Feb 7, 2018

The MCU Roundtable: Marvel's The Avengers

If you’re anything like us, than you were blown away when the first Avengers: Infinity War trailer dropped.  The extended Comics Cube family was so excited that we have decided to embark upon a full re-watch of the Marvel Studios film series.  Every week we are going to watch and provide a roundtable discussion about each Marvel movie in release order.  Next up, is the culmination of a 5-year plan that came to be known as Phase One.

Countdown to Avengers: Infinity War
Marvel's The Avengers

Marvel's The Avengers was released on May 4, 2012 and made a (then) record $191 million on its opening weekend.  It ended its theatrical run at $896 million in the United States and a whopping $1.5 billion total worldwide.  It was the best possible outcome for an ambitious and risky plan to build a whole universe of interconnected franchises in the world of cinema.



MATT: This is perhaps the best of the movies so far. From the opening “oh shit” scene through the Battle of New York, man I can just sit down and watch and enjoy this film over and over.

MATTHEW: This is the movie that actually made me realize this was possible. I enjoyed the solo movies, but I still thought it was going to be a “grade A” train-wreck when it hit the screen, and instead, it nailed it.  On a cinematic level, this movie is incredibly important. The rest of Hollywood is still trying to catch up.

JEFF: I was excited for this move but cautious at the same time. I didn't want to end up as disappointed as I was when I saw The Phantom Menace. Turns out I worried for no reason, The Avengers had everything in it I was looking for. Hiddleston stole the show as Loki, Thor vs Hulk, Thor vs Iron Man.  The Cap and Iron Man animosity was done perfectly to reflect how the heroes have traditionally fought each other when not fighting against a common foe. I love that long continuous shot showing them fighting the Chitauri.

DUY: Let's get this straight: I was scared as hell when this movie was coming out, because so much depended on it and it just needed to work. It could have very easily been a mess. As high as I believe the degree of difficulty was with the previous movies, I think this was the highest.

TRAVIS: Justice League seems to actually be all of my "fears" about Avengers.

BEN: My wife was very pregnant so I went to see it by myself. I was so overjoyed on the drive home I started getting emotional. It was absolutely the greatest thing I could have ever hoped to see.  It’s everything I had hoped to see as far back as when I was 9 years old. We take this all for granted now, but when I was a kid I wore out a VHS recording of Trial of the Incredible Hulk just because it had Daredevil in it.

JD: This movie just makes me happy.  That’s all I really have to say.

JEFF: This movie gave me a genuine nerdgasm.

PETER: Same. There was nerd juice spilled all over the floor.  Sorry, I may have taken that metaphor too far.

LAMAR: Ayyyy, WTF!

I was excited for this move but cautious at the same time. I didn't want to end up as disappointed as I was when I saw The Phantom Menace. Turns out I worried for no reason. -Jeff

TRAVIS: I think, in a way, pacing it like it was a TV episode/season opener, instead of as a traditional superhero movie helped immensely. Almost none of the traditional beats get hit, in favor of a getting-the-band-together highlight reel. Avengers is where, for me, the idea that these are serials, not lightly connected standalones really settled in.

MATT: That’s a good point and view.  Though, I would take it as a finale.

DUY: And I think a huge part of its success is the fact that RDJ had only 37 minutes of screen time. It would have been so easy for a star of his stature to hog the spotlight, to be the leader of the team, to win all the fights. But he concedes leadership to Steve, he all but loses to Thor, and he depends on The Hulk to win this fight. That's a huge rub given that really legitimizes everyone.

BEN: The amount of screen-time per character breaks down as: Steve Rogers/Captain America 37:42, Tony Stark/Iron Man 37:01, Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow 33:35, Bruce Banner/The Hulk 28:03, Thor 25:52, and Clint Barton/Hawkeye 12:44.

DUY: The MCU would have been a different place if this had been the Iron Man show.

BEN: If I remember correctly, Iron Man dominating the film was one of our greatest fears.

DUY: At the time I remember co-workers telling me that Widow stole the show, and she did. No one thought she and Clint would get any sort of spotlight, but she did. Even Clint had his moments; my mom, who is usually bored with action movies, went "Wow" when he leaped off the roof.

