EDITOR’S NOTE: This guest blog is brought to you by my good friend and former college roomie, Ross Windsor (yes, a distant relation of those other Windsors, but they never invite him for tea). To whet the appetite for the premiere of Avengers: Age of Ultron this weekend, he has a few words to say about the first Avengers movie from the perspective of a movie buff and filmmaker.

I suppose I should start by giving a *SPOILERS* warning, but if you haven’t seen The Avengers yet: STOP. Back away from your computer, go buy the movie, and watch it. Twice.


Photo 01 - Shawarma


Marvel Studios faced the relatively unique challenge of bringing together four major heroes from previous film titles, along with lesser (though still important) characters from those films, while making The Avengers stand on its own as a movie. Of the six Avengers, all had made their first appearances in one of the five preceding movies. In order for The Avengers to appeal to moviegoers who had not seen all or even any of the previous films, director Joss Whedon had to introduce every character as if for the first time. And due to the number of major characters, these introductions had to be brief enough to not bog down the story, yet compelling enough to grab the audience’s interest immediately. This sort of quick introduction is a fantastic and necessary technique for short films, but serves well in feature-length films as well, particularly one like The Avengers.



Hawkeye is the first Avenger to appear, and curiously he is the only one with a “slow” introduction. The opening scene of the movie is more concerned with setting up the Tesseract storyline and presenting Loki and Nick Fury as opposing masterminds, gathering and commanding their troops, than it is with establishing Hawkeye as a long-term character.

We do see that Hawkeye possesses good insight and observational skills, being the first one in a room full of smart people to realize what is truly happening to the Tesseract, but we learn more about him from other people’s comments and reactions after Loki mind-controls him than we do from his opening scene. Ultimately, Hawkeye’s cameo in Thor was a better introduction to the character, as it not only hinted at his skills, but also showed us more of his dry, witty personality — which we sadly have seen very little of to date.



Black Widow also appeared as a support character in a previous movie. She showed up first in Iron Man 2, a film I had not seen prior to going into The Avengers. I’m glad I didn’t, because Black Widow’s introduction in The Avengers is superb, and vastly superior to her original appearance.

Her display of skill in manipulation and combat is highly entertaining, and instantly shows her capability as a 21st century femme fatale. Yet it isn’t the choreographed fight scene that sells it to us, as entertaining as that is. The part that tells us she’s a badass hero worthy of being in this movie is the expression on Coulson’s face as he listens on the phone: calm, unconcerned, patient. In the space of seconds, we see how dangerous she is, and how much respect her allies have for her, just because of one man doing nothing but holding a phone.

This was massively important, not only in making the character immediately likeable, but also because it helps build up the next character, Bruce Banner, “the big guy,” as Coulson puts it. Black Widow is scared of just having to be in the same room as Banner, and considering what we just saw her do in her opening scene, that says a lot about Banner.



Banner is a bag of paradoxes. He is the most introverted and soft-spoken character in the film, and yet the most feared. Despite being lured into a trap by Black Widow, Bruce Banner completely controls the scene from start to finish. Appropriate, for someone who must always remain in control of himself or risk turning into “an enormous green rage monster.”

Banner’s ability to transform into an inversion of himself creates inversions in his interactions with other people. Both the genius, Tony Stark, and the war hero, Steve Rogers, don’t get the point of the Tesseract being experimented on by S.H.I.E.L.D. — but Bruce Banner gets it immediately. The monstrous Hulk retains more dignity and aplomb than Loki, the prince of Asgard, when the two finally meet.

And yet the most telling inversion is still with the skillful manipulator, Black Widow, who finds herself out-maneuvered and overwhelmed in her first encounter with Banner. Later in the film, the Hulk also does  a better job at stealth than Black Widow. The barbarian besting the rogue in both stealth and bluff checks?! Scary.


Photo 02 - Hulk Sneak Attack



Nick Fury conversing with the S.H.I.E.L.D.  council provides a small amount of necessary exposition regarding the Avengers Initiative, Thor, and the hierarchy within S.H.I.E.L.D. However, its primary function in cinematic style is as a transition to the next – and arguably the most important – hero in the film.

The council warns Fury that “wars aren’t won by sentiment,” to which Fury replies, “No, they’re won by soldiers.” Cut immediately to the greatest soldier that ever lived: Captain America.

This is a brilliant transition, thematically setting up the subsequent scene, as well as revealing the basic background of the next character we see, without him doing or saying anything. The entire scene follows a “less is more” style, briefly illuminating relevant details of the Captain’s past through a series of flashback images and voiceovers, while simultaneously depicting him as a man of action, determination, and conflict. All while the Captain beats a punching bag into submission! Consequently, we see his foresight through the humorous stack of additional bags he brought with him, and can assume that he’s broken a few bags before.

