improv. that made it in.

[4] There is a theory, and I don’t remember where I first heard it, that the infinity stones are sentient, and/or are part of a larger cosmic plan. If this were true, one could see their effects all over many of the movies, if only to explain away mistakes that characters (especially villains) make. There’s also a competing theory that we’re viewing the only MCU where things turned out well. Many of the characters, without whom things would have turned out very differently, have come extremely close to dying…

[5] Either Thanos trusted that Loki would never figure out that the ‘glowstick of destiny‘ was powered by the Mind Stone, or the Mind Stone was affecting both of them (leaving aside the fact that the Infinity Stones had still not been retconned at this point). Loki for sure did not know the significance of his scepter, as can be seen by how easily he was willing to leave it behind. Speaking of the significance of the scepter, one might wonder why the Mind Stone would be able to close a portal made by the Space Stone.

[6] There is also evidence that Loki is the classic ‘Bad Man’. As per Pratchett:

“Something Vimes had learned as a young guard drifted up from memory. If you have to look along the shaft of an arrow from the wrong end, if a man has you entirely at his mercy, then hope like hell that man is an evil man. Because the evil like power, power over people, and they want to see you in fear. They want you to know you’re going to die. So they’ll talk. They’ll gloat.

They’ll watch you squirm. They’ll put off the moment of murder like another man will put off a good cigar.

So hope like hell your captor is an evil man. A good man will kill you with hardly a word.”