BEN: Hawkeye is the only character where I don’t think they nailed the casting. I like Jeremy Renner as an actor, but I’ve never thought he was a good fit for Clint. So it’s kinda hilarious to me that he’s almost immediately sidelined in the movie.

DUY: I think if he's gonna be that serious, they may as well have put him in the costume.

I think, in a way, pacing it like it was a TV episode/season opener, instead of as a traditional superhero movie helped immensely. -Travis

DUY: I wanted to say that my complaint coming out of it was that Thor and Cap didn't do enough, and the second time I saw it I realized Thor killed 200 aliens coming out of the portal. So that was always gonna be my complaint about it, I guess.

KATHERINE: I think this movie also did an amazing job of giving everyone iconic introductions that were fun, badass and totally sums them up as characters. I think they would work as full blown intros for people that hadn't seen any of their individual movies. Loki emerging from the portal, Iron Man underwater, Black Widow "torture" / interrogation, Bruce in hiding treating poor people then getting surrounded by a swat team, Cap's punching bag, Thor landing on the plane in a lightning storm. Does anyone have a clear favorite?

LAMAR: Cap in the gym for me. It reminded me of Bruce Lee's training area, with the 400-pound punching bag-he could kick it hard enough to make the bag swing back and forth and parallel to the ceiling.

JD: “We could use a little old-fashioned.”

BEN: Widow is the best for me.

KATHERINE: I didn’t like Widow in Iron Man 2 or even Scarlett Johansson really before this movie, then after her intro I was basically in love.

DUY: I think Widow's intro has to be considered "best," since she gets a whole scene out of it.

KATHERINE: Overall it's probably the best and most badass, but there's a child-like chair-bouncing glee in hearing the thunder and that moment of anticipation knowing that Thor is coming. "You afraid of a little lightning?" "... I'm not overly fond of what follows."

JEFF: Probably, but I really like how they used dialogue to set up Cap and Tony's intros.

BEN: Hell, even Maria Hill’s combat roll at the beginning was dope. Look at Robin Sparkles go!

JD: I think the Hulk's intro was my favorite over all. That wild shot of Hulk running through the ship in slow motion after it had been hinted at so many times.

SAMANTHA: Here is where we usher in the glorious age of RUFFALO HULK.

BEN: One of the things I was struck by most when watching this again, is how much more I enjoyed Ruffalo. At the time, being the replacement actor for Norton, he seemed the most out of place for me as a viewer. I didn’t have the same familiarity with him, especially in a movie that was combining actors all playing parts from previous films. But now that he’s fully established himself since, I enjoyed him a lot more this time.

KATHERINE: My nephew begged to watch this movie with me when he was maybe just under three years old. Maybe that makes me an irresponsible babysitter, but whatever. Now at four he’s a die-hard Avengers fan and can name all of them and explain their stories. He was entranced the whole time, then when Hulk transformed and started destroying the ship he was still staring wide eyed and amazed, didn’t hide or close his eyes, but a single tear of fear rolled down his cheek. I asked if he was scared and he shook his head, but then he looked up at me, pointed at the TV and said “Wow.” It was the best.

BEN: When my son saw that scene (he would have been 4 also) he reacted like it was a horror movie.

My nephew begged to watch this movie with me when he was maybe just under three years old. Now at four he’s a die-hard Avengers fan and can name all of them and explain their stories. -Katherine

DUY: “We are not soldiers” is an incredible line delivery.

MATT: Cap slipping Fury $10 is a nice bit of silent acting.

JEFF: I love it when the old man stands up to Loki. "There are no men like me." "There are always men like you."



LAMAR: That struck me as something Jack Kirby would actually say.

DUY: As someone who is clearly a Thor fan (my two favorite Avengers, in order, are Thor and Cap), I cannot express how happy I was that he was put over so much by both Iron Man and the Hulk. Iron Man had to power up to 400% to fight him, and Thor still just head-butts his armored head with his bare forehead, and then crushes his gloves in his bare hands. And then when Thor spears the Hulk into the next room, goes toe to toe with him, gets knocked down, smiles, calls Mjolnir, and then knocks the Hulk into the plane, that's my second favorite moment of the entire movie after the big long shot in NYC.

