CONTENT WARNING: Joss Whedon, abuse.
If that isn’t for you, I’ve put a noticeable break between the JW section and the Avengers section
I like Avengers Assemble, and there is no denying the impact that it had on Popular Culture and the cinema industry as a whole. However there is a huge problem with this film that, by now, has become practically unavoidable. That problem is writer/director Joss Whedon. He rose to prominence in the late 1990s for his work on the hit TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and stayed relevant through his work on the follow-up series Angel as well as the short lived space-western Firefly, however, he has been famous more recently for his horrific actions. As I publish this, we are still feeling the aftermath of how poorly Warner Brothers handled the creation of the 2017 film Justice League, a major part of which was Joss Whedon’s behaviour on set. Cast members, primarily Ray Fisher, have detailed Whedon’s violent behaviour, racist beliefs, and misogyny. This isn’t even about how he butchered that film to a point beyond recognition, this is about how he treated the people that he was supposed to be looking out for and taking care of. Ray Fisher risked his entire career and was fired by Warner Brothers to tell us this, and his words were echoed by people who had previously worked for Whedon. A large portion of the cast of Buffy and Angel came forward with their stories to demonstrate that he has always been like this. He threatened to fire cast members for getting pregnant, pinned cast members against walls and threatened to destroy the career of anybody who thought that they knew the character they were playing better than him.
Over the past few months, I have seen people defend Whedon, stating that he has made some great shows and films with some going as far as to claim that this should excuse him. No. I don’t give a damn how good you think his work is, this kind of behaviour is unacceptable from anyone. It is not necessary to build a career, and it is not necessary to create a piece of media. This behaviour is atrocious, and he should be held accountable for it. I considered writing a separate piece about Whedon, but it is important to me that he is being held accountable in as many places as possible and in relation to the projects that have made him famous. I wrote in my review for Thor that every director has their own creative flair, which means that there is a lot of Joss Whedon in Avengers Assemble. Most notable is his misogyny, which comes across in the oversexualisation of Black Widow. It’s present from her very first scene, in which she does a great number of flips in a very revealing camo top, through to her jumpsuit that is never zipped up to cover her chest. Then there is the semi-love triangle between her, Hawkeye, and Bruce Banner which has zero ramifications on any of the 3 characters except for in Age of Ultron. Yes, she gets to close the portal, but this isn’t what saves the day because Iron Man has already destroyed the Chitauri fleet. It becomes more clear every time I watch this film that Black Widow is only here for one reason, and it isn’t the plot.
On top of Whedon being a terrible person, I happen to think he isn’t a great filmmaker either. Avengers Assemble feels less like a film and more like a 2 hour long episode of a TV programme. He changes the camera angle every few seconds, which means that we almost never get a lingering shot to appreciate the moments of good cinematography. I say “almost” because there are some noticeably good shots in here. Loki’s arrival, Thor’s arrival, the old man standing up to Loki, and Hulk punching the Space Whale are all gorgeous, but we are never given enough time to appreciate them. As a fan of pairing classical music with violence, the scene of Loki at the Gala is especially infuriating to me because it just needed less camera angles. On top of this, Avengers Assemble feels so small compared to the rest of the MCU, and most notably to Thor which preceded it. It feels like it was all shot on a soundstage, which isn’t a vibe that you want in a blockbuster. I know that this is all really negative, and that you were likely expecting a positive review because that’s kind of my whole deal, and I’m also a huge MCU nerd, however there are three things to note here. Firstly, I wouldn’t be so annoyed about the quality of the movie if I didn’t think there was good movie in here Secondly, I also wouldn’t be so annoyed if this film wasn’t as important important to me, other people, and the state of pop culture as it is. Thirdly, Joss Whedon is human trash. It is important that his drastic failings are noted when talking about one of his greatest achievements, because I am about to launch into the positive part of the review and I will not be accused of tolerating Joss Whedon. I will not give him a pass. He had his hand in creating a historical moment but I still think that he should never work again.