Then we are introduced to his focus, as he immediately asks Fury if he has a mission. And yet we also see he’s not the type to blindly follow orders, as he has no problem at all telling his superior officer exactly where he went wrong. In fact, he leaves the room with a definite air of someone who knows what it’s like to clean up someone else’s mess.



The Captain’s introductory scene ends with a similar artistic transition to the way it began. As Nick Fury questions Captain Rogers about the Tesseract, the Captain responds, “You should have left it in the ocean.” Cut to Iron Man in the ocean, putting the finishing touches on some machinery and showing off his mechanical suit.

As the most extraverted character in the movie, Tony Stark cannot help but display his arrogantly confident and witty personality completely through his interactions with Pepper Potts, Agent Coulson, and JARVIS, his computer system. Stark has very few secrets in his personality; what you see is what you get. He is the character with the most growth through the film, as he slowly converts from a solo player into a hero capable of taking one for the team.



Although mentioned early in the film, Thor does not make his entrance until after Captain America and Iron Man capture Loki; but, as befitting a godlike being, it is a dramatic entrance. Amid thunder and lightning, Thor descends from the sky and, without a word, snatches Loki from S.H.I.E.L.D. custody and flies off with him.

That moment itself reveals much not only about Thor, but about other characters around him. Up to this point, Loki shows no fear or concern, but at Thor’s appearance he is terrified. Thor is the wildcard in Loki’s strategy; the one thing he had not expected, and the only thing he believes can ruin his plans. Meanwhile, Captain America attempts to coordinate with the team he has been given, but Iron Man’s impetuousness foils him.


Photo 03 - Frustrated


In his conversation with Loki, Thor demonstrates his passionate and sentimental nature, as well as a proclivity towards mercy, at least when he does not let his anger get the better of him. A moviegoer who had seen the movie Thor would know that observation is not the God of Thunder’s strong suit, and yet here he notices something (before Loki changes the subject) that no other character in the film does: that Loki, for all his schemes, is a pawn. This point explains where Loki received new power and his army, but is otherwise unimportant to the film, and thus is saved for future films to elaborate on. Still, it is intriguing that Thor is the one to notice this.


Some Assembly Required

Due to the diverse backgrounds of the Avengers, the relationship between them is understandably shaky from the start. Some of them get along: Steve Rogers and Bruce Banner begin on friendly terms, as do Banner and Tony Stark, but Rogers and Stark are constantly at odds. Both are natural leaders, albeit with different approaches. Captain Rogers leads because he understands people, their motivations and emotions, and is used to organization. Stark has always been a leader because he is typically the smartest individual and most dominant personality when he walks into a room, and is used to getting his way more often than not because of this. Hence the conflict between the two primary Avengers; the Captain tries to keep them organized, while Stark wants to do whatever seems best at the time.

Stark’s non-diplomatic approach sparks a scuffle between himself and Thor over what to do about Loki, and it takes Captain America’s intervention, in a manner paralleling Loki’s capture a scene before, to quell it. In the preceding scene, the Captain battles the enemy of Earth, Loki, in a stalemate until Iron Man joins in, while with Iron Man’s skirmish against Loki’s brother and protector of Earth, Thor, it is the Captain whose arrival ends the fight. This is a very artistic and subtle indication of the strengths of the two leading Avengers; Iron Man is best in an aggressive role, while the Captain excels at teamwork.


In the end, it takes defeat and the loss of a beloved ally to make the Avengers see eye to eye. As Coulson says with his dying breath, the Avenger’s Initiative would never work unless they had something… his sentence remains unfinished, but we conclude, “to unite them.” Coulson’s death serves as the necessary catalyst, but not just in an emotional “Remember the Alamo!” sort of way.

As previously mentioned,  Captain America attempted to work with the team he had been given a few times before, but without success. The problem was that he had been given the team. It was not truly his. Contrast this to Rogers’s Howling Commandos from Captain America: The First Avenger, who were an international group with varying skills whom the Captain coordinated with great success. He chose that team himself; the military offered to put a team together for him, but he declined, preferring his own judgment of human nature to build an elite unit.

The Avengers team, on the other hand, were picked by S.H.I.E.L.D. (the military). It was never going to work unless they were Captain America’s soldiers. Coulson’s death brought Tony Stark face-to-face with that reality. When he blurted out, “We are not soldiers!” to Captain America’s face, he realized, “Yes, we are.” At that moment, he recognized that he was beyond familiar territory and in Captain America’s area of expertise. At that moment, Steve Rogers became his leader.


