Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Recap: "The Avengers" Part 1: Assemble

Yeah, I'm going to warn you all right now. There was a lot for me to talk about. I mean, this is the culmination of five previous movies. This is the big finale of Phase 1.

And, this being the internet, if I leave anything out, I'll never hear the end of it.

So let's take a look at the largest crossover in film history and see whether it holds up after the initial amazement over the idea wears off.

No pressure, or anything.
The film opens as many Marvel movies have since X-Men, and gives us some cool, abstract effects. But unlike Spider-Man, X-Men, Hulk, and such, this isn’t the opening title sequence quite yet, but just a special effect to transition into the Paramount logo. Thanks to some legal technicalities, this film’s distribution would end up being credited Paramount, even though Disney had taken over Marvel by this point.

Much like the first one in Michael Bay’s Transformers series, this film begins with a deep voice telling us about some kind of all-powerful cube. But this is not the Allspark, this is the Tesseract, which you might remember from the post-credits stinger of Thor and all of Captain America: The First Avenger.

As the camera pans around some kind of space-throne…. room? I only add the question mark because there isn’t much in the way of walls, or a ceiling, or even air, presumably.

I guess they really wanted to be able to see that broken moon from any angle.
Anyway, some mysterious guy in a robe is telling some unseen figure about how those pitiful little humans have been trying to unleash the Tesseract’s power. But Mr. Mysterious Robe-Guy also tells him that not only do they have an ally on their side, but he’s going to lead their Chitauri forces to victory.

???: “And the humans… what can they do, but burn?”

We then cut to a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility where, for the moment, humans are doing things other than burning. A plaque on a wall refers to this place as “Project Pegasus,” which is a nifty shout out to the same organization from the comics. Get used to that, there are a metric butt-ton of Easter Eggs like that. Anyway, the place is being evacuated because things are getting a mite dangerous. But that’s exactly why Agent Phil Coulson is waiting for a helicopter to land. Not because it’s there to evacuate him, but because it’s there to drop off the guy who might just be able to exercise some control over whatever’s going on. Nick Fury, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Samuel L. Jackson), Phil Coulson, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Clark Gregg), and Maria Hill, Fury’s second-in-command (Cobie Smulders), have finally assembled to take charge.

"I'm sure the three of us can nip this issue in the bud without any problems."
As they take the elevator down into the sublevels, Coulson briefs Fury on the situation. Apparently, Dr. Selvig, from Thor, (Stellan SkarsgÄrd) has been working on the Tesseract, and recorded some kind of energy surge in it a few hours ago.

Nick Fury: “NASA didn’t authorize Selvig to go to test phase.”
Agent Coulson: “He wasn’t testing it. He wasn’t even in the room. Spontaneous event.”

Since then, the energy levels have steadily increased, and Selvig’s lack of control is what led them to order the evacuation. Fury tells Coulson to get everybody out ASAP, and continues down to the Tesseract lab while Agent Hill lets him know that with how powerful the Tesseract is, there might not be anywhere to be able to evacuate to.

Nick Fury: “I need you to make sure the Phase 2 prototypes are shipped out.”
Agent Hill: “Sir, is that really a priority right now?”

Well, The Avengers is the end of Phase 1 of the MCU, so you guys should probably do that pretty soon.

Hill goes to obey the order, and Fury heads up to Dr. Selvig and wants to know exactly what’s going on.

Dr. Selvig: “The Tesseract is misbehaving.”

Apparently, the Tesseract has been developing a set pattern of “behavior,” and for all intents and purposes, it’s deliberately acting out. Fury notes that since the whole point of these experiments is to gather energy, they should be able to do that when the Tesseract goes off. Except that the Tesseract itself is throwing out radiation and interference specifically to mess with that.

Dr. Selvig: “Nothing harmful, low levels of gamma radiation.”
Nick Fury: “…That can be harmful.”

Fury wants to see Agent Barton, aka Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), who’s been skulking about up in the catwalks, so he slides down on a rope to talk to Fury.

Nick Fury: “I gave you this detail so you could keep a close eye on things.”
Agent Barton: “Well, I see better from a distance.”

“You know, Barton, there’s a little thing called ‘corrective lenses.’”
Agent Barton tells Fury that he’s been watching the whole time. No one’s done anything to the Tesseract.

Agent Barton: “If there was any tampering, sir, it wasn’t at this end.”
Nick Fury: “At this end?”
Agent Barton: “Yeah, the Cube is a doorway to the other end of space, right? Doors open from both sides.”

Except for, like, revolving doors.

But the Tesseract starts crackling, and the building begins to shake a bit as…yep. Of course.

Yet another opportunity for me to reference the portal from Hellboy.
Instead of the Ogdru Jahad, a familiar face appears from the furthest reaches of space.

"Hello, ladies."
Nick Fury: “Sir! Please put down the spear!”