JEFF: I love how Thor and Hulk’s fight was interrupted. I knew someday down the road they'd throw down again.

BEN: I remember sitting in the theater thinking, “Of course they all fight each other.”  That’s 100% the Marvel way. It was perfect.

JEFF: When you think about it, most of them are solo operators, high testosterone alpha males so it's more believable to me that there'd be a lot of conflict between them.

KATHERINE: Yes, I so appreciated that it was all believable for them to fight each other. Of course it was there to make the fans happy, but I never thought it was out of character or just there to be gratuitous. These are strong cocky personalities with different philosophies to life and different priorities (and who probably haven't met people strong enough to challenge them until now). I love how that comes across not just in the fight scenes but also when they just talk to each other. It feels right here, as they meet, then it settles into a fun dysfunctional family, while also laying the groundwork for bigger fundamental disagreements like in Civil War.

I remember sitting in the theater thinking, “Of course they all fight each other.”  That’s 100% the Marvel way. It was perfect. -Ben

DUY: Tony and Steve's dynamic throughout is like coworkers who don't actually like each other. Like these two would not be friends in real life.

KATHERINE: I always got that feeling too, so it's funny to hear people giving Cap shit for not siding with Iron Man in Civil War. Honestly, if it's you, are you gonna go hang out with your childhood best friend or your arrogant co-worker that you never really got along with anyway?

DUY: “He’s my friend… so was I,” was one of my big Civil War criticisms.  No you weren’t!

JEFF: In the movies they really aren't friends at all.  They're at odds with each other most of this film, a good portion of Age of Ultron, and then it's totally on for Civil War. Iron Man as a character is more reactionary to current events, where Cap is so rock solid in his ideals and beliefs on freedom and liberty to ever compromise them, and they are both stubborn once they've decided which way is for them. Almost like an introvert and an extrovert.

DUY: Can we talk about how beautiful that one long shot was? How much did it hit you all in the gut?

JD: I stood on the corner where that was filmed.  It was a cool feeling.

BEN: The whole entire Battle of New York is perfection. Downey’s delivery when the portal opens, “oh yeah… army” and him being clearly overwhelmed by the moment is one of my favorite parts of the entire MCU. Followed very closely by Captain America laying out the battle plan and ending on “and Hulk... smash.”

LAMAR: The dope thing about this movie is the humor seemed natural and less mandated. I didn't mind the cop not knowing why he should listen to Cap when he told him to block off the battleground because the bit was so funny to me.

BEN: RDJ’s Galaga line was improvised.  Whedon liked it so much, he added that shot of the guy’s Galaga screen later on.

DUY: The big fight loses its steam when it cuts to Fury dealing with the shadow cabinet and then the missile and then all that stuff, but at the time I likened it to a song that doesn't end so much as fade away.

BEN: The Chitauri soldiers all collapsing after the mother ship explodes is… convenient.

DUY: Was the biggest crowd-pleasing moment for you guys the "Puny god" scene? All three times I saw it, it got the biggest reaction. General public does love the Hulk in these moments.

LAMAR: It was that, the Cap/Thor/Iron Man fight, and Hulk halting the Chitauri warship with his hands, all battling for the top spot.

KATHERINE: Loki getting rag-dolled was the biggest laugh for sure, but Hulk punching the Chitauri warship got a huge cheer, so different kind of crowd-pleasers I guess.

BEN: The CGI on the Hulk made another quantum leap for this movie.  He didn’t look like a cartoon anymore.  The way they incorporated Ruffalo’s face made him look a lot more like comic book Hulk too.

JD: He looked like Jack Kirby’s Hulk.

SAMANTHA: Shawarma, guys.  Shawarma.

PETER: Just curious, was shawarma really so unknown in the US at that point in time? Over here there's stalls selling it on every other street.

DUY: I lived in the US five years and I don't think I ever had a shawarma. My roommate was all into that kinda cuisine too.

MATT: I had had it, but not until like 2008.

BEN: How do you all feel about Coulson being resurrected for the television show?

TRAVIS: It was such a silly death, capitalized on in-story with trickery, that he might as well have never even been close to death.

