We’ve made it to the end of Phase One in our Marvel Cinematic Universe countdown! This culmination of the MCU’s first chapter finally unites the heroes that we’ve been introduced to in the last several solo films: Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, Captain America, along with Black Widow (introduced in Iron Man 2) and Hawkeye (introduced in Thor). It’s not often you get a film with five previous films of build-up, but The Avengers is all that and more.
The movie dives into the action first thing, so there’s not a lot of time for elaborate back story on the characters. Because of this, I would absolutely recommend watching The Avengers after the films we have previously reviewed in our series. My first viewing of The Avengers came after watching only Captain America: The First Avenger, and I enjoyed it immensely more after I had seen the previous installments in the saga. I was far more emotionally invested in the characters having known their previous struggles and triumphs. That being said, The Avengers is definitely an enjoyable film in its own right, but watching it in order of film release takes it to a whole new level.
The Avengers starts out with S.H.I.E.L.D. tinkering with the tesseract (which we now know holds the Space Stone, one of the six all-powerful Infinity Stones), which was retrieved when a frozen Captain America was discovered in the ocean. Loki, Thor’s mischievous backstabbing brother, uses the tesseract to remotely open a portal to Earth, where he arrives and steals it, using his staff to enslave multiple people along the way, including S.H.I.E.L.D. member Hawkeye and physicist Dr. Erik Selvig (from Thor). S.H.I.E.L.D.’s research facility is destroyed, and director Nick Fury sets about assembling the Avengers to deal with this otherworldly threat.
The actual assembling of said Avengers is probably the slowest part of the movie, but it’s by no means boring. It’s nice to see Tony Stark and Steve Rogers in a new light, and it’s especially interesting to see Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner interact with Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff, since – aside from Clint Barton/Hawkeye – their characters have had the least exploration up to this point. Still, the real magic starts to happen once the team is united: Steve, Bruce, and Natasha join Nick Fury and Agent Coulson aboard S.H.I.E.L.D.’s invisible aircraft, then fend off an attack by Loki in Germany with the help of Iron Man, and finally watch as Thor intercepts the aircraft to attempt to reason with his brother (nice try, buddy).
The team dynamic provides great interest, with many clashing personalities and viewpoints. It’s the first time these people have been forced into a situation together, and it shows. Loki even uses this obvious tension between the Avengers to temporarily tear them apart and escape. The MCU’s trademark humor is arguably at its best yet, especially Tony’s snarky quips with his fellow team members. Like the MCU films before it, The Avengers manages to work in a lot of humor while still maintaining a somewhat more serious overall vibe.
Roughly the final third of the movie consists of an epic battle that pits our heroes against the army of extraterrestrial Chitauri that Loki has unleashed upon Manhattan via a tesseract-created wormhole. The full team – including a now mind-control-freed Hawkeye – reassembles and takes the battle to the streets and skies of New York, destroying much of the city in the process. The choreography and visuals during this scene in particular are nothing short of incredible. All the action weaves together seamlessly, and there’s no shortage of epic screenshots, including one panoramic scene that circles around our team as they find themselves surrounded on all sides. No description of the action can substitute for actually watching the movie, so please treat yourself to that if you have not already.
The Avengers proved that all the build-up in the previous MCU films was able to pay off, and that a superhero team film could be a financial and critical success. If the Avengers had somehow flopped, we likely never would have seen its sequel, Age of Ultron, or the much-anticipated upcoming Infinity War. If there was any doubt as to the longevity and power of these films, The Avengers wiped that away and clearly cemented the series as a cinematic must-watch.
Next week we start Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with another solo outing with Tony Stark in Iron Man 3!