How The Avengers Succeeds

Ethan Gach

I write about comics, video games and American politics. I fear death above all things. Just below that is waking up in the morning to go to work. You can follow me on Twitter at @ethangach or at my blog, And though my opinions aren’t for hire, my virtue is.

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86 Responses

  1. Burt Likko says:

    You were expecting a Pulitzer-quality script, Ethan? The movie was always going to be about spectacle. It delivered.Report

  2. Kazzy says:

    Regarding the box office numbers, are those in any way adjusted for inflation?  Do they account for iMax, 3D, and iMax 3D tickets, which can run more than double the cost of a normal ticket?Report

  3. A Teacher says:

    I’m thinking about this and I’m curious as to what would be a “better” reaction to the portal to hell opening over New York.  Enemy soldiers are storming a metaphorical beach-head in downtown NY, and there’s criticism that a) they’re not doing more to save people and b) they’re killing too many of the “bad guys”?

    I’d hate to read your review of, say, the Longest Day….


  4. Katherine says:

    There are movies and comic books where I have criticisms about how casually killing is treated.  This is not one of them.  Whedon’s called it a “war movie”, and I think that has some merit – they’re fighting an invading force, not running after criminals or pursuing terrorist groups.  You don’t just arrest an invading army (unless the army’s really pathetic).  It’s expected that they’d use lethal force.

    However, I wasn’t such a big fan of the nuking of the mothership – I don’t like nukes being treated casually, even in fiction, and the way the Chitauri just collapsed left a horrifying implication that they might have wiped out ALL of the Chitauri, if they were somehow all connected to the mothership.  Which is a bit less “yay, we won” and a bit more Ender’s Game.

    I thought it was good.  It wasn’t thoughtful in the way that Nolan’s Batman films or even the X-Men movies (1, 2 and First Class) were.  It was an example of how to do a summer blockbuster right (as opposed to Wrath of the Titans, the Transformers films, or X-Men 3 as examples of how to do it wrong).  It had some complexity of plot, it had a lot of good funny lines, and it had well-done action.  Pretty much every part of the movie served a purpose – there weren’t scenes or lines just shoehorned in.

    It managed to give each of the main characters (if we don’t count Maria Hill as a main one) some level of characterization, and kept them basically consistent with that characterization, and is in general a good example of how to use an ensemble cast in a big-budget action movie.  This something that hasn’t been done before in comic book movies to this extent, and that has generally been done poorly by those that tried – the first three X-Men were “Wolverine and some other folks” and Spider-Man 3 got flak for poorly splitting its time between three villains, even while having just a single protagonist.  Managing to have 6 main characters, 4 of which had had their own movies, and balance things between them is a difficult thing that Whedon did well.

    The movie doesn’t have great artistic significance (unlike, say, critical consensus on The Dark Knight, and hopes for The Dark Knight Rises) but it tries to do something technically difficult (use a big ensemble cast well), it does it well, and it has immense business/capitalist significance in that it’s basically a license for Marvel to print money from here on out.



    • Burt Likko in reply to Katherine says:

      I think seven main characters. Nick Fury gets big hunks of screen time, even as compared with the top-of-the-banner heroes like Iron Man and Cap’n-A.Report

      • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Burt Likko says:

        Thor was underutilized, especially given that this plot came directly from the first Thor movie.

        On the other hand, the Hulk treatment was magnificent, although they glossed over the kind of important difference between “Hulk transforms gracelessly” and “Hulk transforms with intent”, and what that means.  Storytelling wise, it was a weaker moment in the film.  But Ruffalo’s Banner just slammed it right out the the park, and the Hulk finally looked right.Report

        • Kolohe in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

          I was also thinking Thor was kinda short of screentime, but the guy who plays Thor has the least acting chops of any of the top bill cast, so it seemed a good choice to me.

          They used Black Widow *just* enough, but actually utilized very little compared to the usual trip though the  Wheadonverse.  Though I imagine that’s why the How I Met Your Mother woman got so much script and screen time.Report

  5. Jaybird says:

    One thing that I think this movie did that was so very interesting was the fact that it had sooooo many prequels.

    The Iron Mans, Thor, Hulk, Captain America, and I’m sure I’m forgetting one or two. Even if you didn’t see one of them, you probably saw another. This is the biggest attempt to apply synergy that I’ve ever seen.

    It has, apparently, worked.