But instead of putting it down, he uses it to fire a few energy blasts to assert his dominance. When there prove to be too many S.H.I.E.L.D. guys with guns, he decides to simply toss some blades into their necks. Apparently, some fans think he's still just a big sweetheart who needs a hug. I'll be getting to that.

When Loki makes his way to Agent Barton, he tries a different tactic and uses the spear to flood Barton’s heart with deep blue energy, taking over his mind. Fury, thinking quickly, uses the opportunity to try and hide the Tesseract in its convenient carrying case while Loki converts further agents, but Loki’s no fool. He wants the Cube. And he wants it now.

Loki: “I am Loki. Of Asgard. And I am burdened with glorious purpose.”
Dr. Selvig: “Loki? Brother of Thor!”

“Nice guy, nice guy. Didn’t mention you at all, though. Hey, do you know how he’s doing?”
Fury tries to insist that Earth has no quarrel with the Asgardians, but…

Loki: “An ant has no quarrel with a boot.”

"Well, that's not entirely true."
Nick Fury: “You planning to step on us?”
Loki: “I come with glad tidings.”

For unto us a child is born, right? Man, I knew I should have posted this Recap closer to Christmas.

Anyway, Loki spews some crazy about how “freedom is life’s great lie,” and he’ll free the world from freedom, brainwashes Dr. Selvig with his staff, and generally acts more unhinged than ever. Agent Barton tells his new master that Fury’s banter is just stalling for time because the place is going to blow in about two minutes, which Selvig confirms. So Barton shoots Fury, grabs the Cube-case, and the villains hightail it out of there in some commandeered S.H.I.E.L.D. vehicles. Agent Hill participates in an exciting chase scene while Fury manages to escape in a helicopter right before the place collapses. Fury shoots at Loki from his chopper, but a single energy blast knocks both him and it to the ground. Loki speeds off in the back of his new car, having definitely earned five stars for that little stunt.

So after telling Hill to organize the emergency/investigation services, Fury tells Coulson to get to base.

Nick Fury: “As of right now, we are at war.”

“Oh, wonderful, because we haven’t had enough of those in the past few decades.”
Agent Coulson: “What do we do?”

And after the title of the movie gives us a rather large hint, the movie continues in an abandoned Russian building, where, having apparently lost her cushy job at Stark Industries, Agent Natasha Romanoff, aka the Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson), is tied to a chair, getting tortured for information by some typical old Russian general. He and Natasha talk in Russian for a bit, and it seems as though I’ve hit a little snag in my recapping.

No subtitles. Uh oh.
So while I’m sure there’s some classic banter going on here, I’m not currently privy to any of it.

Justin Hammer knows my pain.
Now… here’s what’s interesting. I remember there being subtitles in the theatre. Because I remembered that one of this villain’s lines was something about being disappointed that the legendary Black Widow was just another pretty face, and she responded with “You think I’m pretty?” or something like that. So to confirm this, I turned on the subtitles. And guess what?

Knew it.
So what happened? Could it be that for some unknown reason, between the film’s release in theatres and its release on DVD, the filmmakers decided to make this interesting scene with good banter completely unintelligible for those of us watching with the subtitles turned off? Aren’t subtitles usually mandatory in scenes like this? Because my copy of the film was in one of those 2-disc Blu-Ray/DVD combo packs, I checked the Blue-Ray version, too. The one I wasn’t using because my laptop can’t read Blu-Ray discs. Well, guess what?

Are you freaking kidding me?
But do you know what the really weird thing was? As soon as I went back to the DVD version, it started playing the subtitles for this scene while the subtitles for the rest of the movie were turned off, as it should have been in the first place. And I haven’t been able to replicate the subtitle-less scene since then. So I am forced to come to the conclusion that my copy of The Avengers on DVD is either glitched out or haunted.

Anyway, now that I have subtitles, I can confirm that Black Widow is getting interrogated, but is using selective wording and her apparent helplessness to trick the guy into giving her information. As the guy prepares to rip out her tongue to send a message, one of his goons’ phones rings and it’s Agent Coulson. He demands to talk to the guy in charge and tells him that if he doesn’t have the phone over to the Black Widow, then boom. Confused, he hands her the phone.

Agent Coulson: “We need you to come in.”
Black Widow: “Are you kidding me? I’m working.”

But when she hears that Agent Barton was compromised, she puts Coulson on hold so she can unleash a can of whoop-ass on her “captors.” While tied to a chair. At first. My personal favorite is they guy that she takes out with her hair. It’s probably supposed to be her headbutting him, but it’s clear that only her hair makes contact with the guy’s face.

Her hair is tougher than you are.
In about thirty seconds, she grabs her shoes and heads out on her way while Coulson lets her know that they’ll tell her everything they know when she gets back.