With Stark and the Captain working together, all that remained was for Rogers to pick the rest of his team. As Iron Man rushed off to confront Loki in preparation for the battle, Captain America recruited Black Widow, whom S.H.I.E.L.D. had not intended to be a member of the Avengers, and whom Rogers had never seen in combat up to this point. But he knew that she possessed both the skills and the motivations necessary for the task at hand. On Black Widow’s recommendation, the Captain also recruited Hawkeye, who also had the proper motivation for taking on Loki.


Photo 04 - Conviction


Thor and Banner arrived late to the battlefield, but both willingly submitted to the Captain upon arrival. It is obvious why the meek Bruce Banner, who was already on good terms with Rogers, would consider the Captain the best qualified to lead the team, but why the haughty Thor? The God of Thunder would have viewed Captain America as a brother-in-arms, and would have respected him for that, and for standing up to him earlier during Iron Man and Thor’s skirmish. Both Thor and the Captain had led troops on the battlefield in their past, but this was Earth, the Captain’s home turf, and Rogers already had the loyalty of the other soldiers on the field. Thor granted his loyalty out of respect to the commander of Earth’s champions.



Avengers: Assemble!


Photo 05 - Assembled

And finally, the Avengers are assembled. The moment that the movie – indeed, the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe – had been building towards presented with a wonderfully dramatic, three-sixty degree spin of the camera, and embellished by the first appearance of the heroic Avengers’ theme music since the title at the start of the film. The theme at the start but a promise; now, fulfilled.


From that moment on, Loki, the villain who had made life a Hell for the characters up to this point, became virtually irrelevant. Ultimately, the film was never about him. It was never about his plot to take over the world. It was always about the Avengers and that moment when they finally stood united in New York. Loki’s schemes for most of the film were simply an attempt to prevent that moment, to stop the Avengers from ever forming. Loki knew from the beginning that these people were the only ones who could stop him and his army, but only if they could work together. When he escaped the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, he thought he’d won.


Photo 06 - Hulk Smash

Loki does serve as more than just a plot device, however. He’s an inversion of all six Avengers combined. He is a prince like his brother, but turned to a desire for power beyond what even Thor desired at the height of his own selfishness. Like Black Widow, he’s a manipulator; but he does that for his own pleasure and amusement, while Widow requires a purpose beyond herself. He observes and plans like Hawkeye, but prefers others to do the work. He cultivates a control of self like the Hulk, but out of pride rather than a desire to protect others. He has a natural talent for leadership, but prefers to lead through fear and control rather than Captain America’s methods of inspiration. And, of course, he desires the center stage just as much as Tony Stark — but even the selfish genius billionaire playboy philanthropist knows the danger of not seeing something beyond himself.

That last sentiment is driven home in the moment Stark realizes where Loki is setting up his new portal, and brought to full fruition by the final panning shot of the film as we move out and see Stark Tower, smashed and wounded, with only a single letter A remaining — an A with a familiar shape for comic book fans.


A Few Criticisms

With wonderful characterizations, plot, dialogue (best line goes to Captain America: “There’s only one God, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that!”), editing, camerawork, and music  I have very little negative to same about The Avengers, but I do have a few nitpicky critiques from the film perspective.


First, and it has been mentioned by many people before, Hawkeye spends most of his screen time under Loki’s mind control. I do not object to this per se; I completely understand that this was necessary for the story. I bring this up because I want to see more of him as Hawkeye. Thankfully, all reports indicate that he has a much more significant role in Age of Ultron.


Second, Black Widow has a moment after her near-fatal encounter with the Hulk where she is seated, curled up and trembling as if in shock, before she rushes off to intercept the mind-controlled Hawkeye. Again, during the Battle of New York, she appears overwhelmed at times, perhaps even frightened. Iron Man suffered from PTSD in Iron Man 3 because of the events of The Avengers, and I am curious why Black Widow did not have any long term effects, despite her being so obviously shaken up. This is less a critique of The Avengers and more of the MCU, which did nothing with what seemed to be a clear setup opportunity.

And finally, one camera shot during the early stages of the Battle of New York felt odd to me. The camera was positioned inside a car, and the car appears to be shot by the Chitauri invaders and flips over, the camera flipping with it. It is a gimmick shot, and felt very out of place to me, especially when the rest of the film’s cinematography was excellent.

In Conclusion

Ultimately, The Avengers succeeded so well, so beautifully, because of two things.

First, it was that very rare beast: a character-driven action film. The MCU has had an excellent track record in that regard, for a series of effects-driven superhero films; but The Avengers is, so far, in a class of its own. The plot isn’t driven by a need to see things explode, but rather to see six very different characters come together as a team.

Second, that story was told with excellent cinematic techniques, from the transitions to the character interplay to the climactic buildup.

Hopefully, Avengers: Age of Ultron will live up to this legacy. Even if it doesn’t, however, the original remains a very high bar.