    (Aside, we had a short conversation in the lab today about what would be required to have a JLA movie… we’d need a Flash movie at the very least and the question of who would be the bad guy loomed large. For reasons that are obvious to some, opaque to others, Darkseid isn’t an option. Maybe Starro the Conqueror is available…)Report

    • North in reply to Jaybird says:

      One of the charming aspects of this was the Avengers pretty much entirely chucked out all the introductory backstory that so many hero movies labor under. Each of the protagonists could spring, Athena like, from the forhead of their respective progenator films. As a result the Avengers was two hours and some change of rolicking fun, humor and spectacle. I was delighted, Marvel deserves every dime they’re going to make off this puppy.

      Also the humor had me in stitches, as a Hulk fan I was transported by his interaction with Thor and schwarma!

      And as if it wasn’t ambitious enough what the hell was with that shout out at the end?? I watch the Avengers cartoon (I know nerd) and guess who popped up this weeked? Adam Warlock with a special stone imbedded in his forehead.Report

    • Katherine in reply to Jaybird says:

      They’re opaque to me.  Why isn’t Darkseid an option?Report

      • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Katherine says:

        He’s booked for Avengers 2.Report

          • North in reply to Jaybird says:

            Personally I think it’s a headfake. No way they kick it up to the fellow who was shown in the teaser in Avengers #2. Where do you go from there? And the gauntlette? No way. The comics were interesting but as a movie it’d be -terrible-.Report

            • Patrick Cahalan in reply to North says:

              > Where do you go from there?

              Ah, to be clear!

              Niratref 2 vf n ybff zbivr. Guvax Rzcver.

              Niratref 3 vf gur jva zbivr. V’q fnl, “Guvax Erghea bs gur Wrqv”, ohg V qba’g jnag gb urk vg.

              Gunabf vf oruvaq gurfr fprarf, va 2, tngurevat gur trzf, jbexvat ba gur cybg. Zbivr raqf jvgu gur Tnhagyrg nffrzoyrq naq gur Niratref trggvat gurve nff xvpxrq.

              Niratref 3 unf gb gbc rirelguvat gung’f rire orra qbar gb gung cbvag. V’z guvaxvat vg jvyy or gur Zbivr Havirefr rdhvinyrag gb Frperg Jnef. Rkcrpg gur xvgpura fvax.Report

        • Katherine in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

          Ah, right.  At least, maybe.  I’d prefer if they didn’t go with two alien invasion plots in a row.Report

        • Pat, here’s a shovel. We’re going to go that corn field over there….you’ll have to dig a hole, by the way.Report

          • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

            No matter how genteel the surface, if you scratch at it hard enough you will reveal the fanbody beneath.

            And in comics, the fanboy is 97.3755% likely to be either a Marvel fan, or a DC fan.Report

            • Both of them have lost me, honestly.

              Marvel with their 616 bullshit including Spider Man One More Day and others.

              And DC with their “New 52” crap.

              Prior to Flashpoint, I was a DC fan foremost, with a love of Green Lantern and Nightwing.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

                Marvel makes up most of my collection, heavy on the John Byrne runs of stuff.

                But really, I’m a First Fanbody.  Grendel, Grimjack, Dynamo Joe, Blaze Barlow and the Infinity Command.


              • A Teacher in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

                For what it’s worth I’m actually kinda okay with the “new 52”.

                Look, they’ve been trying to keep some kind of plot continuity for some comics for 50 years.  They’ve had to say over and over that here’s this alternate world and here’s this one, and here’s that one.  Some comics have said “okay we’re going to have 3 comic lines with the same characters but different continuities.”

                My read on the New 52 is to say “Look, we’ve got some cool character concepts that could use some new directions so we’re just going to go back to the origin story, and we’re going to see what happens to them this time through.  No alternate timelines, no alternate worlds, we’re just going to start fresh with new ideas for a new time.”

                Of course I’m coming to this late in the game (I’ve never collected comics before) and I’m coming to it with my dad who collected them in the 60’s when you didn’t  have 100 different worlds to keep track of; you had one main story continuity and that was it.


              • Alan Scott in reply to A Teacher says:

                Which is great in theory (and it worked well for Ultimate Spider Man). But most of the new 52 books suck eggs.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

                The New 52 isn’t *THAT* bad. I like the Justice League title a lot. I like the Suicide Squad a lot (but don’t let kids read it). The new Action Comics, of all books, have made Superman an interesting character again (BELIEVE IT).