DUY: The death hit me in the theater like a surprise, but I've never really been the type to hate resurrections. What I hated was that the TV show was not good.

BEN: Yeah, in hindsight, the show wasn’t worth cheapening the impact of that death.

LAMAR: … what show?

BEN: Exactly.

DUY: I have two nitpicks with the entire movie, and one is the way the Battle of New York ends. But the other one is that for amazing as he was as a performer, Loki is really a pretty incompetent villain, and he continues to be one all the way to Ragnarok. He's carried straight-up by Hiddleston's charm and his chemistry with Hemsworth's Thor.

KATHERINE: How dare you. Still disagree. With very few exceptions, every movie villain gets defeated, so you can argue that they're all incompetent. Loki has been in four movies at this point, so maybe we see him get beat down more times total than most other villains that just never get a chance to last that long (because they're not as awesome). I don't think there are many villains that get to accomplish everything they set out to do, but he was a believably formidable enough threat to get this team assembled and shake them up. Also, part of his greatness is in his ambiguity and that he's not always being a villain - sometimes he's just trying to survive, sometimes he's in over his head serving a higher power that's appealed to his ego, sometimes he's maybe (?) actually trying to help, sometime he's not even trying to accomplish anything other than stir some shit and piss people off. And he's been very competent at surviving and stirring shit.  And speaking of ambiguity, I think one of the moments that makes him so interesting in this movie is when he's fighting Thor on top of Stark Tower and Thor begs him to look around and see the destruction he's causing. There's a moment where he looks legitimately panicked and his eyes water up and he says "It's too late to stop it." Of course he takes advantage of the very next moment to shank Thor, but then an actual tear falls as he scoffs at him, "Sentiment." I'm sure Loki fans have all analyzed what this means. I don't know the answer, if that's a real moment of "Shit, I didn't actually want this to happen, I just wanted to be like father and take over a planet," or if it was all a ruse to distract Thor, but it makes him fascinating.

DUY: He's a great, amazing, fascinating character, but he gets beat down at every opportunity, especially in this movie where every Avenger gets the better of him at one point. The Vulture is more threatening!

KATHERINE: But those are the crowdpleaser moments! Everyone cheers when Hulk smacks him around and we love that Widow outsmarts him (but even then, he still manages to get what he wanted by unleashing Hulk on the ship - and he killed Coulson! He had many victories along the way). Overall, I'm happy to sacrifice some villain scariness (especially if we're already sold on him - he's got cool points to spare) if it benefits our heroes. Didn't you also say that you wish Spider-Man had been able to beat up Vulture more?

DUY: I wish Spider-Man had beaten Vulture; I was fine with the entire thing except for the part where he doesn't win.  And I just wish Loki had some random moment of triumph... somewhere.

KATHERINE: Your nitpickiness has gone too far!! Submit to the power of the Loki!

DUY: Somewhere other than the hearts of screaming fangirls.

KATHERINE: Interestingly, the one villain I can think of that was super competent at accomplishing his goals was Baron Zemo, but people complain that he's not as badass and memorable as someone like Loki. So competence doesn't always equal movie greatness

MATT: I can, as always, quibble. Cap's dialogue in Germany is the weakest part of the movie, but it's ok. Ruffalo as Hulk is a treasure. Particularly, I love the scene where Cap gives orders to the NYPD and they basically tell him to STFU until he beats up some Chi'tauri. How did this film only come out six years ago? Feels like ages, or twenty MCU films...

BEN: The dialogue did not hold up for me, on my re-watch.

DUY: I remember at the time that being the biggest point of contention for the general audience, but I actually loved the corniness of most of the dialogue. It was so comic book-y. Maybe it doesn't hold up, but I appreciate the attempt.

MATT: It's the only part where I cringe. Evans isn't settled enough in his dialogue, Renner is a super small role, Ruffalo is good in his first outing.

BEN: It’s funny he’s known as a script doctor. Maybe he’s great at plot and “connective tissue,” because his attempts at catchphrases are horrendous. “The last time I was in Germany,” is such a great setup, but then it ends with “we ended up disagreeing.”  Let’s not forget the “you want to know what happens to toads when they’re hit by lightning” debacle from X-Men.

