In recent years, it's often been said that Marvel and DC have been writing "continuity porn," which is to say stories that are overly focused on continuity and history, often to the detriment of the story itself. These stories are more about patching up plot holes or fixing the history of a universe so it's linear and easy for people who keep catalogs and notes to keep track of.
In short, continuity and shared universes had made the hobby more insular, more exclusive. I think a lot of people have forgotten the real reason why shared universes and continuities worked in the first place, a reason The Avengers reminded me of as I watched it yesterday.
Needless to say, if you haven't seen it, SPOILERS ABOUND.
I was never the biggest fan of superhero movies until Thor came out last year. Then I saw what could really be done with superhero movies. Peachy (my wife, for those not in the know) and I went back and watched Iron Man, Iron Man 2, and Captain America this past month to get ready for The Avengers, and it was really fun to see connections between the three franchises just going in.
There's a scene in Thor where The Destroyer comes to Earth, and Agent Coulson is asked, "Is that one of Stark's?", which elicited a lot of "oohs" and "ahhs" from the theater. I remember thinking back then, "Yep, that's how it feels when these properties interact." And it made me smile.
There were other examples — Howard Stark and Yggdrasil in Captain America, obviously Nick Fury and Agent Coulson in every movie. They slowly built their universe, showing what is great about each franchise, from the technological innovations in Iron Man to the mythical, fantastical, thunder and lightning of Thor to the grounded and inspiring capabilities of Captain America. (I was not a big fan of The Hulk, but Edward Norton was recast anyway.)
The Avengers brought together all these elements into one movie. And it was incredible. Watch it and tell me that you didn't smile when you saw the Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) beat up three Russian terrorists while tied to a chair, that you didn't feel for Captain America (Chris Evans) as he went through punching bag after punching bag in the gym, that you didn't think it was cool when Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) did that thing with his computer where he projects the images into the air, an effect you only saw in the Iron Man movies, but were now seeing here, in a movie with Cap, Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Thor (Chris Hemsworth). Tell me you didn't cheer, even silently in your head, when Captain America showed up to confront Loki in Germany. Tell me you didn't think Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) was awesome.
For me, the biggest scene was when Bruce Banner changed into the Hulk for the first time, and enraged, was about to kill the Black Widow, who is then saved when Thor tackles the Hulk. I thought, "Oh shit, here we go!" And then as I saw the Hulk about to hit Thor, I thought "That's it. They're gonna job Thor out, because Marvel loves the Hulk." Then Thor blocked it, and I got goosebumps.
The Hulk tossed Thor into a hangar, and Thor got up, smiling, knowing he was in for a fight. So he raised his hand up, palm wide open, calling Mjolnir over. Mjolnir got to his hand just as the Hulk came into the hangar, and Thor used Mjolnir to knock the Hulk right into a plane, and then my goosebumps got goosebumps.
That was the biggest scene for me; the one that really got me going. But the rest of the movie was incredible. As all that was happening, Iron Man was repairing the SHIELD helicarrier and Captain America was making sure he could do it, jumping around the plane from one wing to the next, deflecting attacks by Loki's agents.
The entire movie was incredible, that my nephew decided he was going to reread JLA/AVENGERS. Did I have complaints? Minor nitpicks, sure. I wish Thor did more — there was clearly something for him to do at the end there, and not really any excuse for him not to do it. But you know what? There's always the next movie, and he got a good showing throughout the entire movie anyway. I'm not the biggest Iron Man fan, and he gets a lot of screen time, but I realize that's not really a complaint — I've never liked Iron Man as a character, and I was still rooting for him in this movie. If you can make me want to punch him in the face and root for him at the same time, you know you're doing something right. And sure, maybe Cap's cowl didn't look too great. But who cares?
I was wondering what someone who didn't follow these felt, seeing all these characters come together for the first time, so I asked Peachy why she actually cried during the long, continuous shot of the battle taking place in New York. Yesterday, she said to me:
It was just so good. I don't even mean technically good. It was so good, so noble, and so full of hope.
And today, she said to me:
I can imagine watching that as a kid, and having a reason to believe in goodness.
And that's it, right there. The main reason why these heroes coming together worked so well in the first place, the main reason why it still works. It's not about comic book fans keeping their timelines together and fitting everything into a geek-filled jigsaw puzzle that only they would get.
It's about a goodness. It's about hope.
It's about wonder.
And may we never, ever forget that.