                I, personally, think that Marvel’s Ultimate Universe is the best thing to happen to comics in the last decade so I’d say that if you feel like dipping your feet back into comics to pick up a collection of Ultimate Spider-Man or Ultimate Fantastic Four (dude, they made the Fantastic Four interesting!!!)… but if you’re a DC feller (like *I* am), the new 52 sounds a lot worse than it actually ended up being.Report

              • Pyre in reply to Jaybird says:

                I’m still hoping that Jay of the Birds does a 1-year retrospective on the New 52 when August/September rolls around.  What worked, what didn’t, did it meet it’s overall goal, etc?

                This notion was inspired by reading the recent Suicide Squad and realizing that they’re setting up Black Spider to be the new Ben Turner/Bronze TIger as well as the reader’s ceaseless complaints/requests to have Deadshot grow a moustache and Amanda Waller to be fat again.  (The second is actually more significant than it sounds since one of the slogans of the new 52 could be: The New 52: Women with more than 3% body fat need not apply.)Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Pyre says:

                Because if she were Fats Waller she could stomp people?Report

      • Zac in reply to Katherine says:

        Probably because he’s DC and not Marvel…Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

      The problem with JLA is that it’s Superman, Batman, and some second or third tier guys no one cares about.  (Maybe Wonder Woman if you can get Zoe Saldana or someone like that, but seriously, you’re going to pay to watch an Aquaman prequel?)  IReport

      • Teen Titans on the other hand, could probably work.

        Especially if you can introduce Robin (Dick Grayson of course) as a plot-point in a Batman movie, Superboy as part of a Superman movie, etc…Report

        • And sort of like how they’re planning to use Bucky Barnes as part of a plot point for a stand alone Black Widow movie. (Or maybe use him, who knows.)Report

          • smarx in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

            If they’re going to use Bucky Barnes as a plot point in a Black Widow movie, then it will probably play off Ed Brubaker’s Winter Soldier story lines that ran through the Captain America c0mic books a couple years ago.Report

          • Alan Scott in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

            After his appearance in Captain America?  I’m not sure how they’ll pull that off.Report

            • Nob Akimoto in reply to Alan Scott says:

              How do you figure? Everything in the movie kinda points to him as Winter Soldier at some point. And Sebastian Stan is contracted for a bunch more movies.Report

              • Alan Scott in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

                Gubfr bs hf jub ernq pbzvpf ner fb hfrq gb pbzvp-obbx qrngu gung jr sbetrg gung vg’f fgvyy jrveq sbe bgure zrqvn fhpu nf zbivrf–rira jura gur zbivrf va dhrfgvba ner pbzvp obbx nqncgngvbaf.

                Oevatvat Ohpxl onpx gb yvsr jbhyq uheg irevfvzvyvghqr, naq guhf uheg gur zbivr. Naq fvapr gur Ohpxl Onearf bs gur zbivr jnf pnc’f ovt oebgure vafgrnq bs uvf xvq fvqrxvpx, gur jvagre fbyqvre jbhyqa’g unir gur fnzr rzbgvbany erfbanapr nf gur irefvba sebz gur pbzvp obbxf.Report

      • Alan Scott in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        Not only would I pay to watch an Aquaman prequel, I’d give it 50-50 odds of being the best of the prequel movies.  Compare with Iron man:  a movie about a not particular superhero that nobody expected to do particularly well.  It blew us all out of the water because they managed to make a great movie AND we had low expectations.  I think an aquaman movie can do the same thing.

        In general, it’s weird to suggest that The Justice League is a bunch of second-stringers compared to the Avengers.  Marvel’s biggest comic book properties are Spider-man and the X men.  Of the avengers, the Hulk was probably the only popular one before the movies came out. (well, and captain america, but that’s more fondness for the flag than fondness for the character)

        The real reason it’d be harder to make a justice league movie is that the members of the justice league have more diverse origins than the Avengers.  Except for Thor, every avenger in the movie got their superpowers from the military-industrial complex.  The justice league has much more thematically diverse origins.Report

        • Nob Akimoto in reply to Alan Scott says:

          I suppose James Cameron’s Aquaman might work…


        • Ryan Noonan in reply to Alan Scott says:

          The real reason it’d be harder to make a justice league movie is that the members of the justice league have more diverse origins than the Avengers.

          I read this sentence, and then I tried to imagine a team superhero movie in which the JLA fights aliens alongside Chris Nolan’s version of Batman. That’s pretty ridiculous.