MATT: It's the jokes (see Justice League). Which, Tony prodding Banner totally works. Cap lecturing Loki, nope. Old German Man is much better.

BEN: Most of the best jokes were improvised by RDJ.

Another quibble people have voiced about Marvel movies is their lack of an orchestral theme. The Avengers has one. -Matt

ANTONIO: I vaguely remember reading that the berries were one of RDJ’s food stashes he’d hide around the sets.

BEN: Yes, when he’s eating the berries in that scene, it’s because he was actually hungry.

PETER: I gotta admit, Cap's costume here looks the corniest now compared to all the other versions he's had in the other MCU movies. And it's probably the closest to the comic version.

MATT: Yeah, it looks like he’s still shilling war bonds.

KATHERINE: I don’t mind it because I loved the idea that it’s the version Coulson chose because he’s that much of a fan - like they got to fulfill his dying wish to see the old fashioned Cap he idolized in action. Even Cap thinks it’s corny when they first show it to him, but Coulson loves it. It was literally for the old-school fans.  But the blue suit in Winter Soldier may be my personal favorite.

DUY: I guess I'm easily swayed by in-story reasons because I hate that blue suit.

ANTONIO: I loved the idea of this suit, but somehow it just felt off in action. Might be the helmet. Maybe the Civil War and Winter Soldier suits were just that much better.

BEN: I was excited after the first promotional shot of the suit as displayed on the wall, but it didn’t work out so much on a human body.  The WWII suit looks better in live action, but looks terrible in comics.  The reverse for the comic suit.

PETER: In the bank rescue scene, they contrived a way for a Chitauri to rip off Cap's mask so we could get a look at that handsome face for the rest of the movie.

DUY: The Cap costume didn't bother me at all, but I also have a higher tolerance for these things, rather than things like Bat-armor or even Cap helmet.

MATT: Another quibble people have voiced about Marvel movies is their lack of an orchestral theme (think Star Trek and Star Wars, you know what I mean). The Avengers has one, they keep re-using it, you just never notice. It's the up-swell when the team assembles and is surrounded by Chitauri. It's at the end of the Infinity War trailer.

JEFF: I love the theme for The Avengers, Marvel should have made better use of it.

DUY: I think this is Marvel's most memorable theme. There's a video  on YouTube about how Marvel scores are unmemorable, and a rebuttal saying that Avengers is.

JEFF: I used to leave the main menu of the Blu-Ray on, to hear the theme for background music.

KATHERINE: Considering how sparingly they use the theme in marketing, hearing it in the Infinity War trailer made my heart soar. I was like THANK YOU! See, it’s so powerful!

PETER: Was it ever explained how Thor got back to Earth at the beginning? Does the fact that it happened so easily, offscreen even, with just some hand waving explanation, kind of cheapen the ending of Thor? The big sacrifice at the end of Thor was that he might never see Jane again, right? And then suddenly he's back without even showing how onscreen.

BEN: Loki mentions how Odin must have had to use a lot of dark magic to get him there.  I’m fine with it skipping to the point, even if it lessens the impact of Thor.  I wish they’d skip to the good stuff more often, actually.

LAMAR: I think it was fine, I didn't need to it see but I'm glad they mentioned instead of just acting like it never happened. Kind of like when Wolverine got his brown/yellow costume and they didn't make a big deal about it, he just had it on and somebody walks in and goes "new costume?" and he's like "yeah, you wanna make something of it?" and then everybody goes their way.

DUY: I think what cheapens the sacrifice at the end of Thor is the reveal in Dark World that he just flat out continued to stay away.

TRAVIS: He was busy!  And, distracted!

DUY: I mean, come on.  Stop by and say hi.

TRAVIS: He was getting around to it!  In twenty or two hundred years.

BEN: Not a whole lot of what-ifs for this movie, since it’s combining previous films, but Jon Favreau was attached at one point to direct.  Joe Carnahan was also considered.  Joaquin Phoenix was considered for Banner.  Natalie Portman was supposed to appear but dropped out due to her pregnancy.  Morena Baccarin, Jessica Lucas, Amanda Peet, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead tested for the part of Maria Hill.