Agent Coulson: “But first, we need you to talk to the big guy.”
Black Widow: “Coulson, you know that Stark trusts me about as far as he can throw me.”
Agent Coulson: “No, I’ve got Stark. You get the big guy.”

"Hey, that's what happens when you don't show up to meetings.
Think twice next time you want to break up the largest weapon smuggling ring in Asia."
And she’s visibly shaken by this. And why not? Think about her talents. Misdirection. Manipulation. Shooting things. She’s useless against the big guy.

But instead of a big guy, we cut to a little girl running through the streets of some kind of Indian city until she comes across Mark Ruffalo. Apparently, he’s a doctor, and she needs one to help her family. But when he follows her back to her “house,” the little girl runs off and Natasha enters to talk to him.

Black Widow: “You know, for a man who’s supposed to be avoiding stress, you picked a hell of a place to settle.”

Yes, Mark Ruffalo is the latest Bruce Banner, following the short runs of Eric Bana and Ed Norton. He’s a bit bulkier then those guys, though. His bone structure is a bit stockier, and he’s got a bit of a belly. But keep in mind, the guy routinely turns into a literal hulk. Perhaps every time he changes back, he gets a bit stockier? And he guy’s been hanging out in India. With food like that available, no wonder he gained a little weight.

Bruce: “Avoiding stress isn’t the secret.”

"Avoiding samosas isn't the secret either. Thank goodness."
Bruce analyzes the situation, noting that he’s been isolated to a remote part of the city with few bystanders and the place is probably surrounded. Except he isn’t. It’s just the two of them. Which is a far cry from the time that General Ross committed posse comitatus.

Bruce and Natasha have a polite, if tense, conversation. He asks if she’s there to kill him, and she explains that S.H.I.E.L.D. needs his help.

Bruce: “How’d they find me?”
Natasha: “We never lost you.”

He asks the two important questions: What if he says no? And what if… “the other guy” says no?

Natasha: “You’ve been more than a year without an incident; I don’t think you want to break that streak.”

You'd be surprised, Natasha.
She starts briefing him about the deal with the Tesseract, and tells him that since it gives off gamma energy, they want to bring in a gamma expert to track it. When she insists that they don’t want to stick him in a cage, he snaps at her, and she decides to escalate the situation by whipping out a gun.

Bruce: “I’m sorry. That was mean.”

"Lol, jk?"
Bruce: “I just wanted to see what you’d do.”

Bruce asks her to put the gun down to keep the other guy from making a mess, and she orders the men surrounding the house to stand down, as well.

Meaning that she was totally lying earlier.
Back with Nick Fury, he’s in a video conference with the World Security Council, the vaguest of all vague councils. He explains that they’re not in a war with Asgard, but only a single Asgardian. Loki. They ask about that brother of his, but Fury tells them that he’s not anywhere near the current situation. He’s not a threat, but he can’t help, either.

Council Member: “Which is why we should be focusing in Phase 2.”

“We all know this movie will be successful. Let’s get cracking on cranking out Iron Man sequels!”
Nick Fury: “Phase 2 isn’t ready.”

“Even putting aside all our problems with Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man, Robert Downey Jr. is reaching the end of his contract; we need to figure out if an Iron Man 4 is even possible.”
Nick Fury insists that what they need is a response team and suggests the Avengers, only to be reminded that the Avengers Initiative was shut down. Fury thinks that this ragtag group of outcasts might be what the world needs. But the World Security Council disagrees, apparently unaware of the success rate of ragtag groups of outcasts in fiction.

Nick Fury reminds them  that wars are won by soldiers, so he goes to visit one in a repeat of the post-credits scene of Captain America, where Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is working out in an old gym. But this time, after flashing back to World War II…

And a quick flash of the unthawing process...
…he slams the punching bag off its anchor and into the wall. As he sets up another one, Nick Fury comes in to use those magical button-pushing powers of his to talk Steve into helping his country some more, despite the massive culture shock since waking up.

Steve: “Trying to get me back in the world?”
Nick Fury: “Trying to save it.”

Fury explains that when Howard Stark was looking for Steve, he found the Tesseract. And since then, they’ve been trying to use it to create free energy. But some super-powerful alien named “Loki” just snatched it up, and they want Cap to go kick his butt.

Nick Fury: “The world has gotten stranger than you already know.”
Steve: “At this point, I doubt anything could surprise me.”
Nick Fury: “Ten bucks says you’re wrong.”

And with a final word of advice regarding the Tesseract….

Steve: “You should have left it in the ocean.”

We cut to the ocean, where Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is doing some kind of repair work to an underwater power cable before flying back to his latest achievement in showing off, Stark Tower. As he and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) discuss, he just took the tower off the grid, meaning that it’s fully powered by the clean energy of a giant Arc Reactor.