          Also, I don’t know why everyone picks on Aquaman. The Martian Manhunter and the Flash are both considerably stupider.Report

          • Pretty sure for any JLA movie they’re planning to reboot Batman again into a DC universe centric movie.Report

          • Pyre in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

            People pick on Aquaman because of the Superfriends.  No matter what he does, it always comes back to that.  It’s kinda like Doom crying in Marvel’s 9/11 issues.  It doesn’t matter which board you go to.  That scene always gets brought up, at least, once a month.

            Oddly, (I’ve been doing site maintenance on a different site) I came across a rant/argument that I had roughly a year and a half ago against someone who said that an Aquaman prequel was a new low for DC.  While part of my rant was because the guy is always so pessimistic, the major part was that he was basing his argument off the Superfriend’s argument.  I pointed out a number of things such as:

            what DC had done with Aquaman since (His leadership of the Detroit JLA which was hampered by his personal issues.  What happened between him and Black Manta.  The events of One Year After, etc.)

            That Hollywood has advanced some since Mark Harris: Man From Atlantis

            It’d be nice to see a DC movie that wasn’t about the big two.  (Technically, it should be three but Hollywood hasn’t been able to do a Wonder Woman since Lynda Carter.)

            Admittedly, since then, we’ve had Green Lantern and that …… wasn’t a good argument for doing movies about the other heroes in the JLA.  However, even Marvel has movies like Ghost Rider so I’d be willing to cut DC some slack on that.Report

      • Pyre in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        Y’know, I was just talking to someone at work about this and it dawned on me what has probably been the biggest problem with Wonder Woman and, by extension, a JLA movie (since any JLA movie would have to have the Big Three in it).

        Pretty much all the other superheroes who have had single movies have, at least, one arch-nemesis and a handful of secondary nemesii. Even Aquaman (Black Manta) and Flash (Professor Zoom, Rogues Gallery) have villains that, despite not reading their comics, I can name and you could very easily plug into a movie.

        Wonder Woman really doesn’t have a Rogues Gallery. The closest Wonder Woman has had to an arch-nemesis is the Cheetah. If you stretch, you can include Circe and Ares but, otherwise, Wonder Woman doesn’t have a shovel-ready villain to drop into any movie about her.Report

        • Alan Scott in reply to Pyre says:

          I’m pretty sure that Cheetah and Ares are better known than Professor Zoom, at least.

          Remember, people already know their greek gods a bit, so you have to lay less groundwork than you would with most villians. If I were plotting a WW movie, I’d have Ares as the main villian, with him transforming one of his followers into a cheetah monster at the beginning of the third act.Report

    • Pyre in reply to Jaybird says:

      Why isn’t Darkseid an option?  It’s been a long time since The Great Darkness saga in Legion of Super Heroes where Darkseid was still this mysterious yet powerful being.  At this point, Darkseid has become one of the “go-to” guys whenever DC needs a big bad.  Even without that level of public exposure, most of the people who would watch a JLA movie saw the Superman/JLA animated series when they were growing up.  Also, he’s got that “ruler of a dark planet full of evil” thing that Hollywood likes to crap out in their films.

      Darkseid is hardly the worst or most obscure option for a JLA villain.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Pyre says:

        Because it looks like the villain for Avengers 2 is a cheap Darkseid knockoff.

        However, since he’ll be first past the post, he’ll be assumed to be the original.Report

      • Ryan Noonan in reply to Pyre says:




        The post-credit scene in The Avengers makes it clear that Thanos is the secret villain driving the movie’s action. Thanos is Marvel’s direct copy of Darkseid. You can’t have the same villain in two different series.Report

        • Pyre in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

          Yeah but we’ve known that since Thor. (The Infinity Gauntlet was one of the props that was shown off during the run-up to Thor and there have been enough hints dropped that Loki was more the front-man than the Big Bad.)

          I would argue that you could still take two semi-different directions to differentiate the two. Once again, the target audience has the familiarity and both have had enough exposure to the mainstream that people aren’t likely to confuse the two.Report

  6. Record box office earnings continue to be set because prices for entry continue to rise.Report

    • Pyre in reply to Michael J. Gerrior says:

      A post I made in my G+:

      Okay. As I heard that Avengers made 700 million worldwide, I decided to crunch some numbers. (Plus, I wanted to see how Titanic stacked up since I mentioned it above.)

      For Titanic, I’ll mention inflation-adjusted price for Domestic as well because it’s been long enough to make a significant difference. (Foreign gross adjusted for inflation would be beyond my interest level.) After all, Gone With The Wind’s domestic gross may not sound impressive at 198 million but, when you adjust for inflation, GWTW weighes in at 1.6 billion.