JD: I’m glad it was Whedon.  It’s my favorite thing he’s done.

BEN: I remember being so excited with the announcement that Joss Whedon would direct. He was this successful industry guy that loved comics and had a professional relationship with Marvel Comics (he was invited to Marvel Comics’ yearly creative conferences, and of course he wrote comics for them too). He was successful as a screenwriter and in television (I was late to Buffy and Angel and Firefly but absolutely love them all) but had never really had big movie success despite making some very enjoyable films (Serenity is fantastic). So he seemed perfect; very talented, with an affinity for the material, and an association with the studio. They had this underrated and under-appreciated movie talent sitting right there in their publishing division talking comics.

SAMANTHA: The only off-topic fun fact I’ve got right now: Tom Whedon, Joss’ Dad, worked as a producer on the Golden Girls.

DUY: Who wins the “Val Kilmer in Tombstone” award for the most dominating performance of the movie?  I’m assuming there’s no supporting actor in this one since that’s just Maria Hill and Coulson.

BEN: Scarlett Johansson wins for me. Everyone else was doing their normal superb jobs, and she still stood out.

JD: Hiddleston for the look he gives the room when he's taking out dude's eye, and for the spittle on the glass “YOU MEWLING QIUM.”

DUY: It's definitely Widow, I think. Especially if you counted it against initial expectations. Or even as the upgrade over their previous performances.

JEFF: Hiddleston stole it every scene, for me.  Compared to his performance in Thor, he turned it up a few notches here.

TRAVIS: Harry Dean for best supporting.

MATT: Fucking Harry Dean Stanton.

TRAVIS: Harry Dean Stanton somehow owned the entire movie, just being chill in one scene.

JD: Harry Dean Stanton festival is held in my town every year.

MATTHEW: "There are always men like you" for the biggest geekout moment in pretty much any superhero movie.

DUY: I might give it to him too.

ANTONIO: Yeah, the old man was dope.




DUY: Comic book recommendations for Avengers?

BEN: I went back and read a lot of the classic Avengers stories, and they do not age well.  Kree/Skrull, Korvac, Celestial Madonna, they’re all really disjointed and not very good.

DUY: I did gateway comics soon after Avengers but I'm gonna have to go with the Busiek/Perez run, the first 12 issues. Not that it's the best run, but because it's kind of a mission statement of classic Avengers, which the movie was more like.  If you like your big three Avengers, I'm a huge fan of Avengers Prime.  And hell, just get JLA/Avengers.

JEFF: I'll always recommend Under Siege when it comes to The Avengers, one of the best stories Roger Stern has ever done. Onslaught: Marvel Universe, been recently rereading that story and I'd forgotten how good a script Waid did for that issue, both The Avengers and the FF are handled perfectly in what was a supposed send off to them dying. The Avengers: The Bride of Ultron, 70's stories but full of lots of action with Wonder Man, Count Neferia, Ultron, The Grim Reaper, keeps the team busy. Finally, The Crossing. Just kidding.

LAMAR: I remember telling people to read the Busiek/Davis run, mostly because it's a great blend of a lot of things that made the movie great.

TRAVIS: No one wants to go for Avengers volume 2 or The Ultimates?  I'm actually going to suggest Iron Man volume 2/ Heroes Reborn Iron Man, because Science Bros! And, The Kree/Skrull War, because after the movie, why not kick it up a notch?

JD: I'll recommend The Ultimates. Volume 2 is Loki vs Everyone, so there's some overlap there.

BEN: Plus, Hawkeye kills people with his fingernails.

JD: HIS FINGERNAILS, PEOPLE.

DUY: The Ultimates helped drive me away from comics for a while, so that's not a recommendation for me.  The difficult part recommending any Avengers story to fans of the movie is that no book other than Avengers Assemble, which was made to coincide with the movie, uses the movie lineup.

BEN: One night when the cast was all in the same place, Chris Evans sent them all a text message simply saying "Assemble,” prompting a night out on the town. Clark Gregg said that this is his favorite text message that he has ever received.

ANTONIO: No.  I refuse to believe that text message is real.  No one has ever had something that cool happen to them.

JEFF: No, you never had something that cool happen to you.

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