Energy which it will then waste with a giant illuminated sign.
They discuss things like zoning, press conferences, media coverage, et cetera, but all Tony wants to do is take his armor off and spend some time with his girl. And I’m sure that mindset won’t have been flipped on its head by the time the next movie comes around.

JARVIS: “Sir, Agent Coulson of S.H.I.E.L.D. is on the line.”
Tony Stark: “I’m not in.”

After a nice little effects sequence where an automated walkway takes his armor off as he walks, JARVIS continues to insist, and Tony continues to not give a single crap about Phil Coulson. He meets up with Pepper on the top floor, and they engage in the typical banter of the Iron Man films. Because when Robert Downey Jr. is part of any conversation, this is just how he talks.

Also, Stark Tower is about the same size as the Empire State Building. Just wanted to point that out.
Tony Stark: “Stark Tower is your baby. Give yourself 12% of the credit.”
Pepper: “…12%?”
Tony Stark: “An argument could be made for 15.”
Pepper: “12%. My baby?”
Tony Stark: “Well, I did do all the heavy lifting. Literally. I lifted the heavy things.”

As the champagne gets poured, he promises that the next building will say “Potts” on the side shortly before Coulson hacks into his phone.

Tony Stark: “You have reached the Life Model Decoy of Tony Stark.”

Which is, of course, a reference to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s robotic duplicates of Nick Fury and others from the comics, but not the films, as of yet. Although I’m sure none of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents will find themselves in a dangerous enough position to warrant the use of a robotic body double in this movie.

He said knowingly....
With Tony in full-on avoidance mode, Coulson resorts to straight-up entering the room through the elevator. Man, if it’s easy for Coulson to get into Stark Tower, then the bad guys could probably just set up shop in the roof.

Pepper: “Phil! Come in.”
Tony Stark: “Phil?”
Agent Coulson: “I can’t stay.”
Tony Stark: “Uh, his first name is ‘Agent.’”

Coulson tries to hand him some S.H.I.E.L.D. files to look at, but Pepper takes them because he still doesn’t like to be handed things. Not even when it’s Susan Storm handing it to him.

Oh, what a difference a few years can make, huh?
Pepper: “Is this about the Avengers? …which I know nothing about.”

Tony brings up that not only was the Initiative scrapped, but he didn’t even end up qualifying for it. But he looks at the digital files anyway, and Pepper decides to head out to D.C. for some Stark Tower-related press coverage a day early. But before she goes, she whispers a few sweet nothings into his ear. And I can’t help but wonder what kind of sexcapades she’s promising him to get that look on his face.

"How many satsumas?"
"Will... will that even fit?"
"All I heard was 'satsuma.' And I'm still wishing I went to get the big guy instead."
With a kiss for good luck, Pepper gets a ride to the airport from Coulson as Tony gets to work. The next day, Coulson and Cap are flying off to the base while Cap goes over the profile for Bruce Banner. Specifically, the part where Banner was tasked with trying to re-create the Super Soldier Serum.

Agent Coulson: “Banner thought Gamma radiation might hold the key to unlocking Erskine’s original formula.”

Yeah, well, it might have helped if you guys actually told Banner he was working on the super Soldier Serum. That’s right, I can remember plot points from The Incredible Hulk.

Agent Coulson: “When he’s not that thing, though, guy’s like a Stephen Hawking.”

It really took me this long to reference Buffy in a Joss Whedon film?
Agent Coulson: “He’s like a smart person.”

And this is where Agent Coulson starts geeking out over meeting his childhood hero officially.

Agent Coulson: “I watched you while you were sleeping.”

Ten bucks says Coulson volunteered to play the nurse when Cap woke up.
Coulson mentions that “the uniform” was modified, and that he had a little design input. As an aside, the Captain America uniform in this film is often a source of ridicule because of how goofy it looks. I can only imagine that Coulson was not involved with the next few iterations.

Steve: “Aren’t the stars and stripes a little old-fashioned?”

Yeah, well, things were worse when you ditched them, Cap.
After Coulson tells Cap that perhaps people could use a little “old-fashioned” in times like this, we cut to Loki’s little army of soldiers and scientists as they work on the Tesseract in his underground lair. As they work, Loki sits in the corner until his spear glows, connecting his mind across the stars to his alien benefactors. An alien known only as “the Other” (the robey-guy from the beginning) tells Loki that the Chitauri are getting a little restless, and Loki tells them to keep their shirts on because if it’s a glorious battle they want, it’s a glorious battle they’ll get.

The Other: “Against the meager might of Earth?”
Loki: “Glorious. Not lengthy.”

Loki’s bit can be summed up as “Don’t rush me, I used to be King of Asgard.” The Other’s bit can be summed up as “My boss pulled your fat out of the fire, buddy. Give us results.”

Look out! He's got two thumbs! That's one-fifth more bad touch per hand!
Coming up in Part 2! The rest of the Avengers finally actually meet each other.

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