Avengers Assemble is the film from which all cinematic universes attempt to build themselves. Studios see a group of individuals with entire backstories fighting a great evil, and the $1.5billion it earned at the box office. However, that isn’t why this film works. It works because it builds on an already established mythos. This isn’t where the story begins, it’s more like a mini-boss fight in a video game. This isn’t Luke fighting Emperor Palpatine, it’s Luke destroying the first Death Star. It’s an important part of a much larger narrative, that teases the main villain in the post-credits scene. It baffles me that companies either don’t understand that, or think that they can create a universe without doing it. The thing about Avengers Assemble is that it was a risk, and it paid off, but if it hadn’t we’d still have that first phase of Marvel movies. Phase One of the MCU consists of 6 films, building characters and hoping to convince people that a shared universe could work – with Avengers Assemble being the proof of concept. Yes, there were shared universes before, like Universal Monsters in the 1920s, but none were as expensive and grand as this.
In terms of continuity, this one is essential. It marks the formation of the titular team as well as the first time that many of them have even met. It finally continues the story of Captain America after starting with him 6 films ago, demonstrates how serious Stark was about not making weapons again, and brings our Asgardian brothers back together after their previous fight. There are 3 significant characters worth talking about at this juncture: Bruce Banner, Carol Danvers, and Phil Coulson. Bruce looks totally different to the last time we saw him, due to the role being recast after Edward Norton elected not to return. It is reported that he didn’t want to tie himself to a franchise, which is fine because Mark Ruffalo suits the role beautifully with a perfect mix of anxiety and intellect. Meanwhile, Carol is noticeably absent due her character not being introduced into the MCU until 2019. However, should you require an in-universe explanation, there is one of those because you’ve got to fill those plot contrivances. The Chaitauri invasion of New York simply isn’t a Captain Marvel level threat, and I think the plot makes that clear. The Avengers are supposed to be the first line of defence in the event that Captain Marvel is not readily available because she’s on the other side of space. Lines of defence in descending order are The Military, SHIELD, The Avengers, Captain Marvel. Lastly, we come to poor Agent Phil Coulson who did not need to be murdered… but was anyway. It’s a real testament to actor Colin Gregg that his character became a fan favourite, remains one to this day, and was revived for the spin-off TV Show Agents of SHIELD. I know that many people consider the first 2 series of this show to be canon, but I don’t and I never have. They are immensely fun as headcanon or an Alternate Universe timeline, but the characters never cross over into the films, even as quick mentions. I know that at the time Kevin Fiege hoped to fold it all in, but that hasn’t happened. Of course as a Doctor Who fan, I find the concept of “canon” totally ridiculous, so believe what you will.
In terms of the continuing story of the MCU, Avengers Assemble starts many threads that will carry us forward. Perhaps the most prominent of these is the formation of the team itself. As the story continues, they will always at least mention a fellow member at least, if not giving them an actual appearance. The MCU used to focus on individual stories, but now that this shared universe is so vast, those have become rare. The Battle of New York is also going to have a massive impact on Tony Stark going forward as he begins to struggle with PTSD. This also isn’t the last time that we will see The Tesseract, which Thor takes back to Asgard to store in Odin’s vault. It will remain here for quite some time, while we are introduced to more characters and more Infinity Stones, which isn’t even a concept that has been introduced at this point. We will later learn that Loki’s sceptre is powered by a different Infinity Stone, despite this film stating that The Tesseract is powering it. This may be a retcon, but I can also provide a solid in-universe explanation/theory which I have as headcanon. As far as The Avengers are aware, this Cosmic Cube is the most powerful thing in the universe, and is the only thing that holds this much unlimited power. If they scanned Loki’s sceptre and found that it was powered by something with as much power as The Tesseract, then of course they are going to assume that The Tesseract is the source of that power.
So, at last we have come to the famous post-credits scene. It is quite the historical artefact. Thanos is more burgundy than purple, and is smaller than the next time we see him. This is 2 years before Guardians of the Galaxy where he is officially introduced with a redesign, and this scene is only a few minutes long so it makes sense that he looks the way he does. At the time, I had no idea who this guy was, and that was the general response of anybody who didn’t know the comic books. It was only upon my own research into the character that I discovered how much of a threat he was, and started to get excited for his inevitable attack. Another odd artefact is that this is one of the few films with a confirmed year in the in-universe timeline. There is a general timeline, which is a little vague, but they are all centred around this: The Battle of Ney York in 2012.
Battles will come and go for The Avengers, but this is the first and that makes it special. Even with its flaws, this film is important and I really wish that movie studios could take the right lessons from it. Avengers Assemble was the proof that Kevin Fiege’s experiment was going to work, that it would make money, as well as being a moment in cinematic history. It mostly works because of the films that preceded it, but without it we wouldn’t have gotten what came after. I love what this film represents, and I don’t think I’m done with it.