I had just finished all of my exams and was a week away from officially graduating with an undergraduate degree in May of 2012. My roommate, Joe, was home from work already having gotten off a little early that Friday, and he started asking me if I had heard anything about the bad guy in the end credits scene in the Marvel movie that had just come out. Neither of us particularly big fans of comic book lore, and of the five existing Marvel Cinematic Universe films out at the time, we each had only seen the first two Iron Man movies, which we saw together with friends. We liked Iron Man (2008) a lot, but it didn’t inspire us to run out to the other films beyond its sequel which we were less thrilled with. We did stay until the very end of the credits though, at the request of our friend who was the closest thing to stereotypical computer and comics nerd you could imagine. I knew Samuel L. Jackson quite well, but our friend had to explain to us who Nick Fury is and what The Avengers are in Marvel comics. Our reaction was something along the lines of, “Huh. Cool.”
My, how times have changed. For me and Joe, our interest in Marvel’s heroes ramped up big time that Friday in May, for soon after he was reading some article that detailed this weird purple guy who wanted to get in on with Death, one of our other friends called me up and asked if I was down for dinner and a movie to celebrate his cousin visiting, his wonderful girlfriend, and my, I believe he said, “impending graduation”. I took the phone from my ear, turned around and smirked at Joe and asked, “Well, how’d you like to see The Avengers?”
It was just like that. Sort of.
So much had to go right for Marvel for them to be where they are now, and 2012’s The Avengers is the film that validated all of their efforts to build a massive, mulit-movie universe. Based on the reactions to their first five films: Iron Man (2008), The Incredible Hulk (2008, Iron Man 2 (2010), Thor (2011), and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011); not many expected this franchise to be blasting through blockbuster records. Some superfans were supportive, but they cannot make a series successful alone; the MCU needed to find a broader audience quickly, or all their work would amount to a big swing and a miss.
I don’t really need to rehash this story as you already knows how it ends. There have been 22 Marvel movies released, with another set for this summer, and they’ve set numerous box office records as they’ve skyrocketed to success like Tony Stark ascending through the atmosphere. Superhero ensemble movies seem like a sure bet now thanks to The Avengers working so well, but why did it work so well? The answer is not because they found a way to throw a bunch of superheroes together, but because they help us realize that those superheroes are people. In all of their films to date, Marvel Studios have offered us some richly-developed characters in their superheroes – not always villains, but they’re getting better at that! The Avengers remains one of my favorite movies because it allows its characters (including the villain!) to show their stuff not only on the superhero side, but to really display their humanity – except for Hawkeye, but they’re getting better at that!
Last week, in my latest State of the Season, I added a link to the One Marvelous Scene playlist created by YouTuber Nando v Movies. This selection of video essays on the favorite MCU scene of a variety of YouTubers has some magnificent assessments of some spectacular scenes. I was happy to be shown new sides of some of my favorite moments in the MCU through this list, and it was a fun trip down MCU memory lane before seeing Avengers: Endgame (which, rest assured, I will not be spoiling any of in today’s post, but I do recommend it!). Inevitably, I started to consider what one scene I hold most dear above all others, and it’s difficult to decide. I was pleased to see a lot of my favorite scenes discussed on the list, and I was glad that so many highlighted my same sentiment for The Avengers, yet I was surprised that no one (at least at the time I last perused the list) had anything focused on what I felt was the key scene for that film and for the franchise moving forward. I guess I found my scene, so put on the suit and let’s go a few rounds.
In my scene of choice, the Avengers have mostly assembled, but not yet in the way we really want to see them. We will get that, but to ensure that it’s more than just quick action, explosions, and pretty colors with a few quips thrown in, we need to earn respect for these people as people. Nearing the end of the second act, this motley crew is starting to feel the tension, but less around the circumstances of Loki’s game, and more around why they are all standing in a room with one another. Their differences are on full display, set off by the wonder at just what Nick Fury has planned for the Tesseract when they retrieve it, and more personally, what he has planned for them.
This scene begins with Captain America and Iron Man each uncovering evidence that SHIELD is working on weapons powered by the Tesseract. What follows is a masterwork of a scene from writer-director Joss Whedon. I’ve been a fan of Whedon for a while, and have previously stated that at his best, he writes scenes better than anyone, and this scene showcases that so well. Take a look for yourself and marvel (hehe) at how much is packed in this scene to advance the story for this film and lay the groundwork for so many (at this point) yet to come:
Ooooooooohhhhh it’s sooooo good!
Each character needles the others so smoothly and shows off their own insecurities along with their philosophy. Most apparent is the dichotomy between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark. It plants the seed for Captain America: Civil War (2016) while showing Steve and Tony’s distinctive personalities. Plus, I fucking love Tony’s response to Steve’s question of what he is without the Iron Man suit: “Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.” Natasha’s reaction is golden.
Steve and Tony getting in each other’s faces is awesome, but we cannot forget the in depth look we get at Bruce as he explains how defeated he once felt in his internal battle with the Hulk. He “got low”, and tried to commit suicide only to find that his gamma green side wasn’t much a fan of it. Mark Ruffalo is great in this scene and showed that he belonged in this film universe, establishing his Bruce Banner as steady ground in one of the shakier off-camera stories of the early MCU. Not to mention, that we have not yet seen the Hulk set loose in this film, and we know it’s coming. This scene plays on everybody’s anticipation that Bruce could snap and Hulk out at any moment.
With the benefit of hindsight, we know that the scepter holds the Mind Stone and that it is messing with everybody to amp them up. Besides Bruce picking up the scepter in his mounting frustration and everybody being on edge about what will happen if he goes over the edge, Tony has the most noticeable physical reaction to the Stone with a head shake that conveys confusion and mild pain, almost like a headache. Even without the knowledge of Infinity Stones and their locations at this point, viewers clearly get the idea that the scepter is raising everyone’s anxiety when Whedon flips the camera upside down to focus on it.
Between the densely important and wickedly sharp exchanges, fantastic camerawork, and suspenseful score, this scene is wonderfully crafted. It starts with everyone coming into the same space together, then verbally pushing each other around, and culminates with two pairs in the group being separated into teams to more fully highlight their differences for good and bad. Steve and Tony quickly drop their rising menace to work together against a common threat, and Bruce and Natasha are dropped into dire straits as he is set in unwillingly transforming into the Hulk and potentially hurting someone he is starting to care about. Thor and Fury are knocked out of the action on their own, but Thor will show up again soon to help save Natasha from the Hulk, and maybe regret calling everyone “tiny” in this scene.
All in all, it’s an amazing scenes in an amazing movie in an amazing series that never ceases to amaze me time and again. Similar to when my friends assembled to watch this movie in 2012, I don’t know a whole hell of a lot of what this franchise has in store, but I sure am excited to see it.
Thanks for reading and watching! I hope that you’ll return here next week for more fun!
Your resident, non-genius, non-billionaire, non-playboy, small-time philanthropist,