      For opening weekends, Avengers dominates both world and domestic (208 million Domestic). The closest rival was the last Harry Potter which did 169 Domestic and 483 million worldwide.

      To put the Avengers opening weekend in perspective, Avatar made 760 million Domestic and 2.8 billion worldwide for it’s ENTIRE run. So, in it’s opening weekend, Avengers has already made 1/4 of the current record-holder’s sum.

      As for Titanic, it made 28 million original opening weekend, 600 million Domestic (1.01 billion adjusted), 658 million Domestic including the recent 3D rerelease (1.07 billion adjusted) and 2.18 Billion worldwide(including rerelease).Report

      • DensityDuck in reply to Pyre says:

        That doesn’t change his point, because it assumes that ticket prices track inflation. In the past few years movie tickets have gotten more expensive because more of them are getting 3D surcharges or higher-priced IMAX releases.Report

  7. Anne says:

    Ethan nice post I know I’m supposed to be comic book geeking but as a textile geek your metaphor The Avengers is more than just a 21st century loom upon which Whedon has been hard at work spinning gold.” doesn’t work . You can’t spin on a loom. You need a spinning wheel to make straw into gold. just sayin


  8. Ethan Gach says:

    I thought that metaphor was probably botched. How embarassing. Let me know if the revision works.Report

  9. DensityDuck says:

    Actually, what kind of surprised me about “The Avengers” was how they didn’t have scenes where The Military Is Powerless Against The Invaders. Other than when Loki shows up in the beginning and blasts some SHIELD guys, there wasn’t the usual “hooray it’s the US Air Force! Oh no they’re all being shot down! Hooray it’s the US Army! Oh no they’re all being blasted with lasers!” you’d expect from a movie like this.

    In fact, for a movie where aliens blow up New York for forty-five minutes, there was surprisingly little death.Report

    • Patrick Cahalan in reply to DensityDuck says:

      PG-13 is worth $200 million dollars.Report

      • DensityDuck in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

        Sure, but the “Transformers” movies were PG-13 and there was plenty of cannon-fodder death in those. It’s increasingly the case that you can kill as many people as you like and still get PG-13 as long as there’s no blood.

        And I’m not trying to claim that nobody in “The Avengers” died on-screen; my point is that there wasn’t the typical “the military is powerless to stop them!” scene. Which I thought was a nice change, because usually this kind of movie goes out of its way to show that scene in order to make the heroes that much more mighty.Report

    • Chris in reply to DensityDuck says:

      Remember when the A-Team would have at least one, and often more than one firefight in an episode, and no one ever got shot? Ah, the good ol’ days of violence-less simulated violence.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Chris says:

        You also have to have the one shot where the car hits an inexplicable small ramp on the side of the road and flips over, and then the subsequent shot of the bad guys getting out of it, dazed and spent but otherwise unharmed.Report

        • Chris in reply to Tod Kelly says:

          Or the shot of the bad guys (often behind a barrier) being blown in the air by an A-Team tossed grenade or other explosive, and then a shot of the bad guys getting up, “dazed and spent but otherwise unharmed.”

          I watched that show when I was 7 and that nonsense bugged me. When I watched some episodes recently (I miss you Retro TV!), it just made me laugh. I kept thinking, “These guys are elite soldiers, and they couldn’t hit the side of a barn with a fully automatic assault rifle from 30 feet away.”Report

          • Mike Schilling in reply to Chris says:

            Proving that Imperial Storm Troopers come from a long and proud heritage.Report

            • Chris in reply to Mike Schilling says:

              You’d think that when they have laser gun technology, they’d have small targeting systems technology that would remove the need to aim altogether. You’d think…

              Then again, the Empire’s military was stupid enough to make it possible to blow up a warship the size of a moon, which could destroy entire planets with one (apparently guided!) laser blast, with a couple photon torpedoes in a ventilation shaft, so ya know, maybe they fucked up the targeting systems for their laser guns, and it wasn’t the Storm Troopers’ fault at all that they couldn’t hit a Jedi and his group of misfit friends from 20 feet, down a straight corridor.Report

  10. Nicolas says:

    So many of these comments bring up good points and make me want to read all of these comics to find out who these characters are. I only first heard of The Avengers after a co-worker at Dish suggested that I check out The Avengers cartoons on Dishonline. She said that they would help me understand the hype with the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor and Captain America films. I’ll admit that they seemed childish, but after watching the movie, I was thrilled by this newfound genre. I plan to watch the other comic book movies I’ve missed, and whenever Avengers 2 comes out, I’ll be sure to see that too.Report